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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

 

 

 

 

The Welfare covenant is broken and Universal Credit is not the answer when it already creates victims

October 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Basic Standard of Living Q

It is regrettably all too easy for some to overlook the realities of life for others when  everything is going well and there is no need to look to anyone else for help.

Sadly, this is not the case for many. At one time or another during our lifetimes, there is every chance that we will need a safety net in place for when plans don’t work out quite as we thought they might, and we find ourselves in need of money, food, clothing, transport, warmth and maybe even a home.

State provision of such a safety net within a civilised society is not only right. It is also necessary when government is convened, managed and operated with the greater good, benefits and consequences for all are firmly in mind.

However, our Welfare and Benefits system has and is being continually abused.

It is being misused by those seeking help. But it is also being mis-purposed by those who have been given the responsibility in Government for providing that help on behalf of us all.

The Welfare covenant between those helping and those seeking help has been broken. And for the benefits system to work beneficially again for all, there must now be a new way of thinking.

No form of Government provision can truly be beneficial to all if victims have been created of any kind.

Universal Credit has therefore proven itself flawed before it has even began operating fully.

With many struggling recipients identified already, we should all be asking questions about the many more who are yet to come and the consequences that will surely follow.

This doesn’t mean that the system we have had until now is good. That it is working. Or that we should just stay tied to the same old thing.

We shouldn’t, because the current DWP Benefits regime really isn’t working for anybody, and we are all in desperate need of a solution which really can be seen and experienced as a ‘win-win’.

Now before we get lost completely with how Politicians are getting Benefits and Welfare wrong, there must also be an acceptance on the part of us all of what it is fair to expect to receive, how we receive it, and under what circumstances that help will actually come from the State if we should ever find ourselves in the position where we genuinely need it.

As we look at what is really wrong with the system as it is, we must also understand and accept that if the Law allows certain types of behaviours to exist, it is inevitable that there will be people who will employ them.

It doesn’t make their behaviour right. Their actions are not inevitable. Everyone has free will and can choose how to behave, even when a rule covering that action or behaviour may appear to be absent.

If the system doesn’t accommodate for the misuse of Beneficiaries and those affected, it is the people who are responsible for its design and implementation who are equally responsible for identifying what is wrong, putting it right and ensuring that either good or bad, nobody who should be receiving help gets missed or is able to slip in between.

Why the benefits system isn’t working, isn’t simply about something structural, the technology used or the people who administer or receive Benefits of any kind.

Like most policy failures today, it is a combination of factors which are not being considered. Many of them overlooked for the cause of political expediency, or because their place and influences sit outside of the specific or central theme – in this case the Benefits regime.

The real cost of a Basic Standard of Living is not understood by Government

The greatest injustice visited upon the unemployed, is the Government and DWP assertion that in 2018, one person can live on a basic income of £73.10 per week.

They can’t.

And when the Government itself has set the Minimum Wage at £7.83 per hour, which at a 40 hour week would be the same as £313.20, who exactly do they think is going to step in and replace what for some will be the destitution-busting £240.10 per week which sits so ominously in between?

Yes, there are many other Benefits other than and beyond the scope of Jobseekers Allowance.

But Universal Credit is being sold as a method of simplification by rolling everything into one, when the true aim of saving money will not stop a similar way of allocating money to the very same things from then existing, just under the umbrella of being just one application.

Government must provide a Basic Standard of Living income to those who qualify and need it.

If it is too expensive to do so, those in Government would do well by beginning to ask themselves the question ‘why?’

Government has surrendered responsibility for setting the prices of goods and services essential to a Basic Standard of Living to the private sector

Sadly, little attention is paid to the elephant in the Benefits room. That being the escalating prices of goods and services which provide for everyone’s basic needs in life.

That’s food, clothing, accommodation, transport and utilities.

Not First Class or on the upper side of ‘Taste the Difference’.

Just the stuff that anyone would need to be kept fed, clothed, warm, able to get themselves to a job and home again, and knowing that at night they will have a roof over their head.

Control of all of these goods and services is now completely under the infuence of commercial interests which have money as their one and only god.

Free Marketeers and Neo-Liberals will tell you that the Markets will look after everything when they are completely free to do as they choose. They don’t, they won’t and they will continue to do everything to make profit from every opportunity, for as long as they are gifted with the freedom to choose by gutless Government. Government filled with Politicians who see ethical intervention in the Markets and Financial Sector as a problem because they believe that they have too much to lose by doing so.

