Change in the public sector

 

 When Tony Blair allowed Gordon Brown to step up the rate of increase in public spending after 2001, he did have a mantra which said extra money had to go hand in hand with reform. He attempted to introduce more types of school, developing the Academy model. He came to the conclusion that he had been wrong in his first period in office to remove the outgoing Conservative government’s reforms in the NHS to try to give patients more choice and more control over how the money is spent. All this proved very contentious with his own side, and especially with the public sector trade unions.

          One of the main problems with monopoly public services is there is no way of ensuring change, innovation and progress. Whenever the service disappoints or lets people down, the cry goes up from the providers that more money is the only thing that is required to put it right.  There is no easy way of closing down, replacing  or stopping a public service which is no longer needed, or which is failing.

           The customers of public service, the taxpayers, have little choice or authority over the providers in most cases. I do not get to use many public services. I do have to use the Council rubbish collection service, and pay for it through my Council Tax.  If it were a bad service, I would have to try to complain  through a Councillor. I cannot simply switch to a cheaper or better supplier. There is no competitive edge in the service market, and the end user is not necessarily   the customer. The customer of the refuse service is in many areas in effect  the Council not the homeowners. This means the service provider is more interested in wooing the Council officials than the users, unless the Council is well run and focused on end customer satisfaction.

           Various reformers have sought to find ways to strengthen the customer voice, to empower the end users who pay through their taxes. With the current monopoly model for most services there are rows over rationing -some  users cannot get the school place they want for their child, or cannot get the treatment they need when they need it from their local hospital. There is also a reluctance to close down failing services, as any closure always produces a small group campaigning to keep the service open, or petitions and protests from the providers.

            There is also a heavy reliance in public service on enforcement and penalties for improper use of services as defined by the public provider, and practically no reliance on incentives or rewards. My local refuse service limits people to a certain number of refuse sacks a year to limit the cost of landfill disposal for the Council. If you need to dump more you have pay extra. I am happy with that idea. I would also like an incentive proposal. As I do not use all the sacks they supply me with, why do I not get a rebate on my refuse charge? One of the ways to test out how popular some suitable free public services really are might be to allow incentive payments for non use, as with my refuse sack idea.

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82 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Having listened to file on 4 (radio 4 this week) on the absurd way NHS hospitals are paid it is not hardly surprising that it is so dreadfully inefficient. Any casualty department in say London that had no queues would be inundated, so GPs and all the casualties intentionally make it inconvenient or slow so people go elsewhere. Free at the point of a four hour delay, incompetence and often alas death it seems.

    The money should follow the patient the best way to do this is to charge the patient/customer something at the point of use.

    Mind you I fortunately live outside the UK and EU and have found the state rubbish collection here is very efficient indeed. The UK make rubbish collection difficult due to lunatic green religion and daft EU laws and the usual desire of the state sector to find excuses to fine or boss people around and the general incompetence of the state sector almost everywhere in the UK.

  2. Andyvan
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Exactly Mr Redwood. No choice. The public sector always relies on force either by removal of competition or compulsion by law. They are backed up by the threat of being arrested or fined. Every bill I receive from a council or a government department always includes a threat of violence or theft. In essence the state is a monopoly of violence in a defined geographic area and as violence does not work as a solution to anything we get terrible public services that fail to meet the needs of most people and merely produce frustration and expense.
    I had a discussion with an ardent supporter of the state who described the NHS as the best thing in Britain, yet only half an hour later was advising another person that needed an operation to go abroad and have it done. The knowledge of how bad our “services” are is there under the surface of even the most socialist person if they will only admit it. The state doesn’t work.

  3. Nina Andreeva
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    JR the government needs to check out how local authorities contract out services to private sector tender and make sure the voters get a decent deal by with holding the grant to the erring local authority, if necessary. Here in Bristol both the buses and taxis from the airport are subject to a monopoly with near universal derision from the people have to use them. Unfortunately complaining at the ballot box does not work if you live in one party state or there is no overall control as is here

    Its something Mrs Thatcher tried in the ’80s, but you also need to look at the quality of the senior management in the NHS. There must be a correlation between the recent scandals and a head whose sole academic achievement was a politics degree from Bristol Polytechnic and he is not unique. If he was so good why was he not snapped up by private industry, after all any business school will tell you the skill of management/leadership can be transferred to any business.

