Many of those with allotments on our site are still at work, but the fairly large group of those who keep animals are all retired. At a rough guess about half of us, including me, spent our working lives in the private sector and half in public services such as NHS, police, firefighting, town halls and so on. Long before the election we often exchanged banter whilst working on the chicken runs, the usual line taken by the private sector folk was usually about the alleged easy time and big pensions of those employed by the state. A false and sweeping generalisation of course but old boys will have their fun.
One thing we all agree on is that the two are very different. Anyone employed in the private sector is very aware of bottom-line profit and return on assets. Bonuses and future employment rest entirely on the financial returns. Every skilled man, salesman or manager is constantly reminded that the customer is all. But – and it is a big but – any product or service that does not yield a good margin is dropped.
By and large people that work for the state are focussed entirely on the patient or rate-payer. Below senior level little thought is given to costs, indeed in many parts of the public services cost is extremely hard to control. A classic example is a clinical team running a busy out- patient clinic. Until the patient has entered his or her room the doctor has no way of predicting how long the examination will take or how costly the treatment will be. And so it is with all the emergency services and many of those provided by local councils. Yet, like many right-wing members of his party before him, David Cameron expresses with a glowing face the idea of putting all public services out to tender. He of course made no mention of this before the election and judging from the angry reaction of many Lib Dem supporters, he didn’t consult them either.
But if we put aside the issue of political motives we are left with a big question. Where is the evidence that the private sector is better, particularly in regard to key public services? Heathrow Airport? British Airways? Deregulated buses? The high price, poor service cartel that provides our energy needs? The Banks whose inefficiency led to the financial crisis? The list is a very long one and few would argue other than that privatisation has led to a deterioration and greed has seen the customer as someone to take advantage of.
Of course there are inefficiencies to be found in both camps but even the most efficient private company will fail to satisfy customer needs unless there is profit at the end of the task. I remember meeting the private health care provider selected by Patricia Hewitt to take over some hospital services. Yes they were happy to take on minor eye surgery, orthopaedic work and so on. But there had to be a time and price per procedure. When I mentioned cancer and coronary care they threw their hands skywards. Never in a thousand years was the answer. And so Mr Blair’s dream of privatisation stalled.
When, on retirement, I joined the NHS on a part-time basis I genuinely believed that I could teach it a thing or two about cost efficiency. I soon realised that the very essence of my working life, cost per hour, was totally impossible. Operations and treament apart, how do you measure the time a nurse spends with her patient?
Yes some public sector work can be sub-contracted but it has to be that which can be precisely measured and monitored. Even there one has to tread with caution. An example of what can happen is provided by today’s headlines which report that NHS hospitals are in crisis for beds, due to what is known as bed-blocking. Because private sector nursing homes were set unrealistic cost targets they are pulling out at a rapid rate. Result? Thousands of elderly, frail people are occupying badly needed beds yet they are not receiving medical treatment.
There is little new is this argument about the supposed superiority of the private sector. In fact it isn’t superior, it is different and has different aims. The odd thing politically is the attitude of the Lib Dem leaders without whose support Cameron could not pursue his obsession. In a letter oublished yesterday Lord Tony Greaves says that his party will “refuse to accept this right-wing nonsense, which anyway was not in the coalition agreement”. He goes on to ask if Clegg and the leadership “is willing to put their foot down and stop it before the bandwagon starts to roll and breaks the coalition?” Good question.
The point I am trying to make here is not a political one. I am keen to know how people like Cameron and Blair came to the conclusion that privatising essential public services is sensible. Neither of them ever worked in either and to me both of them seem ill-informed and stupid. Remember Sid? He was the flagbearer for Gas privatisation. It was going to lead to intense competition and prices lower than we could ever dream of! What it has actually led to is record profits and pensioners without heating.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” My formula for success is rise early, work late, and strike oil”….Paul Getty “The secret of success is sincerity. If you can fake that you’ve got it made”….George Burns “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you are still a rat”….Lily Tomlin “Failure is the only thing I’ve ever been a success at”….Bob Hope “When all else fails there’s always self-delusion”….Conan O’Brien “We didn’t lose the game, we just ran oiut of time”…..Vince Lombardi “To be popular one must be a mediocrity”…..Oscar Wilde “You know what I hate most aboit being a public figure? The public”…..Howard Stern” “Advice to writers. Sometimes you just have to stop writing. Even before you begin”….Stanislaw J Lec ”Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President. One hopes it is the same half”….Gore Vidal “I don’t know anything about computers. I don’t even know how often to change the oil”….Buzz Nutley “The council election in Bolton was done by Google, and was won by Click here for Penis Enlargement”…Armando Ianucci “When the white missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible, and we had the land. They said ‘let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land”….Archbishop Desmond Tutu
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Jacques Cousteau 2. Chicago
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which Australian building opened in 1973, is made of huge concrete shell vaults? 2. Why did astronauts destined for Skylab train in a water tank?