No service which is essential to the public good should be placed in private hands or under the undue influence of any self-serving cause.

No food supply essential to basic, healthy survival should be subject to the whimsy of the Markets where multiple traders, agents and handlers are seeking to add one profit margin on top of another, just on one item supplied within any one producer-to-plate supply chain alone.

If the Government genuinely wants the Benefits system to work, it has to find an effective way of controlling these two essential areas of daily life so that once a system that does work has been identified and implemented, it is then not rendered useless by private interest, based on nothing but profit.

We are culturally conditioned to assume that all Benefits Claimants are in some way bad

Mud sticks, as anyone who spends any time on social media or reading the news will know.

But the phenomenon of people assuming the worst of others based on the first story they are told is nothing new. And when it comes to the unemployed, being work shy is basically the accepted view.

The truth is not as straightforward and anyone at any stage of their career can find themselves out of work and having to ‘sign on’ in order to get help.

The problem with the ‘accepted truth’, is that the system itself, both mechanically and culturally treats everyone who comes through the Jobcentre door as if they don’t want to work, cannot be trusted in any way and that they all fit into the same mould as each other.

This approach overlooks the fact that people find themselves knocking on the door of the Jobcentre and the administrative centres of the DWP for very different reasons.

Some are poorly educated. Others have grown up in conditions that reinforce a world view that this is all they are worth. But there are others too who have landed themselves with significant debt to gain degrees that have proven to be of no use. People suffering illness and mental health problems which restrict the work that they can do. And even highly experienced and very well-educated professionals who cannot provide anything like as simple an explanation for what life has put them through.

Sit in a Jobcentre for long enough and you will hear claimants complain about having to wait for the money they are entitled to. You will see others lose their rag because they have not conformed to the regulations that they are supposed to. You will also witness the presence of so many security guards, it clearly suggests that behaviour of this kind is not only possible, but actually the expected constantly and all of the time.

But not all Benefits Claimants are a burden. Many want to work. But they are branded as ‘no-hopers’, instead of gaining the help and support which reflects them individually.

It is little wonder that those outside of the expereince of having a ‘down period’ in their lives take what they have for granted. Then look on and see all these people as being worthless and occupants of society’s bin.

Taking this approach is little more than deliberately setting up Benefit Claimants to fail.

It is not the action of a Government which respects and fully fulfils its role as the representative body of a civilised society. Nor is it illustrative of a Civil Service which is fully considerate of its role.

We can hardly expect the general population to think differently when the system so demeans.

A significant element of Claimants consider themselves entitled to what they receive

Because the system has been so poorly thought through and has not evolved positively in a way that sees its role strategically and as a way to raise expectation from the ground level upwards, it encourages the belief that it can be used as a substitute for real life. For not taking part. For resenting the success of others and as such seeing Benefits as an entitlement or a worthy redistribution of wealth from others.

The Benefits system only works for those who surrender themselves completely to it, leaving no incentive to escape and provide us all with that so far mythical ‘win-win’

Because the Benefits system has been so poorly thought through and has not evolved positively in a way that sees its role strategically as a way to raise expectation from the ground level upwards, it encourages the belief that it can be used as a substitute for real life. For not taking part. For resenting the success of others and as such seeing Benefits as an entitlement or a worthy redistribution of wealth from others.

The Benefits system only works for those who surrender themselves completely to it. It  leaves no incentive for Beneficiaries to escape and benefit anyone but themselves.

With restrictions placed upon how many hours a Claimant can work without losing Benefits, and the process of reinstatement being long and arduous – even before Universal Credit begins, there is zero in terms of incentive for people to take on more hours and work towards self-sufficiency.

Because the 6 Benefits together are so very complicated for one person to qualify for already, the further any Claimant journeys into this portfolio of direct and indirect income streams the less and less likely they are then to leave.

We can only ask ourselves the question if we were to find ourselves in the very same position. When everything is taken care of already, what serious advantage is there to be gained by going out and working for a wage which might never come to anything near the total that becoming subservient to the system and therefore being a Benefits slave can achieve?

Again, we cannot blame people for responding this way when the system itself not only allows but facilitates behaviour of this kind.

