The glossy brochure industry

One of the worst features of Labour’s regime was the proliferation of bodies that send out glossy brochures paid for by the taxpayer. The brochures got glossier, more numerous and often more vacuous as the Labour years went on. I still can scarcely get in to my office each morning owing to the weight and volume of glossy brochures people send me.

Usually these brochures are part of a campaign. There may be an Early Day Motion the body is promoting through some MP. The brochure usually tells me what wonderful work the institution is doing, but how it needs to do more of it. They often say they have “mixed funding” which means they apply for government grants from a range of departments, Councils and other quangos. Rarely do they provide good information on their financial performance and results, preferring softer copy , pictures and messages.

Let’s begin today with a minnow close to home. Recently “NHS Innovations South East” sent me their latest Report. It told me “NHS Innovations South East identifies and manages intellectual property in the south east on behalf of the NHS”. There is also an Innovations North West and others for other parts of the compass. There are nine in total in England.

The annual Report is a glossy 24 page brochure. Only one page contains financial information, page 22. They do not run to a balance sheet or a cash flow statement. There is just an unaudited Income and Expenditure Statement, with no reason given as to why the audit is not available in time for the Report. We are told we have paid £ 16,460 for accountancy and auditors.The total income for 2009-10 was £1.262 million. This came mainly from government grants from the Business Department and Health Department. They earned some consultancy fees which came primarily from taxpayer funded Health trusts. It looks as if they spent time and money on gaining their income from the taxpayer from a range of sources.

No prior year figures are supplied, but we are told in the spirit of the times they “introduced cost saving and efficiency programs(sic), including reducing office costs by closing two of its regional offices, reducing headcount and implementing IT systems to support home working”.

So what did they do all year as they sat at their new computer screens at home? They added 152 new ideas to their five year total, and are currently engaged on 111 “live projects”. The section entitled “Review of the company’s performance” produced no figures that help a reader to assess value for money or to form any impression of how worthwhile this work promoting new ideas might be. Is spending £10,000 per “live” idea a good diea? What are we buying for this money? Why can’t the companies and Health trusts who innovate advertise their own ideas and draw royalty or other income from them as appropriate?

The network of regional Innovations companies looks like an easy source of savings.

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25 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    It sounds like it should be privatised. Let a company bid for the task and take 10% of anything they earn from licensing the IPs to private sector companies. Promotion of IPs within the public sector should not be included.

  2. Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I always look behind the gloss and the slick what we all need to look at is what the brochure and it can be people too is actually saying and how can it benefit us we need to learn to read between the lines!!!

  3. Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    John

    Perhaps the most simple thing to do here is cut off much of the source of all of these agencies income, which is perhaps the Government Grants you outline.

    Forgive me, but I am not aware of how these grants are obtained. My Company has always had to raise all of its own money/income from Sales.

    Is there a single person or Department who are responsible for handing out all of this Taxpayers money, or does each Ministerial Department have its own giver of Grants.

    Once these agencies (Often of Charity status it would appear) have made out their report, do they sell it, or simply as you imply, give it away.

    If they give it away, then it would seem all those who work for such an organisation are having salaries funded in some part by the taxpayer.

    Time for change.

    • Posted August 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Re. your first para. A doctor friend was telling me that when old people go into hospital, typically taking a routine cocktail of drugs, they often cut off all their medication for a few days, then they can find out what is really wrong with them. The same approach could be used – hack all of these quangos – the world won't come to an end. There will be a handful of things that really need doing by the state, which can be taken back on.

  4. Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    John,

    Congratulations on your new role.

    This idea is brilliant. It will keep you busy for a while!

  5. Posted July 31, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    It's interesting that given the recent financial crisis huge amount of airtime has been given by the media to what went wrong, yet nobody has ever shown a balance sheet of a bank.

    When you look at the balance sheet of say Northern Rock, it is quite simple what went wrong.

  6. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I.P. from government run agencies is frequently sold to private sector for next to nothing – another blatent example of socialising the costs and privatising the profits .

    Take vaccines developed for livestock by MAFF , these were routinely sold for a pittance to companies who would add no expertise but just replicate and distribute them .

    The MAFF department in question was under the threat of severe cuts when it could have been more than self funding – actually have made a profit .

