December 12, 2012

Select Committee hearings on shale & the NHS

Among select committees holding hearings yesterday were the Climate Change and Public Accounts Committees.

The Climate Change committee was looking at shale gas. Peter Lilley's few questions were particularly sharp. First came two industry executives with an economist. The industry executives were clear and excellent, patiently explaining several times the differences between resources and reserves, and why Cuadrilla need to do more drilling before they can have any clearer idea about reserves.

Tax revenue could flow if shale extraction was successful, jobs would be created in the UK, and first mover advantage in Europe could bring overseas contracts too. Cuadrilla were having conversations with educators about increasing the pool of qualified people in the UK, and there would be unskilled spin-off jobs, such as security guarding (let alone extra business for the wider community). As the economist pointed out, these jobs would come in a less prosperous part of the UK, helping to rebalance the economy. What's not to like?

The second panel of witnesses were three green campaigners. Their point was that increased use of gas is inconsistent with the emissions cuts that the UK has pledged to make in international treaties. They seemed to have nothing else to say about production of shale gas in the UK.

Time to bite this bullet. Global temperatures haven't risen this century. The Westminster village are almost unanimous in wanting to make the British poorer in pursuit of an increasingly questionable scientific theory.

The hearing of the Public Accounts Committee threw light on the complications of NHS decision making and the shortcomings of Margaret Hodge. Hodge accused witnesses of evading responsibility for a bad decision made when none of them had been in post. If you want to arraign someone, call the right person. She really is way out of her depth.

Not can she understand that bodies have laid down responsibilities and aren't staffed to go wandering about in areas outside their remit. She seems to have no concept at all that structure is essential if you are to have any chance of running a huge organisation.

The questioning did stumble over one odd shortcoming, pretty much by accident. Who is responsible for working out the likely levels of health demand in particular areas? The local trust seems to think it has to commission consultants to go round collecting figures before it can form a view.

The notion of all the hospital trusts commissioning consultants to get these basic numbers is ridiculous. Why doesn't the Strategic Health Authority do this?

The witness from the SHA was the least impressive. Ominously, he was asked what his salary is. Value for money? It wasn't obvious. He seemed as ineffective as Margaret Hodge.

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