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Yes – Taxi Driver Qualification could be tighter, but further centralisation of the rules will discriminate against good driver applicants as well as bad

February 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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One of the most tragic ways that MPs and Politicians fail the Electorate, is by giving excessive weight to the advice and input from membership organisations that sell and portray themselves as representative of entire demographics or communities. For they are susceptible to the very same biases, tunnel vision and levels of self interest on the part of their representatives and leaders that the MP would be expected to consider if they were just talking to any one person alone.

All too often, Ministers who have little or no real-world experience of their brief or the wherewithal to understand at an intrinsic level, what someone is telling them who has, respond in knee-jerk fashion to what these organisations tell them. They are under the misapprehension that the words of such representatives genuinely reflect the will and desires of whole swathes of the Electorate, when reality is that they seldom do any such thing.

With four years experience as a Licensing Chair which ended in 2015, I was intrigued to hear the news that the Government is now to Consult on changing the qualification rules for Taxi, Hackney and Private Hire Drivers. The direction of travel suggested being to emphasise that the rules governing their Regulation should become more uniform, and therefore centralised so that an applicant or driver dealing with one Licensing Authority would now be effectively dealing with them all as one.

In principle this sounds good. There is definitely a disconnect between the reality that Drivers are often only Registered or ‘Licensed’ by one Local Authority, but in almost every case other than a large Licensing Area such as London, they will cross into the jurisdiction of at least one and possible many others perhaps as often as every day.

This does indeed leave grey areas over infringements in the regulatory sense. But more importantly where existing Taxi Drivers and their Operating Companies are concerned, there is a big issue over outsiders treading on toes. Vehicles from other areas are perceived to be stealing business from ‘local firms’ with the subsequent suggestion that the Authority Licensing that ‘outsider driver’, employs a policy where anything goes.

Because Taxi Licensing Policy is open to localised tweaks, additions and therefore non-adoption of policies which might have been adopted elsewhere too, it is easy to give fictitious credence to the arguments that roll away from myth that every Authority is run differently.

The reality is that the rules governing all forms of Licensing are already heavily centralised, have been set in London and in the main part with basic issues like qualification, are pretty much consistent wherever you might go.

Unfortunately, the Taxi Lobby has form when it comes to influencing Politicians to change rules for their own ends.

A decade ago, changes to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 closed a loop-hole preventing private drivers from gaining a fee for transporting Special Educational Needs Students between their homes, schools and colleges. Sold as a way to raise safety standards, the outcome of this ring-fencing of local authority contracts to a the closed audience which lobbied for it landed Local Educational Authorities with an average additional annual bill of at least £1 Million, without any indication that the benefit to the end user at larger was in any way improved.

Yes, there is always a need to make sure that the rules are tight. But rules can also be twisted to benefit those with the most to gain whilst there is a significant cost to others.

We should all be very concerned about the potential for further regulation which is being sold as being in the best interests of the Public, that may actually only favour particular types of operators, has the potential to price others out of the marketplace and put up prices for all customers.

All this at a time when Taxis themselves are increasingly the only lifeline available for people disadvantaged by the remote nature of their communities, where commercialisation of public services has failed them more than perhaps most.

Like Planning Law, which is often perceived mistakenly as being set locally by District Level Authorities, Licensing is predominantly set centrally already. It is just interpreted in the main part by Local Licensing Authorities.

In what is a typically quasi-judicial setting that some would recognise as not being massively dissimilar to the Magistrates Court, applications and reviews that cannot be determined by Officers under delegated powers are heard by a panel or bench of three of the Council’s Licensing Committee Members.

Within such a setting, there is regrettably always a chance that because of the inconsistency in the quality, approach and motivation of local Politicians – as with Parliament – that you will get a different outcome from a hearing. It is very much dependent upon who is sitting, who is chairing and facilitating, how they interpret the evidence given, how they are advised by Licensing Officers and yes – just because it’s the way that it all went that day.

It is here that there is real inconsistency within the Licensing system.

But this inconsistency needs to be tackled with measures put in place to ensure that there is consistency in determinations, that impartiality is the guiding factor in all outcomes and that nobody sitting in ‘judgment’ is allowed to influence a decision because of personal bias, experience or because they are on a power trip and want to get their own way that day.

