"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Responsibility

The Spending Review is a depressing document, but the sections 1.86 to 1.90 are the most depressing. This is a section titled "Sharing Responsibility". On first sight you would thing that this means you, that you should share responsibility for your health, your environment, your community. To a certain extent I agree, you do have some responsibility for all of those things; but that is not what the section is about. The responsibility here is that of the government. Cameron thinks that it has no responsibility to provide public services.The Spending Review 2010 document says:

The Government believes that while it should continue to fund important services, it does not have to be the default provider. (1.87)
That is pretty clear, isn't it? What it is saying is that the government should not be regarded as the provider of last resort of any service: education, health, police, fire fighting, welfare, ambulances. Think I am going over the top here? No. Frances Maude has said as much, as reported in the Guardian.
Ambulance drivers, paramedics and firefighters could be given the right to breakaway from the national rescue service to form for-profit groups and run their services themselves, the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said. The government is to unveil a white paper that will give nearly all public sector workers a right to "mutualise" services, along the lines of a John Lewis model whereby employees own the service they work for, and can profit if it makes money. Maude said that almost all public services – bar the police and the armed forces – could be mutualised. One ambulance service had already expressed an interest and he would also look at options for the fire service, he said.
Notice that Maude says "bar the police and armed services". That has been inserted to keep the retired colonels happy, but we already know it to be untrue. There are many so-called Private Military Companies (mercenaries) and these were used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. Governments like PMCs because their casualties do not contribute to the Allies body count (and so it appears that our military action has been far more successful than it has because fewer of our soldiers have been killed) and that the PMCs are not subject to the same rules of engagement as our military. Have a look at the companies listed here: there are a lot of them, aren't there? PMCs are big business.

As to police, well every nightclub has bouncers, every shopping centre has security guards, every warehouse and factory has night watchmen, we have never had a comprehensive system of state provided policing. There certainly is a plan to move more policing into the private sector. After the Spending Review indicated that there would be vicious cuts in local authority funding (which includes the police) my town was inundated with PR from a private security company that was offering a "service" of checking that your house had not been broken into for a fee of £10 per month. (That PR guy was very good: there were articles about the company in all the local newspapers and a piece on the local TV news, and the company paid not one penny for that publicity.)

The Spending Review continues:
the Government will look at setting proportions of appropriate services across the public sector that should be delivered by independent providers, such as the voluntary and community sectors and social and private enterprises. This approach will be explored in adult social care, early years, community health services, pathology services, youth services, court and tribunal services, and early interventions for the neediest families. (1.87)
A proportion of services will be provided by anything other than a public provider. This will be the law. The last time the Tories did this was with the 1990 Broadcasting Act that mandates that 25% of TV and radio production broadcast by the BBC had to be from non-BBC suppliers. When this was introduced undoubtedly it shook up the system. A lot of new production companies appeared apparently from nowhere and there was a distinct improvement in the BBC output that still had a 70s feel to it. However, this was at a time when there was money to innovate and all the Act did was to push the BBC into spending it on innovation. And, of course, this is a creative industry, they don't need much of a push to be creative. But significantly, the BBC is a service that we can do without (though many of us would not want to): if the experiment had failed then we would still be alive and well, just slightly culturally deprived. However, the long term result is not so rosy. The plethora of small, brash, edgy and innovative companies coalesced and merged and were taken over by the big beasts. So now we see that the "independent production" is from the new establishment of Talkback-Thames, Endemol, Granada etc. It can be argued that the BBC spawned baby-BBCs producing much the same stuff as the matriarch. We are back to 1990.

We are in a different situation now. First, there just isn't the money to allow people to make mistakes, so we cannot afford a Plan B. Secondly, the services being played with are vital, we cannot afford for them to fail. Health, ambulances, fire fighting: these services were provided by the state precisely because they were too important to let them be subject to the vagaries of the market. The state took the responsibility of providing these services so that we could be assured that we would have access to them. When Conservatives talk about Sharing Responsibility they mean offloading the responsibilities that they have taken on. Basically we have elected a bunch of shirkers who are telling us: we do not want the responsibility, we just want the power. The next few years are going to be very unpleasant.

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