  4. formula57
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Incentive payments for non use is an attractive notion but may not difficulties arise like in the case of refuse sacks what is to stop a secondary market in unused sacks emerging (perhaps fuelled by illicit supply of identical but non-council sourced sacks)? Heavy users would buy in that market and so the council may well find it was operating at near maximum capacity with few rebates being claimed from it. Of course, the interesting possibility arises of permitting the council to buy in the secondary market too – with perhaps unknowable impact upon its service provision.

    • Nick
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      It’s got a name. Rubbish tourism. Happened in Switzerland. People went next door and dumped their trash.

      What also happened was people got very good at compressing their rubbish. End result, fewer bags, less revenue, and an irate council going on about the tax avoiding citizens.

    • Mark
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      That is the entire basis for the carbon permits market – including systems for the overall supply to be adjusted by the issuing authorities.

  5. Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I agree. I rarely interact with public services. I have had a couple of decent interactions with my GP but not enough to warrant how much I spend on healthcare. My bins usually get collected, although the bin men often leave a stream of rubbish all over the place which has to be swept up by the street sweepers…

    I am left spending an awful lot on services I hardly use. What control do I have over that spending? Virtually none as I live in a rotten borough.

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Blue Eyes ,

      You can’t predict when your health will deteriorate or the health of a loved one .

      If and when it does I’m sure you will want the facilities in place with doctors and nurses with decades of experience .

      Insurance , of the national variety , is by far the best way for the majority to have access to quality healthcare when they need it .

      The premiums are lower than the private insurance alternatives which tend to be for planned care rather than emergencies .

      Those people who are born with health problems would never be able to get private health insurance without exclusions at reasonable cost so there has to be an element of redistribution in order that they have care .

      I think those of us in good health (or in my case poor but not very poor) should be happy to help those who aren’t .

      There but for the grace of God go any us .

  6. Bryan
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Your Council provides refuse sacks?

    Wow!

  7. Narrow shoulders
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    Better than an incentive for non-use would be a charge for use.

    The levy could be determined by income level so the wealthy pay more and an element of ratcheting the contribution for proportion of life lived in the country (netting immigrants and ex-pats) would take care of the contribution argument.

    Paid for services will be valued more by those paying for them driving standards and the corresponding reduction in tax take will reduce government’s monopoly on service provision so market forces will determine which services continue.

    Evidently within this model certain demographics will need protection and the parties’ manifestos will allow us to vote for which sections we protect

    • alan jutson
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      narrow shoulders

      Wealthy to pay more for ruibbish collection !!!!!!.

      What would stop them doing a deal with a less well off neighbour for combining the rubbish, to be collected from thier house.

      Far, far to complicated to enforce, and simply unfair.

      A rather silly idea.

      • Narrow shoulders
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Alan Jutson

        Difficult but not impossible to police and offering whistle blowers more to inform than they would get from the wealthy would kill the market.

        Not a silly idea if one looks past the first hurdle

        • Bob
          Posted July 9, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

          @Narrow Shoulders

          “Not a silly idea if one looks past the first hurdle”

          But you would have course need hard evidence to prove any rubbish tax avoidance, like video footage, DNA evidence or signed confessions – right?

          You wouldn’t just accept the word of a whistle blowing neighbour.

          Perhaps undercover surveillance teams pretending to be dog walkers or joggers could be deployed to corroborate alleged avoidance incidents?

          Sounds like a really sensible idea.

          • Narrow shoulders
            Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

            In the instance you are both quoting to rubbish the idea of pay as you go according to need; the charge could be a standing charge and therefore not easily circumvented.

            For services where attendance is required policing becomes that much easier.

            Services provided free are often poorly delivered and under appreciated. Graduated pay as you use offers a solution to this, driving standards but still retains an element of fairness as those who can afford to pay more but only pay if they use the service.

  8. Jerry
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    The problem with any public/private service such as rubbish collections (to use John’s example) is that a commercail contract has been signed that often lasts for years, thus even if the democratically accountable council is changed by the people (the customer) at the next election -because of the poor rubbish collection service- little is likely to get changed because the council (the buyer) is locked into that commercial contract, whilst the commercail waste company (the seller) simply says that they are delivering the service as agreed in the contract and thus any fault is not theirs. On the other hand if the collection service was in house then the incoming new democratically accountable council would be able to make the required changes.

    • peter davies
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      The success of these arrangements depends on the strength of the contract with appropriate penalties and an adequate termination clause for failing to meet those targets.