The risk in moving towards a national form of Licensing administration is that it will remove what little flexibility is left within the system. Flexibility that needs to be monitored and improved, but not overlooked, forgotten or ignored.

Not everyone wants to be a Taxi Driver. Many people take on the role as an in-between to keep themselves working whilst the move between other things. Some take on the work because they do not like being employed but do not want the responsibility of being self-employed in the generally accepted sense and are as such making the very best of things that they can.

Yes, there have been some very serious cases of Taxi Drivers abusing the responsibility and the trust that they have been given. But whilst what those individuals have done is wrong, the cases that are now being used as a reference point for changing the whole industry are statistically very few, and like in many areas where Government Policy is being used to pursue the passions of the few, there is an inherent danger to this of the tail being used to wag the whole dog.

The signifiant danger is that by appearing to tighten up rules which are already working well – when you consider that you will never create the perfect system, there are many would-be Taxi Drivers who could be assets to an industry which itself is facing challenging times, which will be denied entry to these roles at an incalculable cost.

People who could now, through the further synchronisation of rules be excluded because of the already overzealous nature of decision making in the public sphere, where risk of any kind – which includes giving people the benefit of the doubt when they are turning their lives around or are leaving mistakes made in their youth a long way behind – would be in much shorter supply.

Dehumanising the system might be reflective of the world at large, but the disadvantage and cost of such steps will be much more far-reaching than what will only ever be a perceived and tangible benefit to very few.

image thanks to unknown

Rethinking the Railways: no Public Service should be in private hands, nor should it be under union influence either

January 3, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s January and once again, we are witnessing inflation-busting rises in Rail Fares with the same old media coverage, the same old political responses from all sides and the same old reality that it is the same people being financially worked-over as a result of the ineptitude of the Politicians who were Elected to help them.

As usual, the blame game is well and truly afoot, providing ever useful cover for those choosing not to be responsible as we focus on the beneficial myths which are privatisation of public services, public ownership, building completely new railways and the inherent suggestion that people can always afford to pay more.

Whilst championed by the various sides as Westminster takes a momentary breath from Brexit, the reality is that none of these approaches can solve the fundamental problems that exist within the railways, public transport or wider public sector services.

Switching from one of these methods to another to solve just one problem, will simply create many more.

As with most issues that now surround the ineptitude and incompetency of Government, the real solutions to these problems – that’s the one that tackle the actual causes – are simply too unpalatable for the spin doctors and marketing whizzes to contemplate on behalf of the Politicians who would have us believe that they are in control.

The Politicians themselves do not have the foresight to see that by taking the tough and difficult decisions that they are supposed to, the results and impact of that action will soon speak much louder than any sound bite, as the reality of doing things properly becomes manifest and finds a very loud voice of its own.

The problem with the options that we are told are available

It’s very important to understand that one of the key principles of the Public Sector and the way that it operates is involuntarily and often deliberately overlooked:

Public Services are not and never will be a commercial business.

The purpose of Public Services is to provide uniformity of service and/or access to the wider community, which is simply contradictory to the motivation for running private business.

The simple reason being that the universal nature of the requirement for Public Services necessitates that unless you cherry pick and introduce different levels or tiers of service or remove the provision of that service from some areas altogether, the guarantee of profitability from all those parts operated, if not all of the service itself would always be denied.

This is why even in private hands, the Railways are heavily subsidised by the Government.

The Railways today

Today the Railways are effectively operated by profit-making private sector contractors or operating companies. Contractors who are often large PLC’s that make substantial sums of money by operating large-scale services and employing the economies of scale to reduce costs, usually on an ongoing basis.

Operating under the auspices of being a regulated public service as the nature of the public ownership of the railway infrastructure itself dictates, the contractors do not have the flexibility to raise prices and change service structures at will.

This effectively means that to increase profits, the contractors have to reverse engineer the profit-making-process by reducing overheads and making more money from the cost centres which have been accounted for in their Contract with the Government.

In effect, they are adhering to the terms of their agreement with the Government in principle rather than spirit. The outcome being the shitty end of the stick that we all experience each and every time we get on a sweaty train and realise that we have to stand for at least significant chunks of a very long journey, unless we want to get out and run.

