Archive

Archive for January, 2018

What the Carillion collapse tells us about the unspoken truths governing public sector contracts

January 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Carillion

Carillion is the big news this week, and is likely to remain on the media radar for some time, given the impact that the collapse of a Company of this size is almost certain to have on commercial relationships that are now an integral part of the public sector.

Moments like this are important for reasons which go way beyond the impact that Monday’s announcement is already having on jobs and the potential closures of many small businesses.

It is providing one of those very rare opportunities to glance inside the incestuous workings of contract delivery on behalf of government and gain an invaluable insight into why private interests working at any level within the public sector is in clear conflict with very ideals of what public service delivery is fundamentally about.

Regrettably, the clear focus of the media and political classes has already fallen upon the question and avoidance of blame. Yet if they were to begin to look just a little further and be open with what have for too long been the unpalatable truths, there would be just the merest hope that questions such as whether there can be a future for the NHS when it remains in a perpetual state of financial crisis could perhaps be genuinely answered.

So why are contracts going to private companies outside the public sector?

The best place to begin thinking about the contracting or privatisation problem is to look at why private business is really even involved in the delivery of government services of any kind, when government exists to operate for, on behalf of and for the benefit of only the public.

Man can only ever have one true master after all, and if money is the true motivator, then public service will at best become an oversight – the unwelcome relative left trailing way behind.

Whilst it may feel counter-intuitive to believe or accept it for many of us, the ‘privatisation solution’ has been in the main part created by Conservative governments in response to the consequences of policies created typically by Labour in order to enhance the rights, working conditions and influence of public sector employees.

Positive discrimination and rights, enhanced working conditions, gold-plated pensions and union indulgence within public sector organisations all cost an ever evolving sum of money in an increasing number of different ways, which usually create even more roles and dilute responsibility further and further still.

The cost of employing people within the public sector on conditions which exceed those of the private sector outside – even when salaries appear to be less, has simply made the delivery of services too expensive for government itself to provide.

Against this backdrop, all areas of he public sector have had to go in search of more cost effective ways to deliver services, and have had to do so in ways which also meet the rigorous requirements of providing services and employing staff as a government based organisations.

This has made the ‘marketplace’ fertile for the entry of private contractors who don’t have the same considerations as these former public sector based service providers.

When you consider that private contractors are providing arguably the same level of service, just without the same levels of bureaucracy – whilst making what in some cases is an outrageous level of profit besides, you can soon begin to see that something is inherently wrong with the way that the government system is now designed.

So how does public sector contracting by private contractors become a problem?

Business loves a contract. Contracts give surety. Contracts themselves can be used as a solid-gold guarantee – and particularly so when they are agreed and signed with government. This gives business confidence which can be misplaced, misused, abused and is almost certain to breed a feeling of complacency.

After completing what should be a rigorous ‘tender process’ – the company will sign a contract with the government organisation which agrees what, when and how the ‘contractor’ will provide a service, whether that just be 1 person to sweep a street or 32 bin lorries to collect your rubbish every fortnight for 5 years. On signing this contract, the company will know exactly what it will be paid, know what it will in turn have to spend, will have worked out its costs and borrowing, should have kept back a little for a rainy day and then know what it will make in profit – from which it will pay bonuses to staff and dividends to shareholders after it has paid any tax requirement.

Good managers know that some things change during the lifetime of a contract – such as fuel prices going up, which would be a real concern for a bus service provider or a private ambulance services. But contractual devices or clauses that allow for some variation in charges are usually built in to any contract to allow for this.

As such, genuinely unforeseen events or those which could not have been predicted by anyone within the contracting company itself are very rare to find.

What government contracts don’t allow for however, are lack of knowledge or understanding of the service delivery area on the part of those designing and agreeing a contract. They don’t make allowance for unmitigated trust on the part of either party. They certainly don’t consider the potential greed or indeed malpractice of a contractor or its decision making staff, which cannot be planned for or predictably defined even within the scope of a government contract process.

When a contractor has only a single contract, transparency is bizarrely much clearer and for the management, much more important and kept clearly in mind.

But when you have many more and perhaps and ever increasing number of contracts, the potential for complacency and overconfidence can lead to otherwise unrealistic opportunities, which in more focused circumstances would have been denied.

It may be as simple as paying senior executives massive, over-inflated salaries. But it has the potential to be much much more in terms of investment, questionable projects and big payouts for shareholders when little in terms of adequate checks and balances has allowed an adequate safety blanket to be retained from payouts and quietly put aside.

The overriding problem with a company which has grown to the size, reach and responsibility of Carillion is there is so much in terms of questionable financial activity that it has the ability to very easily hide.

The responsibility for contract design and management doesn’t just fall on contractors themselves however.

