Public Sector attacks create a failing state

Dr John Carlisle, retired businessman, former Business School professor and author makes the case for the public sector to reclaim its role as the dispenser of real democracy and to challenge the central government’s public sector policies .

The Public Sector: Where Democracy really happens
Birmingham in the 1860’s and 70’s was a great example of good local government. Under Sir Joseph Chamberlain’s tenure as mayor it became known as the best governed city in the industrial world. Chamberlain was both a civic visionary and successful industrialist under whose leadership rates were actually reduced while there was significant investment in services, health and education, which greatly improved. And all around the great city the neighbouring towns prospered too.
However, this is not the autocratic council we need today. We need more collegial, collaborative councils; but who, like Birmingham in the late 19th century, are both visionary and businesslike. The model, therefore, is more like Burlington, Vermont, which has one of the lowest jobless rates in the USA, a living wage of £12.36 when the UK’s was £7.20, and, on the environmental side, runs entirely on renewable fuel.
Part of the secret was the visionary socialist Mayor, now, Senator, Bernie Sanders, who opposed any development that would hurt the middle and working classes. “We don’t want people working 40 hours a week and living in poverty. We understand that when you put disposable income in the hands of working people (both public and private sector), they will spend that money in the community, and that creates more jobs.”
We understand that UK municipalities do not have the freedom to budget to their municipal needs. Treasury policy has put paid to that. Nevertheless, it is all the more important that whatever discretionary budgets councils may have is spent prudently. This puts a heavy responsibility on the councillors to develop the appropriate oversight skills, especially on key delivery decisions.
I suggest the votes in the May elections should go to councillors who demonstrate a real understanding of what makes for an effective delivery of public services – which will rule out half of them at least. But think on this: every day 65 million people in the UK use the public services, or what used to be “public” services. This, therefore, is the real stuff of democracy – the equality of good public service provision, delivered reliably at an economic rate. Democracy may be seen as having the vote, but this means very little if not everyone gets the essential services that are their basic rights.
Bad examples abound in Eastern Europe. In these cultured democracies water is not always potable, sewage spills out into the streets, energy supplies fail, public transport is unreliable, and housing is mostly inadequate. Again, the Arab Spring did not arise from voting rights abuse. I was working in Beirut while it was happening and my students from five Arab countries made it clear that it was born out of the frustration at the lack of equitable and reliable public services.
The warning signs are clear. This is where we are heading as a nation if, for example, our policy makers get away with forcing the balancing of budgets to take precedence over the quality of life of our people.
There are two major problems: Austerity and bad, but officially encouraged, Management Practices.

Austerity: Successive Chancellors have used monetary policy as a means of control instead of as a means to facilitate essential services. The excellent UNISON report: Central government’s hand in the local government till (November 2017) spells it out, citing the LGA budget submission. “…Between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion to core Government funding‟.
Extrapolations indicate that around £9bn of that £16bn will be stripped out of council budgets between 2015/16 and 2020/21 and revenue support grant. As a businessman I would not accept an underfunded assignment as I have seen too many construction companies go under as a result of underbidding.
When councils are systematically starved of funds and then punished for “poor” performance, their attention may be diverted from attending to the most vulnerable to that of saving money and face, sometimes by the most irrational means, e.g. PFI and outsourcing customer-facing services to save money and abdicate responsibility. As we have seen with Carillion et al, the chickens are now coming home to roost.
The lesson here is that when you cut unit costs you will increase aggregate cost.
But the problem is not only one of bad contracts. There is a deeper and more insidious problem. Councils and public bodies have, through this process, lost many of their management and delivery capabilities. They have, in effect, deskilled themselves.

Bad Management practices: Paradoxically, the management loss may not be a bad thing. They now have an opportunity to divest themselves of some really bad management practices (the second problem) exemplified by the tyranny of targets. Targets are the blunt instruments of ignorant policy makers and lazy, authoritarian managers. They become particularly dangerous when linked to penalties or bonuses because these too often lead to “gaming the system” as we have seen so clearly in the NHS. In extreme punitive cultures this means that the leaders will never know what is really happening and why. We have seen the most egregious consequences of combining targets with cost-cutting in policing, child welfare and care homes, e.g. Winterbourne View, which could easily have been an example from most backward of the East European “democracies”.

The remedy? The king has no clothes. Educate your constituents as to where the problems really arise. Persuade them to stand by you and demand changes. Stop coping! You cannot make a wrong thing righter. I commend Ruth Thorlby’s excellent article in the May/June 2017 edition of this magazine. The answers are there.

Originally published in Public Sector Focus April 2018

The Conservative Government’s Misery Business


The Conservative Government’s Misery Business

The government has for eight years now been successfully building national factories which produces millions of sick, depressed and hopeless people. The recently retired CEO and Chairman, George Osborne and David Cameron, can sit back with great satisfaction at the success of their enterprise: The Austerity Brexit Company.