Because the margins the operating companies accept to gain a contract or franchise are often very tight, expectation versus the ability to back engineer those all-important profit margins can easily prove impossible to align. And when they do, this is when we experience ‘franchises’ being passed back to public hands.

No private company will pay for the privilege of operating a Public Service, and nor should  the Government expect them to do so. But on the same count, neither should they be able to milk profit by taking all the value out.

The only thing that literally keeps the train wheels spinning is the RPI linked rise in Rail Fares which comes into operation each January.

It’s a dubious way of calculating an annual rise to say the least. But without it, the current operating model simply wouldn’t work.

Return to Public Ownership

Jeremy Corbyn and his shotgun John McDonnell advocate a wholesale return of Public Services to Public Ownership. For obvious reasons which only a fool would overlook or dismiss, this is a principle that the Public would all too easily embrace.

What it doesn’t do is answer the big questions surrounding why the idea of privatisation gained momentum in the first place. Perhaps the biggest reason being one of the left’s own making; the power of the Unions and Employment Rights too.

The simple question for anyone who understands the reasons why Public Services are put out to contract and therefore placed in profit-making hands is this: ‘Why is it more cost effective to employ a profit making company to run an identical service to the one we could or have provided ourselves?

The answer isn’t one that the left likes.

But it is also the reason that wholesale return of public services to public ownership without reform would cripple this Country in no uncertain terms: The Public Sector wage and benefits bill is out of control, as are the regulations and rights that support them, and the Union’s will bring everything to a standstill under the guidance of their barons who will employ the very same self-interest employed by big bankers and pension funds who milk public services today, simply served up in a different and even more malevolent form.

Building new Railways

Building new Railways will not solve the problems of franchising to profit-led contractors or operating them in unreformed Public hands.

It will cost money that the Country doesn’t have and would be unnecessary for us to spend too, if the Government was prepared to make the decisions that it should do.

The existing Infrastructure

One of the biggest errors of Government in ‘recent’ times, was the dismantling of the Railways undertaken by Dr Beeching in the 1960’s.

There was a complete lack of foresight and understanding by yet another Government which was reacting to the effects of problems it was facing, rather than getting on and tackling the causes as any good government should.

The result was that much of the indirect capacity which had until that time existed, was removed and with it, a ticking time bomb created for the effectiveness of the reformed railway network which would soon be as restricted as the diminished number of lines.

Today, there are simply not enough platforms at key and terminus or hub stations to increase capacity on the network in the most simple and effective way:

Increase the number of trains.

Using the Public as a cash cow

Whilst the Government heads off a simmering crisis each year by putting up the Rail Fares in what can only be argued as an unrealistic form, it relies on what is in effect taxing the same people over and over again for using a substandard service. One that only appears sustainable because over many commuters the Rail Operators hold a monopoly – something public services were NEVER created for.

Solving the problem and not creating others instead

It occurred to me as I was thinking about writing this blog, that the whole idea of public-private sector partnerships is actually oxymoronic.

Man can only have one master, and if that master is money, the service will not be about providing a good experience to the public.

Whilst I like the idea of public services being fully in public hands, this idea itself is no longer possible.

The standing influence that institutional and regulatory bias towards employees and unions has, has already priced out this operating model in many ways. It is itself the elephant in the room that it remains dangerous to identify when the collapse of public services – particularly at local level – is ever discussed.

In respect of these two options alone, the complexity of solving the Rail Fare crisis is identified and as part of the wider cost-of-public-services is concerned, certainly comes into its own.

The only way that railways and all forms of public transport can be returned to a format of universal, uniform quality and experience is to do away with the current and previous forms of operation and accept that there has to be a new operating model, focused on public service but adapted to deliver for all against the flow of self-interested times.

We need more platforms and if necessary stations in key locations, but we don’t need to build completely new lines.

The technology now exists to run and manage many more Trains on the same lines at the same times and we should be both embracing and furthering this massive opportunity for the benefits to the public, rather than just the profitability that it was developed for.

Existing line-beds and heritage Railways should be put back into commercial use and we should be making the very best of the infrastructure that we already have.

The cost of doing so and the time it will take to deliver will be substantially less and with much less disruption than any white elephant project like HS2 would ever have.