In the background to all this and within the protectionist culture in which contemporary public sector commissioning is currently enshrined, purchasing officers simply don’t have the motivation or willingness to do their jobs as effectively as they should. When the money you are allocating isn’t yours, public service and best value isn’t always the overriding priority. Sometimes it’s all about doing anything which proves to be easier, and who gets what doesn’t always work out exactly as it should.

Whether its building maintenance, bin collections, public transport, prison management, forensic services or interim and temporary staff services that contractors provide, contractors are all making unnecessary profit at the ultimate cost to us as taxpayers.

So what can be done to solve the problem and when will anything happen?

What has been outlined here provides little more than a simple snapshot of a very big and complex problem, which those in power are through their actions are continuing to deny.

For these problems to be addressed, it would first be necessary for politicians to accept that the whole system of government delivery is broken, riddled with management focused upon self interest, making decisions based on theoretical premise, and that there are simply too many people operating within the system who are ultimately being allowed to take us all for a ride.

The ‘too big to fail’ mindset has now permeated through political thinking to a level where contracts are being awarded despite very clear warning signals which would tell even very junior civil service staff that something is not right.

This is no longer a question of let’s bail them out so that they don’t fail like Labour did with the Banks in 2008; this is all about awarding contracts because there is a view that they never will.

Solving this problem is far from simple. It is not just about political thinking. It’s about getting the market’s to think differently. But just as much, it’s about getting employees to see their roles differently; to accept that they have a part to play too.

In simple terms, the free for all has to stop.

This bonanza based on self-interest is no longer sustainable.

The perpetuation of the lie that government genuinely works selflessly for everyone has got to be stopped.

No business can perform effectively on the basis that it prioritises the working conditions and needs of its staff before the priorities upon which it was created to deliver. Yet this is how liberalism and rights culture has manifested itself within all parts of government and the public sector.

Not only has the NHS become hamstrung by lack of staff and inefficiency, it is being cut up by the cost of the staff it hires through contracts – thereby being destroyed by the supposed solution itself; by the very respite that additional money is supposed to provide.

Meanwhile local government has its own substantive bogeyman too, finding itself tied up in knots by the cost of the local government pension scheme – the destination of the better part of our council tax, in many of the Boroughs, Cities and Districts where most of us reside.

Then there are the PFI contracts upon which the last Labour Government so heavily relied. A coarse, deceptive instrument designed to hide public spending, whilst fire hosing cash at private contractors over 30 year terms. Just another financial time bomb legacy like the raid on pension funds by Gordon Brown which we overlook daily on the basis that out of sight is very much out of our minds.

The power rests with government to change all of this, if only they would try.

Regrettably, the will doesn’t even exist to even begin doing so today, even if the Government could begin doing so – something that a hung parliament which could last until 2022 will simply deny.

With a good chance that the next Government will be based upon or built around a militant form of Labour, the chances are that politicians will only continue to try and hide the truth thereafter, because action which doesn’t just look responsible is not a pathway to which they are inclined.

As Jeremy Corbyn made clear in his questioning of Theresa May at Wednesday’s PMQ’s, the answer is just to do everything to return everyone to employment in government jobs. No doubt based upon further borrowing, which to those who don’t understand business or economics is a perceived as a policy which when sold looks bullet proof.

images thanks to independent.co.uk, bbc.co.uk, wiltshiretimes.co.uk

Trashing distasteful parts of history puts us at risk of repeating the same mistakes in the future, which only the same level of hypocrisy would allow us to then deny

January 12, 2018 Leave a comment

download (14)The debate over Virgin removing copies of the Daily Mail from sale on its Trains in the past week highlighted the worrying trend for people to attempt to remove anything from their sphere of influence which they find in some way unpalatable – doing so without any level of regard for the real cost or consequences of doing so.

Whilst this vogue appears new to many, it has been within our awareness for a good period of time. It hinges on blame culture and the overindulgence of the personal slight. It takes the self-righteous influence of the myopic ever nearer the creation and manifestation of a very twisted and unrealistic worldview.

One of the reasons why it is so unrealistic is because it is built upon the foundation of idealism; that of denying that which cannot be denied.

Even in politics now, we have reached a point where apparently well-educated people with significant responsibility placed upon them by many others, believe and apply the fallacious principle that “if I say it is so, then it will actually be so”.

An eye on the future is however one thing, but looking back turns the same coin on to its other side.

History is planned, created and experienced in the present moment by us all. Yet it is an infinite chain of perspectives or opinions, based upon what are almost always a very small number of facts – some of which even the very people who were present and involved may not themselves have actually known.

That we live in a world where opinion has a level of power which just tolerates the occasional fact should really be far more alarming to us all that it really has become.

That individuals have the power to blight the lives of others, simply because they hold a conflicting view, should be something that concerns everyone.