They have brilliantly cornered the market in misery. The cunning strategy is threefold:

  1. Broaden the customer base by policies that punish those in greatest need and those who have vocations to alleviate suffering, e.g. carers, nurses, doctors, and create anxiety, uncertainty and fear, especially as regards employment, by insisting on a Brexit that is unworkable. The latter is a brilliant marketing ploy, of which Richard Branson himself must be envious.
  2. Enact legislation and policies that supports private enterprise in the public realm (NHS, public transport, etc.) and take money from municipalities to give the Treasury, and social care.
  3. Employ as directors of the great departments of state the “children of Douglas Haig”, who will carry out any neoliberal strategy they have devised, no matter what the cost to the people. In a really fair monarchy Grayling, Duncan Smith and, the recently retired Jeremy Hunt would have been awarded knighthoods for the successful obliteration of the wellbeing of both the employees in these departments and their “customers

Jeremy Hunt, who comes from a military background, would doubtless be proud to be associated with Field Marshal Haig on this day, as we commemorate the centenary of the turning of the tide of World War 1. To quote B.H. Liddell-Hart, a distinguished military historian who had been wounded on the Western Front, from his diary: He [Haig] was a man of supreme egoism and utter lack of scruple—who, to his overweening ambition, sacrificed hundreds of thousands of men. A man who betrayed even his most devoted assistants as well as the Government which he served. A man who gained his ends by trickery of a kind that was not merely immoral but criminal.

To examine the parallels just look at the nurses, who, like the Tommies in the war, are the backbone of the NHS, and whose ratio to patients is the main determinant of good patient care.

NURSES (with grateful acknowledgement to NHS FOR SALE?)

The NHS is spending almost £1.5bn a year on agency nurses while its own staff are leaving in droves, a new report suggests.

The vast outlay on temp workers would be enough to pay the wages of 66,000 full-time positions for a year, according to the study by The Open University.

The RCN branded the situation dangerous, but ministers said steps were being taken to recruit more nurses. Hunt was warned in mid-2017 of the coming crisis: NHS faces staff crisis as student nurse applications plummet after Tories scrapped their grants (The Mirror: 13th July 2017)

The number applying to be student nurses has dropped from 65,620 to 53,010 – a fall of 12,610 on last year. The fall comes after the Government axed student bursaries for trainee nurses and midwives.]

Stressed nurses are leaving the NHS in increasing numbers after 160,000 quit in five years. Long hours and poor pay have been blamed for the numbers leaving increasing by a fifth.

An unprecedented NHS staffing crisis has left at least 40,000 unfilled nursing posts in England alone and wards having to close due to dangerous understaffing. Data released by Government shows 33,530 quit the profession in the year up to September 2017.

This is a 17% increase on the 28,547 who quit in 2012/13 after year-on-year increases for the last four years. In total 159,134 nurses have quit the NHS in the last five years.

The number of nurses and health visitors across the NHS in England has dropped by over 400 people. Sector leaders feel this decline reflects how frontline nursing has become an “easy target for cuts”.

At a time when the government is actively trying to boost workforce numbers to tackle high rates of vacancies across the country, the latest figures from NHS Digital show that the opposite has been happening. Since 2016, the nursing and health visitor workforce has shrunk to 284,000 FTE, a drop of 435 people.

There was also a decrease of 0.2% across the nursing workforce within GP practices, with 27 less staff working in the NHS now than in 2016

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, argued the latest statistics are a worrying sign that the number of nurses continues to slide – and they have also come just a day after a major survey revealed public satisfaction with the NHS is dwindling due to staffing worries. This must be a major achievement for the Sickness Business. Well done!

Almost two-thirds of healthcare assistants (HCAs) are performing roles usually undertaken by nurses, such as giving patients drugs and dressing their wounds, in the latest illustration of the NHS’s staffing crisis. The apparently growing trend of assistants acting as “nurse substitutes” has sparked concern that patients may receive inferior or potentially unsafe care because they do not have the same skills.

Of the 376,000 assistants in the NHS in England, 74% are taking on extra tasks, according to findings by the union Unison.

This is the equivalent of Haig’s attrition rate exactly 100 years ago. In Churchill’s chilling phrase, “driving to the shambles by stern laws the remaining manhood of the nation. Lads of 18 and 19, elderly men up to 45, the last surviving brother, the only son of his mother (and she a widow), the father, the sole support of the family, the weak, the consumptive, the thrice wounded—all must now prepare themselves for the scythe.”

We have had our warning for years. Now let us turn on the government and turn the tide of their war against the public sector.

John Carlisle

July 18 2018. This day, 100 years ago the tide turned against Germany for the first and final time