 

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

Brexit and the influence of Corporate Business: Money talks and the rest of the business community walks

Brexit 2The result of the European Referendum was a surprise to many, and that includes a substantial part of the leave side itself. Yet over a year on, with Article 50 Triggered over 3 Months ago and David Davies now participating in regular sessions of ‘negotiation’ with the European elite, nobody seems to know what impact Brexit will have on any of the key issues, and whether any of what are being considered as the obvious problems which led to the ‘No’ Vote will really have been resolved.

With Brexit constituting a polysemic reference point which in the imaginations of everyone will look as different as the number of people you might ask, it is perhaps no wonder that there really is as much confusion as there appears to be about the whole process.

Some do of course interpret what is already the natural anxiety which is accompanying these early stages of our departure from the European Union as change in the minds of the majority that initiated this whole process. Yet they would do well to remember that none of the reasons which prompted that significant choice on the part of so many have as yet been resolved, and especially so in the case of the many more beyond those generally accepted and not least of all the spectre of corporate and political self interest.

It should really be of little surprise that things have looked like such a mess in these circumstances and genuinely forgivable given the lack of pre-Referendum preparation for its outcome and the chain of events including a change of Prime Minister and an arguably unexpected General Election which has distributed power in peculiar directions.

What is less easy to overlook, and perhaps should be of great concern to us all, is the readiness of former remain-backing politicians to focus upon the opinion and input of sources from the corporate world who also sought the same outcome when considering what will or wont work for business-full-stop, when what they appear to hope will be an indefinite period of transition commences in March 2019 and we formally leave the Union.

Input of organisations such as the CBI, whilst important in its capacity as a member-based industry voice, is nonetheless representative only of the executives and companies for whom they work, and therefore the highly subjective and specifically profit-led interests that they all have in conjunction with their own trading arrangements with Europe – rather than what is objectively in the better interests of us all.

Whilst it may be to some degree inevitable that UK-European trade will come at a greater cost to all businesses in the future, these changes will in real or financial terms be no different than the changes in costs of manufacturing, supply and service provision which have accompanied change after change after change which have been instigated by a continual flow of new European Laws and Directives when they hit relevant businesses. In fact, it is only the fact that this is an industry-wide phenomenon, rather than just another hitting one sector or another, which really marks leaving the European Union itself as being markedly different from changes that to real business, would really be ‘just one of those things’.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the Government is listening to the wrong people, but it certainly does not appear to be taking into account the realities facing the complete range of the right ones either, and when the views of Remain-lite big business are put into their true perspective, the news is arguably far from as bad as the comparatively few companies which are big enough to swim in the pool with the CBI and have influence on its own Policy would like us and the Government to think.

Motivation is regrettably key, and whilst it is considered normal to talk about the individuals who give voice to CBI membership and the corporate business community as being representative of the ‘business view’, very few, if indeed any of the people who have reached the top of these large Companies will have really cut their teeth in the furnace of SME business start-ups, development and management. It is here where you ultimately have no choice but to accept, get on and work with legislatory change, or get out of the market and let someone else have a go if you can no longer make it work.

Small business, which suggested by Federation of Small Business (FSB) figures makes up at least 60% of industry, thrives on being adaptable and embracing each and every change that it will face, which for most will come to them pretty much on almost daily basis. What it doesn’t have – even with membership organisations like the FSB  – which are again only technically representative of the views of their members with a voice – is a seat, or what should be a significant number of seats around the ‘top table’ when it comes to getting the ear of Ministers and indeed our Government.

This is a travesty, as the business environment which they inhabit is the real engine room of our economy, and the place where industry feedback is most open and reflective of the concerns and realities which really do face all businesses.

SME’s are the business equivalent of the electoral grassroots and the only place to go if Government really wants to establish the priorities of British Business to inform our negotiations with the EU as we transition through Brexit to what may then prove to be a much more productive world for the British economy beyond.

image thanks to news.sky.com 

Festive Strikes defy sense and reason, but we should all be mindful of the unspoken issues behind them which serve as a warning for us all

December 14, 2016 1 comment

download-1We should all recognise the value that Unions historically had in influencing positive change in the workplace. But times change and the question over whether they have continued to provide a genuine voice for poor treatment or have simply become little more than an archaic nuisance to business and government alike will certainly lend legitimacy to the arguments against Union power by the more neoliberal within them.