      Its how the world works and is already how many public sector areas of business work now, particularly in Defence, DWP, DVLA etc. Any business worth their salt will always do what is contractually defined though there have been high profile examples of failures will the likes of the BBC have jumped all over whilst giving a lot less attention to huge NHS failures

    • uanime5
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps there needs to be a law that a council cannot offer contracts lasting longer than the council will be in power (so no contracts lasting beyond the next election).

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Surely rubbish collection is the last thing we should focus on. As I see it … when I was a lad there were about 8 blokes on the wagon – they started early and all had knocked off by lunchtime. They all had second jobs and being on the bins was almost a closed shop. You had to know someone to get in.

      Now, there are sometimes just two of them on the lorry – usually 3. They run around like flies whose rear is blue and generally work their nuts off for what is now low pay.

      I don’t want to screw these guys down any more. If your rubbish is not collected you would soon notice. There is a large number of jobs in the public sector (Diversity Officer, Arts and Communities Officer etc. etc.) which, if the people who do those jobs suddenly stopped doing them, no-one – absolutely no-one – would notice. They are public sector employees – as opposed to the bin men at the mercy of the corporates – with good salaries and the inevitable gold-plated pension. Their is a raft of senior management on breath taking salaries with job descriptions nobody can understand.

      But, NO-ONE, Tory, Labour or Liberal has any appetite for actually cutting the cost of the public sector. We don’t need to hammer down the working conditions and pay of bin men. We do need to get rid off the over paid and unproductive elements in the public sector.

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Good lord, I spelt ‘There’ incorrectly! Must be my age or my amazing typing speed.

  9. Mike Wilson
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve asked before – and commented before – but never received a reply – why don’t you, as the MP for Wokingham – insist on Wokingham Town Council being merged with the Borough Council – 400 yards up the road. Why do we need a Town Council with a separate budget, councillors, their own mayor etc. and duplicated roles. Why does the Town Council need a planning officer – the borough have plenty already.

    Reply I do not do so because I do not have the power to enforce a merger, and because many people in Wokingham like having a Town Council at parish level as well as the Borough Unitary.

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      While the two councils should probably not merge a much closer look at duplicated functions should be take. As local MP you may not have any power in these matters but surely you should be exerting your considerable influence.

      I totally agree with your call for a rebate for those people who don’t use their annual allowance of 80 refuse sacks. We are now in year two of this scheme but I still haven’t used half of my year one supply.

      Reply There is work going on about sharing back office facilities and cutting costs by shared service provision between the various Unitary Councils in Berkshire, who are the big spenders.

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted July 10, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        To me it just proves you are not serious about saving money. Why not have a look for yourself at the roles undertaken in the Town Council that are precisely duplicated by departments in the Borough Council and suggest they, at least, use the resources up the road instead of employing their own. I bet you could spend a week there and save US your annual salary. Which would mean money spent on your salary would be well spent.

        But, no – that would involve actually doing something constructive and decisive. And everyone in the public sector seems unable to actually grasp the nettle.

        Most parish councils – which is what the Town Council effectively is – have a meeting once a month and a part time secretary.

        But Wokingham Town Council has its own Planning, Finance and Amenity Officers. It has a Town Clerk (which actually means Chief Executive) – its own offices and its own Mayor. This is a layer of local bureaucracy we cannot afford.

        If went to the Town Council and said ‘you don’t need a Planning Officer, Amenities Officer and Finance Officer – as these functions are all done at the Borough – you could save us all 100k a year for a kick off. But, if you did that, suddenly the ‘requirement’ for them to have their own office, chief executive and mayor would look a bit daft – so they would resist tooth and nail as every sector of the public sector does not want its budget cut.

        But, as I say, you are not serious about actually saving us money.

        Reply I am very serious about saing mkoney, and have a,long track record he;ping do just that in the public sector. I do not think this particular idea is one I have power to follow through or would work.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      When you say ‘many people in Wokingham like having a Town Council at parish level’ – can you substantiate that statement. Who? The current councillors and mayor perhaps? Other people involved in local Conservative politics?

      Why not put a survey in the local paper and ask the question: If we could save half a million pounds a year – and knock £50 off your council tax – would you approve of merging the Town Council into the Borough Council?

      You see, this is what is wrong at the moment. Neither you nor anyone else in government is actually serious about trying to save some money. You are quite happy for us to carry on borrowing 120, thousand, million pounds every year to maintain the status quo.

