Friday, February 26, 2010

State Of Collapse

They thought he was a genius too*

Never mind what your politics are, and never mind that the ONS has revised up Q4 economic growth to 0.3% (whoopee!), surely nobody can believe this government should remain in power. They are totally exhausted - out of energy, out of ideas, and out of credibility.

Take the appalling case of Mid-Staffs NHS Trust. Here was a hospital that ticked all the boxes laid down by Labour's commissars, and got top marks. Yet for patients it was a hell-hole from which many did not escape alive.

Even more disgusting, its managers continued to award each other chunky pay rises even as their patients were suffering - the Chief Exec got a near 20% rise between 2006 and 2008. Yet in terms of remedies, all Labour has to offer is a promise to shoot another cadre of managers, and to "ensure that lessons are learned"... again.

Or take the latest scandalous breakdown of child protection. A catalogue of failure led to the horrific death of Khyra Ishaq, with strong echoes of the Baby P case. Yet it is perfectly clear the failings of Birmingham Social Services have been known for some time. According to the Council's own scrutiny committee:
"More than half of all child care planning and practice was "unacceptably poor'' with appalling record-keeping in relation to visits. Social workers were so caught up in paperwork – spending 80 per cent of their time at their desks – that contact with children was "limited'', meetings went unattended and there was little analysis of children's needs. Management were found to have turned a blind eye to these problems."
Extraordinarily, nobody has yet been fired. But even if they are, none of us can really think that will get to the heart of the problem. Just as in the Baby P case, the poor schmucks working at the sharp end of child protection are swamped with so much Stuff loaded on them by the Commissars, that they have lost contact with the actual job they're supposed to be doing.

Right across our public services we find similar stories - managers and workers who are so focused on meeting targets and ticking boxes dictated from above that they've lost touch with the job their supposed customers actually need doing.

Of course, in times of plenty, the Commissars could attempt to correct for failure by simply adding a few extra quangos to refresh the parts other quangos could not reach. Which is one of the reasons why the public sector is rife with duplication, and why its productivity has underperformed the private sector so dismally.

And we aren't in times of plenty any more. The money has run out, and going forward, the public sector has to produce more with less. There isn't a cat's chance of managing that unless we have fundamental reform.

More Whitehall directives won't do it. More boxes to tick will simply mean more top rated hospitals turning out to be horror stories under the surface. More commissariat monitoring systems will simply mean less time for front-line staff to do their real jobs.

We need to return power to the front-line: everyone now says they agree with that. But for that to work, we need to do two other things as well.

First, the Commissars must be prepared to let go. And this current bunch have never shown the slightest willingness to do that.

Second, spending power must be put into the hands of customers (or in the case of policing and social services, the hands of local voters). And this government has never shown any sign of even understanding the case for doing that.

We need a fresh start and we need it right now. We may not agree with Mr Cam on everything, but at least he and his colleagues will be starting with a clean slate, and fully charged batteries. It will be a lot easier for them to embrace new thinking than the busted bunch of has-beens currently sitting in the big chairs.

PS Last night we watched the final episode of Michael Cockerell's BBC TV series "The Great Offices of State" (watch again here). It was on Tyler's old employer HM Treasury, and Tyler found it strangely unsettling to see the film from the 1970s shot inside the old pre-Brown office, complete with red lino and state mental asylum style corridors. It was an interesting hour, but Jeeps, such bias. According to Cockerell, the Tories destroyed the economy, caused riots, and gave us Black Wednesday. Luckily for us, somehow the "economy grew". Yes, that was indeed very lucky. In contrast, the genius Brown was applauded in and out of the Treasury, made the Bank independent, kept important matters from blabbermouth Bliar, and was generally A Good Thing. It was just unfortunate that he was let down by a world financial crash and dim Treasury officials who failed to warn him it was coming. Can Cockerell really believe such guff?

*Footnote - we've probably said this before, but George is going to need a swift cull at HMT. Officials who were so in love with the previous regime that they even stood and applauded, are officials who will useless in digging us out of the hole that regime created. Let's hope he's got some friends on the inside, and let's hope they've been keeping notes.

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