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Change is what we need; not revolution. And it’s all about getting the basics right…

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

images-13For all politicians, the opportunity genuinely exists to revise and create new polices which will work for the benefit of all. It’s not an option which is restricted to Ed Milliband and Nigel Farage who both hope to have very different roles in power from May; but one which even the Coalition Government could begin to embrace right now.

Sounds quite a stretch when you think about it though. Tribal politics and the media chasing political circus that Westminster has become, has, after all created a cynical and disenfranchised electorate; one which in the majority experiences little each day, to make it feel that the system actually relates to any of us in any way.

Perhaps without even knowing they do it much of the time, even the most modest members of the political classes somehow succeed in exploiting this very real perception to their benefit, using the media and disingenuous rhetoric they employ to leave individuals and families feeling as if they are themselves alone in going through what for many has become a very trying experience.

It wouldn’t be so bad. But being left feeling guilty because you cannot afford to buy food; to pay bills; to buy clothes; to pay for transport or because you are having some other form of negative experience of life which you really shouldn’t be have in 21st Century democratic Britain is certainly in no way fair.

It is certainly not what you would call right in an age when equality has for a long time been sold to us as a given.

Its not what you expect when successive political generations have told us all that they, and only they, possess the holy grail to putting everyone first.

When you have Government after Government run by people whose only true priority is to gain or retain power, it stands to reason that many people do not see or feel that the electoral system is working for them.

Ignoring elections, or throwing support in the direction of a new Party which is at the very least attempting to sound like it is in touch with the issues that people are facing, then for many becomes an attractive proposition indeed.

Regrettably, such a political environment like the one we are experiencing today provides a wholly fertile seedbed for popular voices advocating seismic change of a kind that would be more akin to opening the Pandora’s box which accompanies public unrest, rather than heralding the arrival of some new and golden age. However well intended, Russell Brand’s recent political outbursts and the publication of his book Revolution are in reality little more than an aspirational touch paper of anarchy – based on the views and interpretations of many other Writers – promoting the release of one terrible genie that any sensible person – however frustrated with the system they might be – really does not want to see let out of it’s bottle.

images-12Overnight change – which is essentially what revolution is, doesn’t usually end well. It is more likely to lead to a situation far worse than most will have experienced before, and one which will probably be a lot harder to change.

We have to work to make what we have better, rather than breaking up the workable framework that already exists; throwing it all in the air and then leaving it all to pure chance to see – and then experience where the unconnected pieces will then all fall.

It is top to bottom reform and change that are essential across public services and all areas of Government Policy, before people are in any way likely to feel they are being treated fairly.

This will not come about by continuing to base arguments and disquiet on wealth or demographic class, and whilst advocates of wealth redistribution may find an audience which is very receptive to the idea that either taxing or simply stripping wealth from the rich, and sharing it out equally amongst the poor may give them all a much better life; this idea is indeed as illusory as the money is itself.

Non-earned wealth will in most cases disappear just as quickly as it arrives – if not through private spending, then through the exponential and inflationary economic changes which would almost certainly accompany the instantaneous arrival of so much personal wealth.

The aim of solving the problems of breadline Britain or the cost of living crisis will no better be served by penalising the potential of high earnings, than it will be by enacting an unsustainable rate for the Minimum or Living Wage.

Such solutions may provide a temporary fix, and give a moment of perceived justice to many. But those with money will soon move away or lose the incentive to keep earning – whether they are companies or individuals; whilst those who have found themselves with more money in the bank at the end of one month, will soon lose it the next when employers and the suppliers of all the goods and services that they think they can now afford put their prices up to support the rises in wages that they have themselves had to pay.

No. Dealing with problems in isolation simply does not and will not work, because by attempting to solve one problem in this way, the process soon leads to the creation of many more – if it doesn’t just make the original one a whole lot worse for those who are experiencing it.

To build a better life for all, getting the basics right is the very first step. It is about reviving, living and promoting a sense of ethical balance and consideration for all.

This will most likely be achieved by ensuring that at the most fundamental level, adults can afford to feed, clothe, and house themselves – and any dependents that they may have – to a minimum and workable standard. A benchmark level which cannot be subjected to the influence of any third party.

Working to address the many issues that require policy changes will not be simple. But Politicians are elected with the expectation that they can deal with complexities on behalf of the people they represent, and if they have taken their election that seriously, this is exactly what they should now do.

The possibilities for solutions are probably endless. But solutions are indeed possible if the needs, benefits and consequences for everyone are considered properly.