Help should always be given to those that need it.

For those who currently choose to be beholden to the system, there must be a process of incentives which doesn’t leave them without all the basic essentials.

It must also encourage them and accept and appreciate that they have responsibility for themselves as well as the wider community. A community which is ready to help, but is itself entitled to see those who voluntarily choose a life on Benefits as a drain on resources that we desperately need focused to provide other Public Services and that they are as such disadvantaging others on little more than a whim.

As taxpayers, we are effectively subsidising the employers of low paid workers by providing the in work benefits which allow them to survive

I have already mentioned what it costs to live and the need for a basic standard of living above.

Yet the conversation and discussion needs to go even further than the power of commercial interests over the essential goods and services for life.

The debate and the action that follows also needs to recognise the role which our Government is playing in keeping wages low and propagating a system where profit margins for large companies are exploding, whilst the millions of people on low incomes are now being farmed for the debt they have to carry, just to survive.

The money that lower income workers receive is in many cases too much to allow them to be on additional Benefits, yet not enough to allow them to be self sufficient. It keeps them ‘functioning’ at the behest of others, somewhere within the ‘in between’.

If we could freeze the prices of goods and services right now, so that they no longer rise, and we could focus in on what it actually costs a normal person on their own to live, self sufficiently, to feed, clothe and take care of themselves, put something by, have a holiday, a realistic pension and have a life which reason would tell us would make a normal person happy, we can soon begin to see the disparity between where wages sit and where right now, in these ‘static’ circumstances they would need to be.

At £10.20 per hour in London and £8.75 per hour outside, without the help of Government with Housing Benefit and Tax Credits too, even the Living Wage Foundations advisory level for a basic income doesn’t come close to what self sufficiency – that’s what complete independence from Government support –  would actually require.

Such a reality where Government support for the growth of small business is concerned alone would probably make the whole thing more palatable.

But the real beneficiaries of this State-sponsored in-work poverty are the big Companies making significant levels of profit that would in reality only dip slightly if they were to pay wages to front-line staff which would allow those employees to function within the overpriced society which their Employers have helped to create.

That this situation has been allowed to exist is beyond questionable.

That successive Governments of all kinds have allowed a situation to exist where the Taxpayer is paying over the odds for products in services in their face value alone is simply wrong.

That customers are then paying again to subsidise the wages of the staff serving them would be funny, if its implications and the reality which surrounds it not so very serious indeed.

This whole process has only been possible because Government has either borrowed incredible amounts of money, or has cut other and arguably more essential Public Services in order to allow them to provide this massive giveaway. A free-for-all that has broken the Country financially and is one of the key reasons why unfettered immigration of low skilled workers from Europe has been possible. Itself an issue which is seen by many Remainers as key to the majority vote for the UK to leave the European Union and the one which they are still obsessively attempting to resolve.

There would be some sweet irony in this if this financial mismanagement had really been helping people and UK communities, rather than being overtly beneficial to commercial interests, private profit and yes, the EU all along.

But there hasn’t, and in terms of management of expectation, this and previous Governments would appear to have hamstrung any future Government which wants to take a stand and do the right thing.

Be that as it may. Doing the right thing, is the only way that all of this is going to end up working right for everyone involved.

The solution

Like almost everything that Government and Politics touches, the key to delivering change in the Benefits and Welfare system is thinking differently.

And it’s the thinking and ideas at the top of British Politics which needs to change first before it can change anywhere else.

The responsibility of Government

Before the Benefits problem can be fixed, the understanding of what the problem actually is, must be broadened to include the wide range of factors which feed and influence the issues which those claiming Benefits experience.

Right now, there is an obsession on the part of decision makers. One which leads them only to attempt to address the effects of any problem, rather than to tackle each and every one of the causes.

Until all of the causes of problems are addressed, the Benefits system will only ever work temporarily at best, until those factors which are outside of the scope of that consideration inevitably change and then exert their negative influence once again.

A Basic Standard of Living level or the real Living Wage will only be achieved and maintained when all contributing factors fall within the reasoned influence of non-idealistic Government that considers the consequences of policy making upon ALL.

Politicians simply do not understand the power they have to change things. They do not see the scope of their roles and they have no appreciation of the influence that they could really have if they were to put the interests of ALL the people who have elected them first, rather than themselves, their Political Parties and whatever ideas or interests sit around that self-serving mix.