      Do we really need an Arts and Communities Officer?

      Reply I have set out many ways of making the public sector cheaper, and have proposed spending less than the current government. Until this week no-one has proposed to me merging our 2 Council.s As Minister I did remove the Berkshire County Council, a following consultaiton when a majority opted for just one tier of local government at principal Council level locally, rather than 2.

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Why not ask the people? A local referendum would be a great idea.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

          @Mike Wilson: I thought you wanted to cut the cost of local government, not increase it, just how much do you think even a local referendum would cost and for what real gain, especially if needless duplication is being removed in any case.

          • Mike Wilson
            Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            To be honest there ought to be no need for a referendum. To merge Wokingham Town Council into Wokingham Borough Council is a no brainer. They have duplicated roles. It is a completely unnecessary layer of local bureaucracy that adds nothing of value. The only people who will protect it are those that are involved in it.

            Mr. Redwood wrote: ‘As Minister I did remove the Berkshire County Council, following a consultation when a majority opted for just one tier of local government at principal Council level locally, rather than 2.’

            So, why not do the same thing again? If it is good enough to have one tier of local government at principal Council level, it is logical to only have one tier of local government at Borough – or Town – level. Do we really need a separate Town Council with its own offices, officers, councillors and mayor? All duplicating the exact same jobs being done in an office 400 yards away by the officers and councillors of the Borough council?

            As for the costs of a local referendum – I bet you could save half a million a year by merging the Town Council into the Borough Council. And, as I said, you shouldn’t need one. Our elected politicians should be endlessly looking for ways to save money.

            Reply I am no longer Local Government Minister, and it is not Coalition policy to enforce mergers of Parish Councils with principal Councils. The Town Council has parish level functions which are not the same as the principal Council’s powers, the Borough.

  10. Nick
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Look at the latest proposal. 200 quid for health nsurance for migrants/tourists.

    Now if only I could pay 200 a year, instead of the 2,000 a year I’m forced to (mr average costs).

    Hmmm, strikes me as (unfair ed).

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Nick ,

      Foreign visitors travel insurance is not just health insurance but repatriation insurance .

      The idea is to repatriate you to your home country as soon as possible because the cost of medical care quickly exceeds the £100,000k for an air ambulance which might only be a row of seats in a commercial airliner and a doctor , nurse plus their professional indemnity insurance , paperwork plus travel to the airport .

  11. Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I think the rebate idea is the only way to remove some of these things and replace them with more private enterprise.

    It always struck me as unfair that some people pay for private healthcare but don’t receive any form of income tax rebate to reflect this. They are effectively paying twice.

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Private health insurance is not exhaustive so they only pay twice for some of it .

      Given that there is a chance that their circumstances may change so that they need the NHS in future , they should help pay to maintain the facilities and train and retain the staff so that they are there when they are needed .

      If they choose to patronise another supplier as well then that is up to them .

      The NHS is not perfect but it is one of the few things we’ve got left to be proud of in this country and we will miss it if it is ever gone .

      Would giving a rebate to people who decide to opt out improve the NHS and if so how ?

      If not then the majority including children will suffer just so the very few can have a bit of extra money they don’t need anyway .

      The evidence is that people tend to support things that they rely on . Look at NEST pensions , the poli’s and civil servants will never have to rely on it so they don’t care .

      Our society is already so polarised that the bankers in London feel no empathy or sympathy whatsoever for the man in the street , and accordingly they behave with contempt .

      We need someone big enough to heal these wounds and unify the country , not help it to fragment further which is what attempting to undermine the NHS does .

  12. alan jutson
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Your refuse example is a good one.

    Given it is the Council who place the contract and pay the contractor, it is the Council who is the customer, and it is them that have to be satisfied.
    Thus no matter how well the contractor does their job to keep the householders happy, this really means nothing to the contractor, as the Council go out to tender and award the next contract to the lowest bidder.
    The Council in turn get their money from the householders under legal payment terms no matter how good or bad the service they provide (via outside contractors)

    With regard to an excess or shortage of bags, have you not noticed the barter arrangement which takes place, or the number of grandparents who pass on such valuable items onto their offspring who have larger families.

    Green garden waste is another problem, Wokingham used to have Green re-useable bags for such, the Council issued one free of charge but you could purchase more if needed (thus you could have as many as you liked, because you paid £5 for them once only), these were collected free of charge every two weeks and the system seemed to work reasonably well, as it saved a journey to the local re-cycling centre.
    Now we have to have a brown wheely bin for which you pay £60 per year to have emptied every two weeks.
    One bin is not large enough in the summer, but does not get used in the winter.