If politicians genuinely want to help and provide a level-playing field where there is opportunity for all, why are they not looking at policy areas that have the potential to make an immediate difference. Examples might be:

Releasing the restrictions placed on employers AND employees through Legislation such as the European Working Time Directive: The days when legitimate business thrived on the unbridled exploitation of the working classes have long since passed and we today have some of the most restrictive working practices on the planet. If everyone in the workplace was completely happy, furthering and maintaining the cause of such horrific levels of bureaucracy would make sense. But many people want the opportunity to work beyond the requirements of their contracts of employment, whilst employers would benefit greatly from increased input and flexibility from existing – and often more experienced staff. The real key to ensuring fairness is simply allow workers to do additional work when THEY want to, or just as they have formally agreed. Employers have to be trusted not to embrace unsafe working practices and the nanny state has gone too far in basing industry-wide restrictions on the behaviour of the unscrupulous few, or upon idealistic views of bureaucrats of how business actually works. Imposing business-breaking fines – and being seen to do so, would be a far more effective way of encouraging good working practices and management, rather than allowing officials with no business experience to attempt to direct industry professionals on how they can staff their business.

Stopping the escalation of property prices:The UK is culturally obsessed with property and its financial value in a way that few other Countries are. Prices have continued to inflate at dangerous levels which keeps borrowing artificially high, and makes rental prices equally excessive for entrants to the markets who have to rent, but desperately want the opportunity to own. Government could and arguably should step in to regulate the property industry and introduce policies which keep prices as they realistically can. The potential need for a resetting of property values is very real, and whilst Government behaves as if the answer to all problems is to build, build, build, while prices keep on going up (When do you ever see new developments come on to the market with prices that are lower than the local comparative market?), Politicians are never going to solve the housing problem or the massive drain that property prices has become for young people entering the market. Putting this problem off until tomorrow has long been the way; but tomorrow may already be here!

Working with Utility companies to keep prices manageable: The term ‘utility company’ has been a misnomer since privatisation, when the priority switched from the supply of services that are essentially supposed to be for the public good, to shareholders who will almost always be looking for a profit. No man can serve two masters, and the monopolistic strength of these companies has equipped them with the ability to write their own ticket, whilst ensuring their profits are secure. In the absence of Government regaining ownership, it should nonetheless step in to cap profits, or at the very least buy supplies direct for those who qualify at rates which reflect the wholesale purchasing power that the Government could and arguably should have on our behalf.

Buying services and goods direct from suppliers for those on benefits and low incomes or using smart card technology to deliver just the same: A massive opportunity exists for Government to step in and buy products and services on behalf of those on low-incomes and on benefits. Without the need to provide subsidies, Government could easily realise all the benefits of procuring food, fuel and essential goods as a significant bulk-buyer, just as big companies like supermarkets already do. The immediate concern that would be raised by the implementation processes such as administration, distribution and monitoring could be easily overcome through the use of IT, and whilst we hear horror stories about the stupendous cost of government-wide software implementation projects, the technology already exists to provide such a system through the use of personal smart cards, without big business profiteering, or the end user having to collect goods from anywhere other than the stores that they already use.

Creating a ‘retail’ arm to the Bank of England: Provide full current account services and not-for-profit based lending for pay-day-loans and to support small business – just seeking to return the operating costs for the benefit of everyone.

Lining up what are just a handful of suggestions makes it sound simple. But nobody would have unrealistic expectations for delivery from a Government that communicates with the public using openness, honesty and respect.

People do know that they deserve something better than what they currently have, and the time has come for a kind of Government which actually gets the basics right, rather than just talking about it before the usual grandstanding begins.

Whether income for those on low incomes comes from earnings or in-kind from benefits, there exists a cultural expectation for British Government to ensure a Basic Standard of Living.

Whatever the Political Party in Government might be, it is time for the philosophies, protectionist policies and ideas which benefit only the few to be binned and replaced with delivering something better as the priority for all.

When Government has these basics right, the many dominoes which stand beyond will very quickly begin to fall.

 

 top image – imgarcade.com

Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one

AU491810_942longThe word ‘business’ conjures up different meanings for different people, depending on their background and of course what exposure they may have had to its use or application.

Most will agree that its use as a term suggests enterprise and methods of working which would sit snugly within a commercial environment. But should this word actually be applied to the modus operandi of any form of Government when the two terms are completely incongruous?

Much is made of the idea that the best people to run Government at any level are those who have a business background. One of the current arguments against the demographic makeup of our MP’s today is the substantial lack of solid business experience possessed by those who lead the Country from Westminster, with the accompanying notion that MP’s who have run or owned businesses of their own would somehow automatically have an almost esoteric level of understanding and midas touch which would solve just about any problem. They wouldn’t; they don’t and they never have.