That others are now trying to rewrite history and remove our heritage is a risk and threat to the future of us all and once completed may never be undone.

Culturally, we indulge the notion that only bad news sells, in almost everything we do – almost to the point where is becomes only the bad news about anything itself that we remember, overlooking many more good-news-stories that are available to us as we do.

The most dangerous of steps now being taken – usually by people who believe that they have been in some way slighted by the actions of people that not one of us has or will ever know – is to apply this approach to history, focusing only upon the bad parts of his story, so that the good which may have come will automatically be overlooked and quietly denied.

The politically correct form of censorship manifesting itself through the attempted removal of historic names from buildings and even trusts, like those of Rhodes in Oxford and Colston in Bristol may look like the delivery of justice to the shallow depths of the egocentric. But in terms of what this action overlooks, it is to all of us as a culture and society – in no way any such thing.

Nobody can realistically refute the pain and suffering that colonialism and slavery visited upon many millions of innocent and powerless people over tens and hundreds of years.

Yet the industry and commerce that both were part of also brought prosperity, wealth and yes – learning to all corners of the globe.

It supercharged the path towards a more enlightened and civilised way of being which itself allows the same individuals the freedom and platform to influence the world around them – for better or worse today.

There is no escaping the dark parts of this Country’s historic chapters. But there are also many beneficial lessons to learn by looking them in the eye – not least of all for the purpose of ensuring that we have enough awareness of what can happen when the conditions for oppression and exploitation are right.

The irony of the drive to trash these parts of history, is that they are being repeated all around us in many ways, albeit wrapped differently today. They may not look the same, but they have very much the same effect emotionally on the oppressed within the quiet of their own minds.

Indeed it is a great shame that the energy and passion focused on the drive for political correctness is not itself redirected to help others who are alive and need real help – but in ways that this same lack of human awareness on the part of social justice warriors leaves them unable or unwittingly unable to define.

People are increasingly being enslaved and oppressed by the world around them, financially, by rights, quixotic ideas and by the bureaucratic systems that political correctness is slowly ratcheting around all of us, like a slow pull on a closing cable-tie.

To try to destroy the lessons of history, whilst overlooking live-time oppression is one of the most hideous forms of hypocrisy in action today.

Focusing on events to learn lessons and use them to help others going forward would be much better for us all than playing a disingenuous game of out of sight, out of mind.

image thanks to unknown

Idealism has given young people unattainable expectations within a land of the financially enslaved, where unhappiness is enhanced at a push-button rate

January 11, 2018 Leave a comment

download (13)Verbal head scratching has for many months dominated the media, as our influencers and opinion writers try to come to terms with what really happened for the Labour Party at last Summers General Election.

Of course, the perplexity doesn’t stop there. Somewhere in an office near the Palace of Westminster, a Conservative Party which looks rudderless and without any sincere intention, is desperate to emulate a link with our Nation’s young people; one which appeareances tell them only Jeremy Corbyn could invent.

That people of any age can be intoxicated by drink, drugs, or by the romanticism of the political ideal that everybody should be treated in a same-size-fits-all category is nothing new. Joining a group to further the interests of ourselves is after all hardly something new. Yet the motivation for doing so for each of us will never be exactly the same.

Sadly, politics in the UK has been without real substance for a long time. Policy is made reactively in a very focused way. It does little more than address the effects of issues, rather than going any great distance towards tackling the causes themselves.

Against such a backdrop as this, it has become very easy for politicians to make hollow promises. Corbyn’s soon rescinded promise over scrapping tuition fees for university students was clearly one such gesture. But a population which has been conditioned to believe that we can trust in our leaders and political parties without question simply doesn’t look beyond the words as they are heard – whether it considers itself to be left, right, leave or remain.

Labour’s vote winning stunt is pertinent not because it is political or because it appears to have worked as it was intended. It is illustrative of the complexity of this real problem because it highlights the presence of many questions that politicians should not only be asking – but also answering. Questions about why the various experiences of the politically disenfranchised are now being so well exemplified by the experience of the young.

Higher Education is just one area affecting real lives which has seen its value overturned, whilst giving the surface deep appearance and sense of even greater opportunity being presented to all.

Young people are being actively encouraged to commit themselves to lifetime borrowing to take a wide range of degrees which themselves are increasingly considered by industry to be worthless in terms of the skills that they teach. The students themselves understandably believing that they will automatically find themselves within a glittering career just as soon as they leave full time education.

The commercialisation of the higher education sector has added to the problem considerably. The priority of what at one time would have been arguably some of the best academic tuition available in the world, having now been shifted from the quality of teaching itself, to the accumulation of profit and nothing else. The recent cases of outrageous pay for university leaders is all you will need to read.