    Thus I do not partake in this scheme any more as I still had to make a journey to the local recycling centre in the summer (the wheely bin being full)

    I have written to the Council to explain why I am not taking part in the system this year (due to cost and inflexibility), but so far no reply in 3 months.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      You don’t actually expect to get anything back for the money you spend on council tax – do you?

      Like you, having forked out thousands in council tax, I am blowed if I am going to fork out another £60 for green rubbish. This is the thin end of the wedge. Next it will be a different bag or box for kitchen waste – kerching – ‘that will be an extra £150 a year please’.

      From my point of view the only real benefits I get from my council tax are street lights (now being switched off at night (odd really, because that is precisely when you need them)) and rubbish collection. I would quite happily keep my thousands each year, put up a light outside my own house and take my own rubbish to the dump.

      • alan jutson
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Mike

        No I did not expect to get any money back, and indeed have not asked for any, in my letter to the Council I simply pointed out that the new scheme is far, far less flexible and much more expensive than the old one, hence my withdrawal from the green scheme.

        I agree with you, I think it is a very small wedge which will get ever larger and include ever more services, if they get away with it.

        The proof of the pudding will be how many are still in the scheme in 5 years time.

  13. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Any government “provision” is never customer focused. It is only interested in itself.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Johnny Norfolk: Indeed and even more so when it is contracted out to private companies who are more focused on making a profit than the environmental health service they are providing.

      I can honestly say that our local council (Tory) run domestic and SME waste collection service has got worse over the last 30 odd years, back in the 1970s the bin-men would take anything that could be sensibly loaded into the back of the lorry without causing a mess or damage, they would take far more rubbish then than they do today, they would collect and return the bins (yes I did say bins) from were the customer kept them even if that meant walking down a driveway and into the back garden – now the customer is being expected to do half the work [1], and also sort the rubbish because of the silly recycling rules etc, oh and we are actually (relative) paying far more now, for less of a service!

      Give me back the old style customer focused service any week, I’ll even put up with the odd old-style “bin-strike”…

      [1] never mind the fact that we now have to put the rubbish sacks, not enclosed bins, out the night before, thus giving a feast to any passing wildlife, scattered rubbish being the result, which the waste operatives do not even bother to clear up

      /rant.

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    “One of the ways to test out how popular some suitable free public services really are ”
    Just which “public services” are free? All have to be paid for by taxpayers either now or in the future at a higher amount due to government borrowing as a result of spending exceeding expenditure. Who receives these “free services”? The answer of course is those who are not taxpayers. You wrote : “The customers of public service, the taxpayers,” – this is incorrect; as you well know many of the customers are not taxpayers or only pay vat. It is not helpful to any faint hope of an improvement in these services to perpetuate the myth that these services are free.
    Let’s face it politicians , including those in your party, like nothing better than spending other people’s money in order to get themselves elected.

  15. Javelin
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    The public sector don’t feel the value of money. In the private sector profit is used. But in the public sector there is no measure. One way to do this is to measure the private sector agains the public sector. Also measuring public sector spending in one region or hospital against another at delivering front line services. I think 25% of public sector salaries should be reflected in their absolute position in the league.

  16. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Once again we come to the question of the most economically efficient way to deliver to, or in this case collect from, millions of households and businesses.

    Would it make economic sense to have two parallel and independent mains systems for water distribution, so that being fed up with the price or quality of water supplied by one company I could easily get my house connected to the system operated by an alternative company, and know for example that henceforth the water that comes out of my taps will be water that has fallen as rain on the Welsh hills, pure and soft water uncontaminated by any water extracted from chalk boreholes or from the Thames?

    Or would it make sense to duplicate the National Grid and the whole of the electricity distribution system, so that fearing for the future of the planet I could switch to the company supplying only “green” electricity, and know that the electricity supplied to my house will henceforth be that generated by windmills, occasionally, or solar panels, sometimes, free from any “dirty” electricity from fossil fuel power stations?

    In both those cases I don’t think it would make economic sense to duplicate hugely expensive distribution systems so that customers could have a genuine choice and competition could operate to improve efficiency; but maybe it would work better with rubbish collection, which necessarily involves men and vehicles rather than fixed installations, pipes and cables?

