December 05, 2007

Public services keep failing

The Taxpayers Alliance has a piece under this heading pointing out that
Despite countless billions in extra spending within both the education system and the health service we are slipping down the international rankings for educational attainment and primary healthcare service standards are declining.
It identifies three issues - centralisation, political management, and monopolies.

It's true that direction is centralised. But the beauty of the system for a national politician is that decisions which are unpopular locally can be blamed on NICE or the local PCT, as my umbrella blog colleague Cllr Tony Sharp points out. Nothing to do with us, guv, we're not responsible for the NHS. But it's not all "top down". The local satraps make decisions affecting the health of people in their province with no accountability to them at all - an extraordinary political model.

Maybe the monopoly status is fraying at the edges. In education and in healthcare, international comparisons have been painting an increasingly poor picture of the standards of British provision. Patients are starting to seek healthcare abroad, and step by step the EU is suggesting that people's entitlement to healthcare should not be limited to their own country.

The model of autocratic provision from the centre - sustainable under Stalinism, but a pretty odd model in an increasingly informed democracy - is gradually coming under threat.

Good. But the Taxpayers' Alliance sells the pass in its heading. In what sense are these "public" and "services"?

Actually they are nationalised industries.

There is STATE education (not "public" schools, of course), and the NHS, the Nationalised Health Service. Describing them as "public services" concedes half the argument before it's even started.

Being centrally and unaccountably financed with taxpayers' money gives them no moral high ground at all, whereas the phrase "public services" has overtones of altruism ... though goodness knows why. We saw recently that these attitudes survive in teacher training colleges where some student teachers are being told that they risk "selling their souls" by working in independent schools.

These are NOT "public services". They are nationalised industries. Look at them in that light, and the lack of responsiveness to their - paying - customers is astonishing.

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