It will not matter how simple or complicated existing of new systems like Universal Credit might be. If they fail to consider and be considered as part of the bigger picture, they will always fail – and our Politicians have both the ability and responsibility to ensure that this is no longer the case.

It is their choice to now decide and it is their choice which must come first.

The responsibility – and acceptance of Claimants and Beneficiaries

For any solution to gain traction, it is also vital that ‘being down in your luck’ is accepted as a normal part of life, rather than being a condition which renders any of us as being sub-standard to it – the position under which Benefit Claimants are often perceived.

Those claiming Benefits fall into two predominant groups. Those who are or should be  temporary claimants and are able and willing to work. And those who are longer-term or permanent claimants who are unable or unlikely to be able to consider working again because of disability, illness, or other genuine debilitating circumstances.

All of us as beneficiaries must accept that there is and never has been a magic money tree of any kind. That the support that is given can only be provided through the act of others contributing through taxation on earnings, whether they themselves earn little or some extraordinary figure that might blow our minds.

Whilst it may currently behave as if it is, and some Politicians continue to seek election on the basis of perpetuating this myth, Government and the Public Sector is not a separate and ‘benevolent’ entity which doles out cash to Welfare recipients on the basis of being kind.

Government exists to represent the best interests of ALL British people. Government is there to help us all to succeed in whatever way that might be possible for us as individuals. And on  behalf of us all, it is there to help and provide support to those of us who cannot do so, in such ways that we may never feel like an after thought or something that others have in some way been left behind.

Government is the formal community power which represents and is therefore ‘for all of us’.

Those of us receiving help should therefore be mindful that the help we receive comes from the people next door, up the street and across our Cities and Towns.

As recipients, we are not ‘entitled’ to anything. It is simply that looking after those in genuine need is the basis upon which our civilised society can be found.

 

 

 

 

 

Rail fare hikes and tough talk on welfare waste: Today’s problems will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

January 2, 2013 2 comments

With a 4.2% average rise in ticket prices hitting rail commuters today, just how long do politicians think that rises in the cost of essential services, utilities and products will remain ‘sustainable’?

Stories such as this one and also the attack on welfare payouts by Iain Duncan Smith in just the past two days alone demonstrate just how little emphasis there really is in dealing with the root causes of problems, which may be unpalatable to those in power, but are nonetheless very real indeed.

As a businessman with both conservative and capitalist principles, I have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be both enterprising and entrepreneurial throughout my career. However, I also learned very early on that there are basic laws at work within business, one of which is that costs will generally be fixed, but profit will always be variable.

Where this goes wrong in the economy is in situations where those in control of businesses are able to fix minimum profit margins and then seek the cost of investment and renewal through price hikes which usually only affect people and other businesses who themselves have no ability to raise their own incomes or margins to cover those very same costs.

Those reading this who have experience of the commercial sector in its broadest sense will know that the circumstances which generally allow this darker side of capitalism to thrive, only exist within monopolies or within industries which provide services or products which people must have; many of which were once in public hands.

The history which has given privately owned businesses the ability to dictate the ‘breadline’ or to become able to ‘profit in misery’ is a long one. Profligate spending by idealistic politicians who believe in the principle of something for nothing, simply created a situation which left others with a more realistic understanding of the way that an economy really works with little choice in the way they had to respond.

The age of privatisation was soon born and responsibility for its evolution cannot be levelled at the door of any one Conservative, Labour or Coalition Government, as all have played their part since the 1960’s.

What can equally be said is that no one person who can ask for the votes of many thousands of people, can reasonably expect to retain any sense of respect as an MP if they have accepted that responsibility and then failed both to recognise and then to act upon the damage and pain that such levels of power are causing in the wrong hands.

Yes we need travel fares that make a job worth travelling for. Yes we need reform of welfare, benefits and taxation so that there is an incentive for all to work and stay in this Country. Yes we need managed investment in just about every area of life and infrastructure that we could conceivably imagine.

But we also need Government which is responsible, confident in taking risks and ready to deliver reforms which may well include legislative restructuring of businesses offering essential services in order to limit what they actually make.

The failure of Government to ensure and safeguard basic costs for independent living is a root cause of many of today’s problems and will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

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