The effect and reach of equalities legislation has permeated through every part of society and our lives to a point which has arguably gone well beyond its point of good, and to a level where its influence has become fundamentally regressive.

From this standpoint alone, you could make a reasoned and valuable argument against any organisation or movement which seeks to progress the work of the rights lobby further, and beyond that see the power of Union Leaders as the menacing anti-business device that the untimely raft of strikes by Southern Rail, Post Office and Argos Staff this December would ultimately suggest that they are.

It is certainly true that in relative terms, there is no difference between bankers creating profit-focused financial devices that speculate the cost of products or services, indirectly raising the cost of living for us all, and a self-serving union rep who places a stranglehold strike on an employer simply to get a pay rise or a perceived improvement in terms for their fellow staff.

But should we really dismiss any kind of industrial action by narrowing cases down and concluding that personal gain is simply what its all about?

On the face of it, it really doesn’t matter if a debate is framed as a matter of health and safety or fairness over holiday conditions and pay. Gain does play a significant part, but so does the fear of loss, and both these two debates are representative of much deeper seated root causes of problems at work around us which are building up as a significant time bomb, whilst they continue to go unchecked.

Union leaders do not help themselves by behaving as if business exists only to create and facilitate jobs. It doesn’t and never has. Yet the drive to pay less for the same work to be done or to do away with specific jobs entirely in order to cut costs when profits are maintained and prices are soaring, rather gives the lie to where a public service provider’s priorities focus. The more concerning element of the Southern Rail strike debate however, is what the introduction of technology which immediately halves the staffing requirement for managing just one train alone will mean or may have already meant when considered outside of this specific context and becomes representative of the impact its is having in every area of business and employment.

Immigration is blamed by many for the loss, or rather diversion of jobs to foreign and particularly Eastern European workers, with the caricature of the Bombay-based call centre worker being used to account for the export of many others. The inference being that jobs are in some way set in stone and that it is just the terms under which they are awarded to an employee or contractor that changes.

What it doesn’t account for is the genuine loss of jobs due to technological advances having literally removed the need for a particular role to exist.

We would perhaps like to think that his march of technology is researched, developed and delivered purely on the basis of improving many different aspects of production and service delivery. That is certainly how the benefits are sold.

What is rarely mentioned – the elephant in the room, is that jobs have been disappearing for a very long time as a result of this pathway of progress, whether it has been within manufacturing, agriculture, public transport or any one of a multitude of industries and skilled areas where services or production have been highly labour intensive.

Up until now, the change has not been noticed. Workers have retrained and like the once redundant miners who moved into call centres in the North, many manual jobs have been replaced by others within newly defined service industries which are focused on producing an experience, rather than some kind of definable or tangible product we can buy.

It sounds good, and little is said when jobs are there for those with apparently transferable skills when a factory closes. But what happens when the new jobs do themselves become the target of efficiencies and the technological breakthroughs which leave a machine doing the job of many different people over its amortised lifetime at a fraction of the cost?

This whole idea will to some sound far-fetched. But the change is very real and is now becoming present as a very clear danger to a broad spectrum of jobs.

Take for instance Amazon Go, which is set to be launched in the United States early in 2017. This forward looking and innovative Company is not standing still when it comes to the platforms from which it seeks to acquire new market share. Within weeks, it will move into location-based grocery stores which do not require shoppers to use tills or a check-out system when they visit. You simply use the smartphone based Amazon Go App which does the work for you and the system even knows and calculates the change when you put an item back.

We need only consider the number of tills at a standard sized Asda, Morrisons, Tesco or Sainsburys near to where we live and the inevitable irritation that queuing to pay causes us all to appreciate just how quickly this new way of shopping could explode, taking many jobs from any one or all of these stores as the concept is rolled out and goes viral throughout the retail industry – which it inevitably will.

In business terms, this development by Amazon can only be commended as the groundbreaking step that it actually is. But the dark realities behind this very appealing change for our instore shopping habits is that its true benefit will be profit to shareholders. It will be masked by a transient benefit to us all as shoppers, but it will ultimately lead to the loss of jobs which may simply never be replaced or made available elsewhere.

The very difficult message that needs to be swallowed, fully considered and then acted upon by policy makers as a whole is that the story which underlies comparatively simple squabbles with the Unions over pay and conditions do indeed relate to the range of still unanswered questions over the continuing cost of living crisis, but are in fact just the tip of a very large iceberg indeed.

