Today’s news that NHS “managers”are seeing their levels of pay rise at three times those of nurses is yet another quiver to the Slog’s eternal bow: that until we get health provision away from Government and out of greedy private hands, it will remain a problem for taxpayers and patients alike. Mutualisation is the obvious (and only) solution that will solve the problems of doctors, nurses, patients and the clueless political spectrum at Westminster, but still it continues to be a bunion on the eternally dragged feet of the United Kingdom.
The reason – that is to say, the main reason – is bureaucrats. Left and Right may meddle and push through expensive systemic change, but at the pulling of stumps the bureaucrats will still be there. They will collaborate in every reorganisation (however ideologically muddled or administratively daft) , and ensure that all their suggestions complicate just enough to require…..yes, more bureaucrats. Privatising a railway network? Have one company for the rails and one for the coaches. Modernising the NHS? Create an internal market. Scaling down the armed forces? Add more MoD drones in order to carry it out.
I’ve posted ad nauseam on the subject of just how much these folks cost us in pension liabilities, but the bottom line is that the Civil Service remains by far the least accountable soci0-economic group in Britain. If a political policy fails, no Whitehall heads roll. And if a Ministry closes, every Whitehall plonker is found a job. When they retire (on index-linked pensions at 52) there are further stipends as non-exec this and advisory that. No functionary is ever found guilty: the bureaucratic equivalent of the death penalty is an admonishment.
When employed in the advertising business, I worked on and off for Government clients via the Central Office of Information (COI) over three decades. The COI contained, almost without exception, lightweight dictators with a penchant for fine wine and an unparalleled agility when it came to dodging any and every flying turd. One would plough through a dozen turgid meetings, at which point the Minister of State made a brief but disastrous appearance, grasping every irrelevant factor with clinical precision, and exiting in short order. The bureaucrats would then panic, make the agency work weekends and nights to do the politician’s bidding, and – somehow – a campaign would appear. On the whole, it was in the wrong medium, carried an impenetrable message, and went miles over the heads of its target audience.
When the first Thatcherites got into office, the COI was ignored in favour of the Minister’s political strategist, and a communications ‘guru’ he had personally hired to work in his department – usually some bow-tied soak with a long track-record of agency underachievement behind him. By the early 1990s, the meetings with government clients had doubled in size, and the main game in town was spotting who had the power to say ‘yes’ as opposed to ‘no’.
The pool of sludge from which such unproductive Grand National fences are fashioned is shallow and murky, but basically the three chief criteria are (i) very high IQ (ii) difficulty with shoelaces and (iii) incorrigible idleness. Any and all commercial experience is frowned upon, and treated as circumstantial evidence of lowbrow thinking. Inability to do the Times crossword in under 40 minutes will mark any recruit down for the Slow Lane. The British civil servant is the last and most pointless example of the Great British Amateur.
The reason why there is no cross-Party consensus on the need to fire one bureaucrat in two remains as simple as ever. In the Tory Party, every Minister quickly realises that (often through mates in the security services) the Sir Humphrey with whom they’ve been blessed knows the location of every incriminating negative, and the nature of every peccadillo, related to that Minister of the Crown. When it comes to the Labour Party, Sir Humphrey’s underlings are all members of a trade union affiliated to the TUC. And in both Parties, senior civil servants know the Whips well enough to be able to gather further dirt on the Minister with whom they’ve been landed.
As it is, some observers now take a degree of solace in the fact that austerity Britain has (at long last) started to reduce the numbers of Whitehall and local government fat cats. But there isn’t a lot of real cutting at the top: some 43000 jobs have gone, contributing to government savings of £5bn in the 12 months of fiscal 2011-12. That works out at around £120K a head – which, believe it or not, is very much the middle ranks. That represents a cut in headcount of 8% – but in salary costs, considerable less: 3-4% at most. How nice it would be if the UK unemployment level was only 4%.
In any event, the question is as much one of quality as quantity. The French civil service is better paid than ours, but then it does have an enviable record of taking smart decisions and making good calls….as opposed to the catalogue of complicated incompetence that marks out our bureaucrats as something extra-special. It is quite possible to build a case against the FCO, for example, based on the conclusion that it hasn’t backed the right horse since 1909. The MoD has managed to fire half the squaddies in the army, but not one of its own ranks; it regularly supplies the wrong goods at the wrong time to every one of our defenders on land, at sea and in the air. The DoH has failed spectacularly for 60 years to use its muscle in order to negotiate lower drug prices, and on every occasion where the private sector has provided services to it, this outstandingly hopeless Ministry has been run round in circles at our expense.
As currently structured, our administrative class has a vested interest in making things expensive via a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money. This site has always believed that mutualisation of civil service functions would save the citizens of Britain a fortune in taxes, and remove the power that these nincompoops have in our constitutional processes. Were it not for the blackmailing ability they have, such things would’ve happened decades ago. But as it is, the same situation pertains everywhere from Washington to Athens. The People can starve, the country be invaded and the Rule of Law suspended, but the bureacrats will still be there.