With years of Local Government experience as both an Elected Member, an Officer and from working within 3rd Sector Organisations alongside, I have also often heard the term ‘business case’, ‘business plan’ and the idea often suggested that Councils are now run ‘like a business’ in meetings.

The problem with this is of course that the political leadership and members of Councils rarely have ‘hands on’ experience of running any kind of business you could draw reasonable parallels with themselves, and when they do, it is often the case that it has been so long since they did so, that any lack of an appreciation that time moves on or that things continually change will soon erode any tangible benefit.

Perhaps worse is the ability that Officers and Civil Servants have been gifted by political demographics and the opportunity to use such terms in plans, which are then taken as read by those who simply don’t know any better as being a true ‘business case’, when such ‘business’ cases could never be any such thing.

Recognising the differences between running a business in its purest sense, and running Government under the delusion that it can be run as business has never been more essential for today’s politicians, because neither Central or Local Government are businesses, and the people running them have to stop believing and behaving like they are.

A business is of course run for the profit of an individual or shareholders. All decisions will normally be made with the form of pay-off that they will receive firmly in mind. It can be expanded or changed to meet the demands of customers as it sees fit, and a business can choose which customers it may wish to target and how much profit it will seek from delivering any particular product or service. Its revenues are never guaranteed.

On the other hand, Government does not run to make profit, but to provide services and support for all those which it has been elected to serve.

Run properly, Government would not actively target any particular group of customers to provide a different quality of service depending on the feedback or profit that it gets from that group, and would work to meet demand for services as best and prudently as it can, well knowing that it has a duty to do so without seeking payment from one customer to pay for the benefits of another, or to irresponsibly borrow money from lenders that it knows it doesn’t have the appropriate levels of revenue to comfortably repay.

However, Government revenues – as long as they remain sensible – will always be guaranteed, and it is with this significant difference that come the even greater levels of responsibility than no one business should ever realistically be able to have.

One of the greatest dangers facing us as a society comes from the fact that politicians at all levels of Government have either failed to recognise these basic differences and therefore maintain them, or have willingly abused their ability to raise revenues to cover badly managed services or implement policies without any due regard to striking the balance for every member of this society or in applying fairness to all, while they have given every thought to political expedience and electability.

The British political system is broken, because it has adopted those very same values of a profit-making business, which are to further the interests of that business. For politicians, this comes in the form of power, whilst they have ignored the basic rule of business as they have done so; the rule which states they must deliver profit to every single one of the shareholders rather than to themselves. Profit in this sense should always be seen as the delivery of the same results for all.

So if our politicians really feel that they have to treat Government like a business, they then must also realise that if they continue to keep raising the fees on the same old products time and again without offering new products and value for money, they will soon price their offerings way beyond the purse of the people who normally pay, and the cash will soon start ceasing to flow.

Government is not run for a financial profit, any more than it should ever be so for the bottom-line benefit of just the ‘staff’.

Whatever their backgrounds, experience and level, politicians must remember that they are the managers; the facilitators; the decision makers; not the beneficiaries themselves – and especially so where the end profit is not even perceptively the same as what it would be for a business.

The time has long since passed when the electorate could continue to live decent lives, whilst those within Government continue to focus on the end result for themselves. Government is not the same thing as a business, and should never be run like it is one.

The commonalities between bankers, blame-based lawyers and union bosses that touch us all and can only be dealt with by a change in the mind-set of Government first and the policies which will then follow afterwards

February 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Crazy as it may seem, many of the problems and fears facing society as a whole are inextricably linked and propagated by us all through a mesh of similar behaviours and actions. These are marked apart only by simple interpretation, knowledge, and the differences of public perspective that are all too often profitable for politicians and activists to retain.

One such example of this within this libertarian age is the ‘feel-good’ which comes from targeting those who most openly profit through the exploitation of others, and the apparent greed and avarice of high-level bankers and wealthy tax-dodgers has captivated ill-feeling within many. But is it really possible for just those few to ride off the backs of many others within a society which paints itself as being considerate of all others; or is this just the one end of a predominantly passive chain slowly strangling the UK as part of an evolving something-for-nothing and therefore self-before-all culture?

As unpalatable as it may seem, there is a distinct thread of commonality which runs from the profiteering of the hated fat-cats, through the behaviour of politicians, the influence of those promoting and making blame-based-claims, to the actions of union leaders and their seemingly strike-happy members to beyond in a way that very few would outwardly wish to knowingly associate. The sad reality is that each and every one of the self-beneficial acts that we probably at some point will have all pursued, goes on to have a negative impact upon others and usually so in a much greater number than just ourselves.