In recent weeks, highly respected British Scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and US Tesla CEO Elon Musk have both alluded to these issues with Mr Musk going as far as to suggest that government may have to consider providing a basic income. He is absolutely right.

If industry continues to deliver efficiencies via technology in the way it that it is already doing so, whilst religiously maintaining or increasing margins and raising prices despite the savings being made, profit for the few and the effect it has on the many will unquestionably result in the Government paying the bill to finance a significant workforce which has become unemployable and left without choice.

Less people paying tax will exacerbate the difficulties that the Government faces and families in genuine need will not be sustained on a level of income which doesn’t meet the increase in the cost to maintain a basic standard of living which is being dictated by and large, by the very companies who will benefit from the implementation of the technology that enables them to shed so many staff.

The alternative will be that Government must take the concept of responsible capitalism seriously and consider the steps that may need to be taken to prevent businesses growing to a point where their market share enables them to become a monopolistic menace to the very society that buys its goods or services.

In the mean time, the methods, approach and lack of consideration for the impact of their actions upon people who are struggling in the very same ways as union members are themselves in the run up to Christmas may well make any feelings of support for the Strikes feel somewhat unpalatable. But we may all nonetheless do well to appreciate the value in the story which is not being spoken by the Unions, the media and Government when for far from obvious reasons, the voice of militancy leads an employee to act.

 

image from source unknown

 

Royal Mail & Privatisation: Its called privatisation for a good reason and politicians need to wake up and realise that privately owned business will never have the general public as its point of primary concern…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

The-true-cost-of-Royal-Mail-privatisation-820x615

In July 2013 – before the privatisation of Royal Mail took place, I wrote a blog about the process and discussed why it was a bad idea and briefly, what the implications would most likely be for the future of the universal delivery service.

Sadly, the news today that the privatised Company has experienced a £74 Million fall in profits and that it is already pointing the finger of blame at competition in profitable areas comes as little surprise.

We will no doubt soon experience further questions over the viability of rural and unprofitable delivery routes.

Whether the Government likes it or not, the reality of surrendering public ownership of a service which was created to ensure parity of service for all in the way that only a not-for-profit operation can do so, is soon going to bite.

It is simply impossible for Government to dictate the operational structure of a private business when profit is at risk – unless they choose to subsidise the service. If that happens, the question will surely yet again be why did they dispose of Royal Mail in the first place?

Whatever our politicians may think, privatisation of services which are there for the benefit of everyone is never a good idea; however hard to run; however much they cost; however much can be earned from their sale.

These services are essential to deliver a basic standard of living for all, which Government is currently failing to do by not dealing with the profit-led management policies of all the privatised services which the public once owned. What is more, it is set to continue compounding the problem by having so recently disposed of Royal Mail and by taking very big steps in the direction of privatisation of the NHS through the Commissioning Process.

It stands to reason that the managers of privately owned firms are going to focus on the practices and methods of working which deliver a good bottom line.

Whereas Government and Social Enterprise will be very happy if they are simply covering their costs, private owners simply don’t get up each day and think about how they can remove all their profits from one area of their business to subsidise the services they offer in another – when they cost them money to do so.

Sooner or later, someone – certainly not this Government – is going to have to begin picking up the pieces from what has been the serial offloading of a whole range of public services which once gave all British people unhindered access to the tools of a modern life which were once the envy of all.

The Country may already be secretly bankrupt. But selling up everything that we own is not the answer.

Top to bottom reform is now inevitable. It’s just a question of when; not if – and what the cost will be to us all whilst we wait for the leadership of politicians who are big enough to get all of the jobs done in the best interests of everyone and not just themselves.

 

image: europeanceo.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politicians must acknowledge the problems within the NHS before any serious steps can be taken to save it…

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

David Cameron And Jeremy Hunt Visit A Hospital To Mark The 65th Anniversary Of The NHS

It is because we can all identify or agree with the principles of our healthcare system – to meet the needs of everyone; to be free at the point of delivery; and that it be based on clinical need and not the ability to pay, that it has become such a focus and play thing for successive Governments and the politicians within.

It is also why the NHS now finds itself at a point in its history where these very Principles may have now placed it at the most significant risk.

