Bring government to the people

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Transport free at the point of use

Andy Wynne makes the case (Public (magazine published by the Guardian ISSN 1747-4329) Dec 2006) that we will make more use of public transport and therefore less of our own cars if transport is free at the point of use. He comments that our cars are perceived to be free at the point of use - purchase, repairs, even fuel are all paid for at a different time from the time we use the car for a journey.
I heartily agree. Lets see leadership coming out of government; services demanded by the people and funded out of taxation are far more efficiently provided than services bought on the open market - provided that the public service providers are held accountable to the people. Compare healthcare in USA to healthcare in UK. Compare rail in France to rail in UK (the opposite comparison).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Closing Hospitals

Hazel Blears shoots foot
it's shut 'cos we're fine at home
ask a doctor, well?

Blair on Holiday

Blair in Bee Gee home
so what, I stay with friends too
there's more urgent things

Friday, December 22, 2006

Letter to Newcastle Chronicle & Journal - 3 Dec 06. Eddington disposesses North East

Dear Editor

Control traffic on the roads by increasing the cost. Do the same for rail. Don’t invest in a new high-speed north-south rail link. So how do we get around? Air?

Rod Eddington’s report is as parochial as Richard Beeching’s plan in 1960s, and probably for exactly the same reasons – Beeching’s paymaster (Ernest Marples, Transport Minister) was in road building, Eddington’s own background in air travel.

But Eddington takes it further; with its strong South East focus (see comments on developing ports, and on new runway capacity at Heathrow) it dispossesses the North East. We have to go to the South East because that’s where government is, and that’s where many companies have their head offices and the people who make the decisions on contracts and spend.

Surely a better idea than this short-sighted transport policy would be to spread the decision-makers around the country – move the few to where the many want to work? The 1500 most influential people, the people who make decisions on somewhere around £400billion spend, are Parliament, ministers and the most senior civil servants. I propose we move them, month by month, through the regions of Britain so they

1 get to meet their constituents and understand what goes on outside of London (and reinvigorate the people’s faith in democracy)

2 bring jobs with them as company head offices can move out of London and still have access to government (why do you think they spend all this money on lobbyists, if it isn’t profitable to them?)

What have we got that they want? How about water? Space? Countryside? Schools and public services that work? Isn’t that enough?


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Letter to The Times - 3 Dec 06

History repeats itself. Sir Rod Eddington suggests pricing people off the roads, then pricing them off the railways too. So what’s left? Dr Richard Beeching proposed a similarly parochial plan in 1960, which suited his paymaster (Ernest Marples, then Transport Minister, had been a director in a road building firm).

A less short-sighted policy might be to ask why we travel, and why to the South East? Could it be that that is where the spend is, and if we want a bit of it we have to go and influence, face-to-face, the people who make decisions whether it is Ministers and Senior Civil Servants (spend around £400billion per year) or the head offices of major companies. Not surprisingly everyone builds their head office nearest to the people they most want to influence, resulting in this North-South divide.

So how to do it better?

How about we move Parliament, Ministers and Senior Civil Servants to the people? That way 1,500 people move around the country and the other 55million can stay put and wait for their month with easy access. It would work better than the various reviews which try to move civil service jobs out of London, it would give major employers a real reason to move themselves out, bringing with them millions, not tens of thousands, of jobs, together with support services, hospitality and entertainment, house building, and giving people access to countryside, public services that work, quality of life.

It would cost around £100million per year; money re-circulated into the economy in mainly jobs. The benefits, in reduced need for flood defences and infrastructure in an overcrowded Thames Gateway and Thames Valley, in London Weighting (£160million just for the 40,000 civil servants currently still in London), and in regional renewal would pay for this 200x over every year!


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We've got sunshine, sparkling frost, icicles on the waterfall, birds racing in and out, and it's a clear crisp morning! The miracle of Christmas is already here

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dawn Chorus

We must put too much food out for these birds.
During the day they are quiet, scrabbling around looking for food or minding their own business out of sight. But as i walk for the train before dawn they make the most incredible and complicated calls, marking out their territory, checking who survived the night, commenting on the football.
Why are they so silent during the day?

How do you KNOW that you've done something well?

Some people just "know", instinctively, that they've done a good job. Nothing anybody tells them can sway them. Some people need reassurance, whether in word, in reward, in admiration. I wonder if there's an underlying difference between public sector workers and private sector?

If you are driven by material gain, that's a symptom of external reference, of needing reassurance. You want something external to you (house, fancy car, trophy spouse) to remind you that you are doing a good job. You will do what gets you the reward, because the reward tells you that you are doing well, are succeeding.

If you have an inner knowledge of what's right, then you're less focussed on material gain. By the same token, you 'know' how things should be and can get very angry if the world doesn't match up to the way it 'should be'. For example, government 'should' find money for this service or that support.

Just a thought

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NHS will break even

With billions of new money pumped into NHS over the last few years, what will it take for NHS to break even?
Well, Kate Silvester says that there's 30% waste to be taken out of a given care pathway at any point in time. Not that NHS is wasteful, just that the pace of change: of our understanding, of medical technology, of medicine, is so fast that a care pathway which was efficient and perfectly designed around patients a few years ago is no longer the best we can do.
BUT - politicians' mantra is "fewer managers, more front-line staff". Forgive me, but front-line staff have a day job looking after patients, and are rarely if ever given any opportunity to look ahead strategically and plan to change things.
A quick look at management to staff ratios finds NHS ratio at one manager for every 25 staff, compared with a public sector average of 1:18 and a commercial average of 1:15. If NHS is supposed to model itself on the best commercial competitors, then might it need more managers, rather than fewer? A look at service improvement reveals a similar figure - across the commercial world the ratio of dedicated service improvement staff to everyone else is around 1:100 - for a company with 1500 employees, they would have 15 staff dedicated to looking at ways to improve the way they do things. Picking a large hospital trust (nameless for confidentiality reasons) of around 12000 staff, they have around 6 service improvement staff (and I'm not counting that "everybody has service improvement in their job description" - how many staff in commercial organisations don't???) - and they are comparatively successful with a comparatively high ratio (1:2000!).
Public Services in Britain do have something to learn from successful commercial companies. But not necessarily about cutting costs. And commercial companies have a lot to learn from the operation of some public sector organisations

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bird City

I walked up the little hill between Durham Light Infantry Museum and Durham Railway station yesterday. It's a strip of mown grass surrounded by uncut grass, with bushes and small trees.
Even though it has got a lot colder, and it's already December, the birds were all over the place - sparrows chattering and arguing in nearby bushes, blackbirds careering madly as they suddenly spot the intruder (me), blue tits out looking for berries.

I never did find the shortcut to the station, but it was a really lovely discovery

Sir Rod Eddington wants us all to use air

Price us off the roads with road pricing designed not to pay for more roads, but to force us off. Then do the same with rail - specifically don't build a high-speed rail link linking North and South. What are we left with? Air? What's Eddington's background?
And all the while I thought that road pricing would allow government to bring industry to the provinces - to reimburse say 100 miles of a freight journey that crosses both sides of Scotch Corner so as to make manufacturing in the North East as profitable as similar activity next to the South East market. Am I an idealist, or just naive?