Monday, December 17, 2007

Losing control of the public sector

I really don't think Mike is exagerrating at all here:

"Did you follow that? Cricklade residents (aka the customers) are angry because their local police station is closed- ie if you go there you find nobody manning the front desk, and even if you shout, nobody comes. But rather than putting it right, North Wiltshire's top cop advises them to pretend the station's functioning properly as it is. Otherwise, he says, it will be perceived the residents perceive it's closed, and it will be closed. Even though in real world terms, it's closed already.

Only in Stalin's Russia is such madness possible.

And there's no doubt Stalin would have approved of the commissars' programme to streamline policing by closing stations. As he would have appreciated, manned stations open to the public are a huge distraction for the police. Far more efficient if they concentrate 100% on their core function, which is to carry out orders from above."

Alright, we're not in Stalin's Russia. But there is something deeply dystopian about the mindset at work. Our public services are now beholden to a government machine with almost no connection to the public and their priorities at all.

If you think that we'll be alright because, while we have no direct influence, at least our MPs can hold the public servants to account you'd be wrong. The Government machine is tied up in trying to excuse itself from resigning for endless public service failures that they can't control but also can't disclaim responsibility for without wrecking the vision of an omnipotent state they are so wedded to. MPs outside of this structure struggle to hold it to account. Let's hear from one of those MPs, one of the best, Douglas Carswell:

"The House of Commons is a house of charades; Ministers pretend to make the big decisions and we MPs pretend to hold them to account. Voters give up.

Parliamentary procedure is partly to blame. Debating rules favour seniority over originality, ensuring those with something fresh to say speak last, if at all. It is a tradition for the Commons Speaker to defend the rights of the Commons – when in retirement. If only Mr Speaker was as fierce when in the job. Institutionally flat-footed, Parliament lacks punch.

Fresh into the Commons, and angry about what had happened to kids in my constituency forced out of their special school, I jumped at the chance of serving on the Commons Education Select Committee. Two years, three foreign trips and half a dozen reports later, how much has made any difference? Control over education lies not with politicians promising to improve it, but with unaccountable officials."

This lack of accountability to ordinary people or even the poor substitute of accountability to an adversarial and curious Parliament means endless failures in public sector performance: thousands upon thousands of children missing out on a quality education, thousands upon thousands dead who would have lived with a better health service and our national income being drained in a vain attempt to stop the rot. That's enough to make the state of our public services right now alarming but in the long term social decline - intimately tied up with public service failure - can lead to even darker places.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post!