    I don’t expect it to happen, but it would be interesting to do some experiments: take the men and vehicles who now collect the rubbish from across the whole of a town, divide them into two units, each of which can collect across the whole area and can compete for the business, and see whether the benefits of that competition outweigh the obvious disadvantages of increased fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance and time wasted moving between customers rather than moving their rubbish.

    My guess is that it wouldn’t be many years before it was being argued that a single service for the whole town would be more cost effective, especially if one unit was much more successful and the remaining customers of the other unit became sparsely spread, but it would be interesting to have some practical demonstrations.

  17. Martin
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The trouble with your bag suggestion is that an element would fly tip and still claim a rebate. Mrs May can’t afford a copper on every corner to combat fly tipping.

    If your bags aren’t tagged to you or your address you could give them to friends or family who might need them.

    Maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve never had too much hassle with rubbish collection.

    The real problem with the council remains gold plated pension schemes that private sector workers have to pay more for via council tax than the private sector worker can afford for his/her own pension.

  18. Iain Gill
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    As a mechanism to force good change and ongoing optimisation far and away the best is consumer choice at an individual level able to swap provider at any point.

    The NHS badly needs power to be shifted to the patients hands. Get the state to provide a good guaranteed insurance policy for all, pay in according to ability and get payments out according to need. But get the state out of running providers of care. And let the patients (NOT general practioners! Many of which are useless) choose where to take their insurance payout continually, let the dynamic of patients going to cleaner, friendlier, more prompt, more honest, and so on, providers, to improve the service for all.

    As for bins, I don’t see why some competition and billing the consumers directly couldn’t be introduced, its certainly the best way to optimise service. This would however be a shock to residents in more rural locations who would find themselves no longer subsidised by those in more urban (and cheaper to run a bin service) areas, and so on. I wouldn’t see that as a bad thing as cross subsidy from one part of the population to another on the whole should be stopped, except in the case of genuine need. Movement from a “free” bin collections could have unintended consequences such as an increase in fly tipping, so we would need to be much heavier in our policing and punishment of such offences (which would be no bad thing).

    However politicians are on the whole too lazy and too risk averse to consider changing the system much, and we have to be content with minor changes on the fringes of things. I would rather see an all-encompassing mission to sweep away state provision, give end citizens buying power, and so on. Even internally within the state I would hand over power to those directly affected, for instance I would give each individual army regiment control of its own equipment budget – that could bring amazing change for the better.

    Good luck, cannot see any of it happening with the small cross section of society getting selected into political candidate posts.

  19. Acorn
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    If your Council is like ours, using black and clear (recycling) sacks, it is probably costing you less than £2 a week for a weekly collection. And you want an incentive rebate to use less sacks???

    BTW. It should be compulsory for all prospective parliamentary candidates to have spent four years on the finance committee of a local council and have attended some CIPFA type accounting lectures.

    Reply I did spend 4 years on the Finance Committee of Oxfordshire County Council before standing for Parliament.

  20. Richard1
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    People need to be able to contract out of these bad public services and arrange their own provision privately, in exchange for a rebate on taxes. It would then become very clear which public services do in fact provide value for money, and pressure could be applied to public bodies, such as councils, which provide poor service. Choice and competition, as in every other field of human endeavour, are the key to progress.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      @Richard1: That would just encourage fly tipping, contract out, claim the rebate, tip the rubbish late at night in on a dark street/road, meaning that others are paying (out of their CT) for the council to clear it up.

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        @Jerry You are too cynical. If I could opt out of council tax I’d quite happily pay a contractor to pick up my rubbish once a week. And so would 99.5% of people. Most of us are not daft enough to tip our rubbish out on our local streets.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

          @Mike Wilson: Whilst you are far to trusting of other people!…

    • A different Simon
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      “Choice and competition, as in every other field of human endeavour, are the key to progress.”

      That sounds very dogmatic .

      Utility services like the retailing of energy have not yet benefited from the replacement of the state monopoly with a cartel .

      Even if it wasn’t a cartel the savings which the private retailers would have to provide would have to exceed the cost of the marketing , advertising and duplication of functions across different suppliers .

      The costs associated with “competition” are around a third of the wholesale cost of the gas .

      I’m all for having competition where it helps but there are cases like utility functions where it is not appropriate .