  7. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I must admit I had never heard of an organisation called NHS Innovations and am grateful to you for bringing its existence to our attention. I note that each of these regional bodies has a website, a board and various staff. Apparently they were set up in 2004 and I wonder what, if any, organisation in the NHS existed before then. It sounds like an example of empire building and "jobs for the boys". Just why such an organisation, if required at all, needs such a heavy overhead as a result of its structure exemplifies so much of what is wrong in the public sector.

  8. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    A trilogy:
    We badly need more medical device innovation in the UK; it is perverse that we have the NHS spending-megalith on our doorstep, we are an inventive nation with great R and D in our Universities and yet our level of medical innovation, turning ideas into products into large Companies is well below Ireland's, not to mention our other European neighbours. Wherever you look, whether in cardiology, orthopaedics, opthalmology, or other disciplines we have no real large indigenous businesses.

  9. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Companies such as Smith and Nephew do more in the USA than here, whilst newer entrants like Oxford Magnet have been bought by Siemens, Keymed by Olympus…. the list goes on, and NHS money bleeds abroad on purchases of stent delivery systems, hip replacements, scanning systems and so on. It is possible, of course, to take the view that there are so many things that the UK is good at, like banking, estate agency, insurance, making Toyotas and Hondas and so on that we don't need a joined-up high class science manufacturing base, or that foreign companies can always invest here or buy our ideas if we have the right base, but there is something wrong here. In the end our taxes should be paying for the most appropriate way to use our Universities' skills, not to encourage them to sell their ideas to the highest bidder and walk away.

  10. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Other countries just do not do this. The US has an open market, but in the end it is a large enough economy that somebody in the US will normally spot the good idea and develop it in the US. Most other countries do have some sort of protocol for protecting ideas generated by using taxpayers' money for the nation, and maybe you should be setting your mind to addressing this R and D leakage as much as the cash leakage from NHS Innovations.

  11. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    +1
    Having said that, NHS Innovations' failure is, I think, to be blamed on it being part of the NHS rather than a separately funded organisation with exclusive rights to promote and develop ideas from within. In kicking NHS Innovations you are kicking the cart rather than the donkey that is in front of it. Change the culture of the NHS and you would invigorate this type of organisation to be worthy of private sector funding itself.

  12. Posted July 31, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    How disgraceful.

    I suggest the Government should create a new body to oversee Innovations South East, Innovations North West and all the other Innovations elswhere. It could call for monthly reports – in glossy brochures, of course – and have a travelling team of experts to go into each of the offices and home-workers' homes to ensure we are getting value for money. Parliament could then call for an annual glossy brochure covering all the Innovations bodies. The CEO would have to be paid more than the PM and have a staff of, say, one hundred in a pleasant multi-storey building in the centre of London.

    Simple. Problem solved.

  13. Posted July 31, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I am puzzled. What does "NHS Innovations South East identifies and manages intellectual property in the south east on behalf of the NHS" actually mean?

  14. Posted July 31, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Here are two not so glossy, hot off the press brochures from ONS. Read these two – big files – and you will know everything the government wants you to know; or not. The Blue Book and The Pink Book. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/prep/1143.ahttp://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/Product.asp

  15. Posted July 31, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    This post raises two issues, namely, the need for 'smart' cuts, and the proliferation, as a consequence of the convenience of desktop publishing, of the glossy brochure and the eco-unfriendly doorstop as a substitute for honest or purposeful activity.

    The previous government clearly believed that spending taxpayers' money achieved a near perfect conversion of wealth into 'public good'. If this hypothesis transpires not to be correct, then all public expenditure needs to be very closely examined for its actual 'public good' rather than simply reduced through budgetary control.

    The reasonable assumption with regard to glossies and doorstops is that practically nobody reads them. Therefore the question remains, "what does this organisation do which is beneficial or what is this organisation trying to sneak under the radar." There are those who read such unsolicited publicatons, however, such people, with no other 'appropriate' means of whiling away the hours between nine and five, deserve our pity.

    The last (full) accounts of NHS Innovations South East (classification 9305 – Other service activities), a private company, limited by guarantee, are filed up to 31/03/2009, so John redwood will have to wait a little longer before he can order a copy of the accounts to which his glossy presumably refers; it might make more instructive reading.