Whichever way you look at it, the emphasis is about money. And the experience of education is just where this process begins.

Having been sold the faulty bill of goods which a degree education for many has now become, the opportunities to secure work which will enable young people to quickly move on without a need to go home to their parents is increasingly hard to find.

Profiteering in the housing market has made entry level purchases and tenancies impossible for many. Property prices being exponentially inflated beyond even their realistic ball-park level, with values now being pitched at the ground in the next town and probably way beyond.

The work which is available to many graduates offers career prospects way below what a degree level entrant had been taught to expect when they made their academic choice.

With the attainment of all degrees being deliberately sold to everyone as an academic elixir which will make a graduate in some way better than anyone else, it is little wonder that many see some occupations as simply being beneath them, not only as a job title itself, but in terms of the tasks they will now accept even as they are being on-the-job trained.

Effortless attainment has become the expectation of the next generation. It is backed up by an instant response culture of a click-button-world. And with media saturation reaching the point where we can perceive almost anyone as being accessible to us on our phones or in our own front room, it is little wonder that every young person who is prepared to do what they are told, expects that life will instantly reward them by appointing them as a rock star, MP or CEO.

The young and therefore all of us have been failed by the creation and propogation of a land of unattainable expectation. A fallacious future based on hollow promises, so that politicians can bathe in the glory of transient electoral and policy wins which add up to little more than pyrrhic victories.

For an entire population, a value set which reflects a practical, obtainable and satisfactory level of reality has now been denied. Aspiration has now been usurped by the need for glory and this is a prize you can only win if you make it big financially too.

Generations of politicians are responsible for this perfect storm. They represent all parties, and even those who are today continuing to perpetuate this evolution of chaos, would not recognise a pathway which for many others is already beginning to feel like doom.

The impractical idealism and romanticism of the left has created the illusion for some that a utopia exists where each of us can be equal whilst becoming a king or queen over all. This has been no less devastating than the unleashing of unregulated markets under the increasingly influential neoliberalism of the right, which demonstrates that it really is only those who have unfettred access to money who have any perceived form of real power. Very few of us believe in or have faith in the ability for us all to experience something beneficial in-between.

If government continues to do nothing to resolve this problem, we remain on target to become a Nation lost.

Yet resolution is not just as simple as the exchange of a few simple ideas.

After all, any person who would just like to live a simple lifestyle, without money, is in a position where they simply cannot.

 

image thanks to unknown

New houses never lower prices within their local ‘market’ and the Persimmon CEO’s £110 Million Bonus gives our ‘housing crisis’ the lie

January 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Money HousesHousing has become one of the hot political issues of our time. To read and hear about it in the media, it has become easy to conclude that the Government, our Councils, Housing Associations and Builders alike all share the view that we are in a housing crisis. The picture they paint suggests that they are all doing everything that they possibly can. But should we all really believe?

Laid bare, the lack of housing really does look nothing like the story we are being presented. Immigration inflating real need exponentially has become as much an unspoken truth across the whole country, as it has that 2nd homeowners are leaving seaside and rural property empty for much of the year, whilst they add nothing financially to the communities in which they don’t have time to genuinely reside.

“We need to build more homes” has become the mantra of the many. Yet the real beneficiaries of this process will not be the people who will end up living in many of them. Nor will it be the Government which is operating on the premise that money is the only way to solve any problem, no matter what it might be.

The real beneficiaries of the push to create housing will be the builders and the bankers who finance them, whose real take from all the public money which is being fire-hosed at them is only too well illustrated by the bonus payment being made to the CEO of Persimmon Homes.

Under the auspices of self-serving government at all levels and the ineptitude of policy making and long term strategy which has been rolled out in real time within current planning policy, Builders and Developers of all kinds have found themselves within what can only be described as a smorgasbord of discount and profit and the epitome of the one-sided win-win.

Deals are and have been done, not on the basis of what is best for us all. For if that were the true intention, there would be little need for deals of this kind.

Deals are being done, because the focus of this housing crisis is little more than money and profit itself.

People young and old are being out priced in all parts of the housing market, not because prices reflect the true value of houses and the market, but because the system and government policy is facilitating house builders, mortgage lenders and private landlords to take us all on one massive, great big bubble-building ride.

The evidence is not difficult to find. Wherever we may live, new housing developments are never far away. Yet when homes are released, we never see prices being lowered nearby.

Lower house prices within the communities in which these additional homes are built would be the logical outcome within any localised market which was genuinely left to itself to determine and decide.

Instead this so-called ‘crisis’ continually goes on unsolved, whilst we are being sleepwalked into a national travesty in the shape of an unsustainable housing price bubble which is guaranteed to explode.

When it does, those profiteering and responsible now will be the first to run and hide.

image thanks to unknown

%d bloggers like this: