Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Bad Day In Britain

It's a bad day to be living in modern Britain. As the unemployment figures reach their highest level for seventeen years, the House of Lords has rubber-stamped the Government's plan to tender the NHS to any willing provider. Let's hope you weren't planning to get ill any time soon, because frankly, none of us can afford it.

I'm not going to go into a right wing vs. left wing debate about the merits of publicly vs. privately provided services, especially when there is plenty of scope to do that underneath the comments on the Guardian website. I especially love the trolls who comment that anyone with a public-sector ethos doesn't live in the real world and thinks that money grows on trees. All I can say by way of slightly smug response is that you can get a lot of money in the short-term by selling a goose that lays golden eggs, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea.

For the benefit of the lobotomised, here's a quick summary. All else being equal, if a private sector company can deliver the services that the public sector would deliver to the same standard while funding the profit margin that the shareholders demand at the same or lower cost, then you should use the private company. Otherwise, public will out.

Simple, right? A calculation that any of us could do, surely. I have spent my career watching the private sector cherry pick public services and I know that as with most things, sometimes the private sector contracts work well and sometimes they fail. I also know that the failures tend to be expensive and spectacular, and for your convenience, I have enclosed links to news items on the Connaught and Southern Cross debacles which have both directly impacted on people living in Norwich.

What is often forgotten or ignored in the midst of howling rhetoric and hysterical political point-scoring is that the true cost of such failures goes well beyond the balance sheet. How can any accountant, however skilled, put a price on the anxiety of a private sector worker with no employment protection, or an elderly person who fears they may lose their home?

As George Osborne presides over a second risky round of quantitative easing in a desperate and forlorn attempt to kick-start the economy and inflation begins to spiral upwards, the ministers in charge of the government of these isles are spending their days debating cats rather than putting their noses to the grindstone and coming up with some new ideas for creating growth and social prospects.

At the head of the table, David Cameron dons his top hat, pours tea and spouts nonsense as his unelected minions ride roughshod over public opinion with all the social grace of Panzers in wartime Europe.

An amusing image it may be, but it could soon spell the end for a free health service envied worldwide but nonetheless soon to be sold off for private profit.

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