In time, the size of the milestone which was the creation of the NHS, may be fully appreciated for the very rare moment in time that it was when the political classes delivered a set of policies and principals which were genuinely created to be in the best interests of all.

Such moments are extremely rare. Governments such as those led by Churchill and Thatcher created and determined legacies which still affect us now and which their successors may only ever hope to emulate.

But the arrival of the NHS, much like the formalisation of working democracy through the creation of our Parliament following the Civil War, has the power to touch us all – even if we don’t or won’t openly acknowledge it.

Sadly however, once the principles upon which the NHS was formed were agreed and indeed became cornerstones of both our culture and society; what were soon to become the long-term political arguments over how their processes should operate soon began.

Today, the NHS might be best described as a series of industries within industries; of silos within silos; business unit lapping up against business unit; as an entire ecosystem where ideas, concepts and yes – even Jeremy Hunt’s ‘innovation’ [aka ‘commissioning] are actively competing against and ultimately all working against each other with the regrettable endgame firmly in sight, when some future Government will have no choice but to admit to no longer being able to afford it. Funny perhaps that it’s never this particular one…

Generations of the political masters of the NHS do themselves carry much of the blame for the crisis which the Organisation is in, with it having become the ongoing vogue to stake ideological claim to ensuring the future of the service.

Ideologies are all well and good, but it is such a cultural reliance upon specialists for every function outside of medical practice itself that has bloated backroom functions and created an ideal climate for non-clinical managers to lay claim to the most important responsibilities within what should have always remained a predominantly clinical-led world.

Add the performance-choking and burdensome elements of protectionism which have been fuelled by European red-tape and employment legislation; litigation culture and the motivation of many to look for almost any reason to create blame, and you can soon see why temporary staff, commissioning and the recruitment of managers who can surely only manage if they have a degree or an MBA has become the norm.

The pseudo-sciences do indeed have a lot to answer for not only within the NHS. Somebody somewhere will soon need to realise that blue sky and out-of-the-box thinking are reflections upon the ability and understanding of an individual to apply what they know. It is something which itself can rarely be taught, and the way in which qualification is prioritised above experience is really quite perverse in the age of equal opportunities. The text book technocracy which is now populating all tiers of middle and upper management threatens whole industries, and not least of all the NHS.

As discussed in a previous blog about Government, the NHS is not a business and should not in any way be treated like it is one.

One of the greatest ironies of Jeremy Hunt’s plans for making savings by cutting the hire of temporary staff, is the fact that many of them have and are being employed to manage and grow the processes of commissioning which he himself is stewarding – attracting daily rates for self employed ‘consultants’ which can easily reach £400-500 per day; plus expenses; plus the fees which the Recruiters and Agents who facilitate their ‘employment’ will be charging themselves.

Whilst sold to us as the way to streamline and make healthcare more affordable, commissioning is not only an extremely expensive process to manage, drawing funds, staff and resources away from areas where they are needed most. It is also a major step in the direction of privatisation.

Health service providers – government, NGO, not-for-profit and privately owned alike – are invited to bid to provide services, and all of them will be primarily thinking about the bottom line, and not the holistic level of care they will be giving the end user – i.e. you and me, as they do so.

The Government itself usually recognises a bottom line from fee generation as profit, whatever the legal status of the organisation behind it. The biggest question about the future of the NHS must therefore be how it can possibly be so that other organisations can now provide better services at lower cost whilst they are also making a profit, when the Government itself cannot deliver the same directly and without the need to pay an additional premium fee?

The NHS, like Local Government and many of our NGO’s is in serious trouble, not just because the Country is now effectively bankrupt and cannot actually afford to continue providing the services that it already does. But because it is also incapable of addressing the fundamental need for transformation and use innovation in its real sense to enact top-to-bottom change in working practices and the legislative areas that support them.

Politicians are not prepared to talk about the real issues that the NHS faces, even when they are themselves cognizant of them, because they fear the electoral implications of actually being seen to do so.

Meanwhile, the default approach to making savings is being employed yet again, and whilst savings can almost certainly be made, the decisions which lead to them should be based on the knowledge and experience which comes from the clinical end of the scalpel, and not from the money-counters and political theorists that populate the very fat end of the other.

image: blogs.spectator.co.uk

 

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