    • Monty
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      It would be risky to allow householders to make their own arrangements for refuse disposal. Neighbours from hell would enter into no such paid contract with any agency. They’d just fly-tip all their rubbish. And the whole community would get lumbered with the burden of vermin, mess, stinks, and hazards to health.

      A better candidate for breakup of the public sector monopoly would be the schools.

      • Jerry
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        @Monty: Why do we need to “breakup of the public sector monopoly”, when we don’t break up private monopolies or cartels , at least the -true- public sector is demoniacally accountable via the politicains who (should) be controlling it.

        At the end of the day, if the tax payers are having their hard earned money fleeced from them does it really matter who is doing the fleecing, unless one is more interested in political point scoring of course…

        (I have renmoved an example of a private monopoly and of a cartel, as neither fit the description. All private sector activities are subject to anti monopoly and anti cartel legislaiton. Any business group breaking the competition rules should be referred to the authorities-ed)

        • Jerry
          Posted July 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          Nice to see you deleting those comments that you personally don’t like…

  21. Posted July 8, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Whilst it is difficult to have competition in refuse collection. it is possible to have competition with health services. Why not let people opt out of the NHS and get an appropriate tax rebate, provided that they can demonstrate that they have adequate private insurance/health cover? This I believe is the system in Australia, and when we were there on holiday my wife got excellent treatment from the state run service with which there are reciprocal arrangements with the NHS for tourists.
    The NHS is not innovative, and has never been so. Everey change has had to be forced on it from outside whether it is improvements in medical treatment or improvements in administration/staff relations. There is no reason for the NHS to change, it is totally unaffected by public demand – why should it work weekends and bank holidays, what a ridiculous idea! Competition is the only way to change this thinking.
    Similar arguments could be applied to schools; let people opt out of the state system and give them a tax rebate once they can show their child is attending a suitable private school – give people real choice, its their money which is being spent.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Why is it difficult to have competition in refuse collection? I buy a lorry, employ a couple of lads and sign up a few thousand people to have their rubbish collected for a couple of quid a week. I take it to the local dump and pay to dump it. Which bit is tricky?

      • Jerry
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Mike Wilson: Nothing in theory, but this is not about choice, it is an issue of public health, if you think that some residents will not save money by fly tipping [1] (or perhaps just not bother and allow their rubbish to mount up in their gardens) then you are very naive, heck you only have to see how some people will fill other peoples skips rather than pay for their own or take a trip to the local amenity tip! Go back to the basics, understand why the state stared to collect peoples waste and dispose of it properly.

        [1] never mind the fly-by-night, here to day, gone tomorrow operators…

    • uanime5
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      The NHS has less staff at night, weekends, and bank holidays because the law says them have to be paid more than staff working weekday, daytime hours. The private sector also has fewer staff during this time for the same reason.

      • a-tracy
        Posted July 10, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Which ‘law’ says you have to pay more at nights, weekends and bank holidays? I know most businesses do pay extra but I don’t think there is a law and I’d like to know what it is. Many private sector workers in general retail shops, entertainment, fuel stations, supermarkets, warehousing, home delivery networks, hairdressers work out of Monday to Friday 9-5 hours?

  22. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Off-topic, is nobody else struck by the economic insignificance of the planned EU-US trade deal?

    The Telegraph repeats government claims as if this was hugely important:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/10165420/US-trade-talks-could-boost-UK-economy-by-10bn.html

    “US trade talks could boost UK economy by £10bn”

    But UK GDP is around £1500 billion.

    £10 billion divided by £1500 billion = 0.7%.

    Even if that materialised, it would just be a one-off increase in GDP, and probably spread over so many years that its effects would hardly be discernible against the background of natural growth of the economy.

    The long term trend growth rate of the UK economy has been around 2.5% a year for some decades, on that trend growth rate it takes just over 3 months for GDP to increase by 0.7%, and that can happen again and again and again whereas the claimed 0.7% benefit from the planned EU-US trade deal would be a one-off.

    It has to be concluded from the numbers quoted through the media that the planned deal would not be the huge step forward over what we have now that the government likes to claim, in fact it would be economically insignificant and it wouldn’t actually make that much difference to our economy if we weren’t part of it.

  23. backofanenvelope
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Down here in Cornwall we have a rubbish collection every week and a recyling collection every second week. Containers in various colours are provided free of charge for recyling; you have to provide your own bin bag for rubbish. Everything is collected and rubbish is not strewn around the street. The whole things works well, and now-a-days they work on bank holidays, so your collection day is stable.