  16. Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    9 "low-hanging fruit" ready for the chop…..and a way to save paper into the bargain!

  17. Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    See http://www.innovationssoutheast.nhs.uk/downloads/
    for details of how you become a waste watcher champion with your waste watcher toolkit (special education kit to tell NHS staff how to dispose of waste properly and why it is important).

    For other examples of help provided by NISE (South East version) to launch and promote ideas/products and stage award ceremonies see http://www.innovationssoutheast.nhs.uk/casestudie… and also home page.

    No comment needed I think.

  18. Posted July 31, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    We have an employment crisis and a population crisis.

    What better way to deal with these problems than by creating a vast bureaucracy which (undertakes unsuccessful procedures sometimes -ed) whilst doing breast augmentations and virginity-restorations as a sideline ?

    • Posted August 1, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      I'm sure I would have got a record number of thumbs-up if you hadn't edited that !

  19. Posted July 31, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    It is hard to understand why there need to be separate NHS innovation bodies for each region. The NHS purports to be a national institution so I would have thought that an innovation that was applicable in one region would be just as useful in others. My suggestion is that if a national organisation needs to innovate (and I can accept that the NHS must) then a single body could manage this.
    I would also like to see a more realistic approach to the body's outcomes in terms of patient benefits and savings rather than the more ephemeral ideas.

  20. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    We entirely agree. If non-jobs and quangos are created it's obvious that the staff have to find something to fill their days, no matter how unproductive. Cut out the people and the fruits of their labour will quickly shrivel.

    Regarding wastefulness our comment on the Economic Affairs Committee on 28th either didn't get through or missed 'the cut'.

    “THE ESSEX GIRLS · 2 days ago
    Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly.”

    By coincidence the Daily Mail covered the same subject this morning. MP junkets reportedly cost taxpayers £1.7m in the months leading up to the General Election. Several overseas trips averaging approx £50,000 and comprising 5 – 10 Select Committee members were listed. All sounded outrageously wasteful and unnecessary.
    It was said that the Speaker has targeted a 70% reduction in these expenses but we would rather hear from the new government and what THEY intend to insist upon. This type of waste – and in our view corruption – annoys the hell out of ordinary folk and could so easily be eliminated.

  21. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    OUR BLOG OF 29TH JULY THAT WAS NOT PUBLISHED…

    On a different note we want to know why MPs travel overseas so often.
    For example the member for (xxx) seems forever to be jetting off somewhere; what good does this do his constituents? Who pays the fares and hotel bills – and how was the former PM's recent trip to Africa justified and funded?
    Apart from the costs involved these MPs should be servicing their constituencies, not grandstanding around the globe.
    There is more than enough self-indulgence presently being shown by the Labour leadership contenders with their grand tour of the UK involving 70 hustings.
    Do the tabs get picked up by their party or do we taxpayers fund their travel as well as their time?

    Reply: There should be no state funding for political tours – leadership candidates have to raise political donations for that. I don't think it fair to single out one MP for foreign travel – every MP travelling abroad (other than on private travel paid for by themselves) has to declare the trip and who paid for it, so you can check them all out through the declarations on the Parliamentary site. I have not taken any such foreign trips, but there is a case for foreign affairs specialists etc to undertaking some official travel.

    • Posted August 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Thank you John. Our point about that particular member is that even after the period in which he was Minister for Europe his busy overseas travel agenda was seemingly maintained. We're sure he is far from being the only one so we wonder who approves these trips? Can members up and go wherever they like as long as the trip is declared?
      Typically you maintain a sensible approach.

  22. Posted August 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    "introduced cost saving and efficiency programs(sic), including reducing office costs by closing two of its regional offices"
    How is it that a body which is regional in nature has a number of regional office in order to close them in the first place?
    I'm always amazed by the masses of glossy brochures that arrive, unsolicited, from government agencies, which contain little or no useful information. Usually they're full-colour, with large pictures occasionally interspersed with vacuous text in a large type. The printing costs, never mind the design costs and the authoring/editorial, must be enormous. One of the worst offenders is the Audit Commission.
    If there really is information worth publishing in these documents, can these bodies not publish it on their websites?
    Nobody reads them. Nobody wants them. Everybody files them in the round filing cabinet next to the desk.
    Why is my hard-earned money taken in tax to pay for this profligate waste?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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