At one end of the spectrum, bankers and pension fund managers sat in plush London offices think little of the impact that pressure on retailers or energy providers to raise profits will have on end users – a point which may turn out to have been very well illustrated by the horse meat scandal and the continuing issues surrounding milk prices for farmers where margins are squeezed to unsustainable levels.

A few miles down the road, ‘career’ politicians make decisions which will affect 60 Million people based upon their chances of getting re-elected or promoted, whilst the oversold age of austerity does little to deliver any real reduction in deficit but leaves the very same people paying a higher price just the same.

Meanwhile clever animations with manipulated pop-songs and actors posing as glamorous lawyers promote the resignation of any self responsibility in accidents and the idea that somebody else is always fully to blame and must therefore pay in a very easy way, whilst the prices of almost every insurance policy in the land rises as a result.

Then in the papers, public sector union barons tell us that the Government is to blame for the slashing of services up and down the Country, when it is actually the unrealistically beneficial working conditions, wages and the limitation of responsibilities they have ransomed for their members over the course of many years which have contributed most to the destruction of a once enviable system which is sadly no longer able to sustain itself.

It is indeed ironic that it is the rise of ‘rights’ for the individual in the workplace and in just about every other part of life thereafter that strangle the rights and lives of others at every turn, and then come back full circle to a point where it is the jobs of those who sought those rights in the first place which are no longer sustainable because of the costs of the legislation and conditions that those very same enhanced rights have come to impose – generally because they have long since surpassed the point of doing good.

In every case, the public and customers at large end up paying through higher prices for food, fuel, taxes, insurances, lessening standards and losses within public services which are destroying quality of life and in some cases will probably lead to deaths if they have not already done so.

The true impact of the rising cost of living itself and the growing impact it will have upon low-income families and those in middle England who end up subsidising just about every other part of life has yet to truly manifest itself. But without change in each and every part of life and the way that every one of us approaches it, what we consider to be painful now, may soon become truly horrific.

Most of us do of course read every situation we face in life in terms of how it makes us feel and how it will impact upon us personally, rather than how it will affect the others involved, irrespective of how near or how far from us through a chain of resulting reactions they may actually be.

So in the same way that the banker raises profits by indirectly pushing the price of food up by continually pushing for better margins from the retailers that they own, union bosses demand higher wages for members so that they can afford to keep ahead of cost of living rises, with the ultimate effects being pretty much the same whichever way you choose to look at it.

Getting to a point where the balance is redressed in every sense is not a journey that any of us can toy with lightly, even though it would be politically expedient for any one of the groups discussed or their libertarian or profit-hungry apologists to do so.

The complexities brought into being when people prioritise themselves or manipulate others to do the same are enormous and much easier to embrace than they are to replace. Sadly, those who have become emotionally tied only to themselves without due regard to the result of their actions upon others are caught in a spiralling trap. One which is increasingly negative and encourages the growth of the ever evolving paranoia which accompanies the concept that all problems are of someone else’s making and that others must be made to pick up the tab.

Tackling a problem which is now cultural and has become so through many years of conditioning via the self-serving leadership of successive Governments is no easy task. Fundamentally, this is a problem which does not discern between demographics or social class and is defined only by the medium in which it is applied by the individual. It has been enhanced by the perception of close proximity, delivered by ease of communication through distance and propagated by the ease of buy-in which has itself been empowered by the two-edged-sword which is the media age.

Ultimately, self awareness and therefore responsibility of the individual has to be the aim of real Government as it will prove to be far more liberating and beneficial to everyone than the fleeting benefits any impractical plot cooked up by politicians as an easy and profitable crowd-pleaser.

It is the responsibility of those who led us here and are most likely to be happy with the status quo to lead us away from it and that is where the greatest difficulty arises.

Politicians can not only make the necessary policy changes to bring about a change which is much bigger than being about policy itself; they can also lead us in a way that advertisers, union reps and bankers simply cannot or never will be able to.

The real question here is where a change of this magnitude is going to come from when it is the political system itself which is responsible and politicians themselves who attain most benefit from maintaining the status quo.

After all, it is only politicians who have a genuine and meaningful mandate who will be selfless enough to take the risks to make those long overdue changes which nobody in Government today seems willing to outwardly contemplate. And these are indeed changes that are needed as a beacon for all to demonstrate a better way of living where a thought for all on the part of one is seen for its benefits to the one as a consequence of its benefits for us all, rather than for us continuing to live a life where the self must always come first and it seems ok for us to do so.

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