    My question is quite simple. If it works here, why doesn’t it work elsewhere? Perhaps Mr Pickles would like to take his summer holidays in Cornwall and study the system here?

    • behindthefrogs
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      The Wokingham scheme is an attempt to reduce the number of bags being sent to landfill by retricting the number available. My experience of Cornwall, St Austell in particular, is that many households do not use the recycling scheme. There is a critical need there to persuade more to recycle.

      • Jerry
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        @behindthefrogs: “There is a critical need there to persuade more to recycle.

        Why?! The country is not short of land fill sites and were land fill is a problem then there are other ways of disposing of waste, “recycling” is a political policy [1] (to be seen to be ‘Green’), often the costs of forced recycling are more than the receipts even if their is a market for the sorted waste.

        Those who pander to the green religion often attempt to hijack the term “Recycle”, people were collecting drinks cans and the like 35 years ago and sending them to be melted down and made into new cans, scrap metal companies have been sorting and selling all types of scrap metals to be made into new steel or what ever for donkey years, farmers used to be allowed to ‘recycle’ food slops, the “Steptoe’s” & their Son’s of have been recycling just about anything for years – the last thing we actually needed was extra and costly enforced recycling…

        [1] much of it forced upon us by the EU

  24. Roger Farmer
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The NI tax which is no more than income tax in another guise, should be scrapped. It would at a stroke release those who administer it for more productive work. It would also encourage those who need the often inadequate services it provides to go to the market place and insure themselves. Vast numbers already do, including many trade unionists, and should be able to offset the cost against tax. I cannot imagine Clegg or Milliband queueing for hours in casualty or waiting months for their next transplant. The defined “Needy” could be covered from general taxation.
    If the Government were prepared to clean up the private pension industry, and it is in certain need of cleansing, then the majority could look after their own provision.
    The whole welfare budget needs further radical pruning. The premise that the maximum hand out should be £26,000 pa., which possibly equates with £33,000 for anyone working, is crazy when a state pensioner after a lifetime of contributions gets around £6,000.pa.
    Why cannot many of the UK out of work move 200 miles for a job when Poles and others are prepared to move 1,000 miles for the same job.
    Returning to other public services, I wonder how it is that for Eu. 900 pa. I can get my bins emptied daily in summer and every other day in winter, plus of course all the other services provided locally and nationally. I can park my car in designated parking areas for free. There are no bin police or traffic wardens adding to the cost of the service and discouraging me from using local shops or the weekly market.
    There are three levels of police force and in the five mile journey to town I can almost guarantee to see six of them doing their job. The only time I was burgled it took them ten minutes to respond. If I spend two weeks in my old UK town I would be lucky to see as many police as I see in a day here.
    Why should this be. I can only conclude that the pay and perks in the UK public sector have got so out of phase with the wealth producing private sector that it invariably leads to a take it or leave it attitude to their customers. They do not see them as customers. It is,
    I believe, symptomatic of a national decline at the hands of inadequate, detached politicians. If you wish to see into the future look no further than Greece.

  25. Roy Grainger
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “There is also a reluctance to close down failing services, as any closure always produces a small group campaigning to keep the service open, or petitions and protests from the providers.”

    Witness the complaints over the A&E rationalisation underway in West London. One of my local hospitals is planned to have a reduced A&E capability and everyone (including the usual gaggle of posturing opportunistic left-wing politicians, but also ordinary local residents) is against it – never mind it is part of a wider rationalisation to improve A&E coverage over a wider region, never mind it is being planned by the apolitical health trusts concerned, never mind they have no clue what standard of services it has (or hasn’t) been providing to date, never mind there are at least 3 other hospitals in the immediate area which is a large over-provision compared with parts of the country – they are just against it.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Given all the stories in the media about A&E being overburdened it’s no surprise that people don’t want the same number of people going to fewer and fewer A&E departments.

  26. Man of Kent
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Until the budget of the NHS is devolved into individual health accounts cf Singapore

    and the Education budget is handed out as vouchers to all users we will have

    these ‘services’ run primarily for the benefit of those who staff them.

    These budgets are supervised ,moreover ,by politicians who delight in spending other

    people’s money on other people.

    Generally people spend their own money on themselves far more efficiently than

    Governments do

  27. Neil Craig
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    There was a Yes Minister episode where it was proposed that any new project must have failure conditions specified and a named person carrying the can. This would mean that if the service failed to reach what had been specifically promised supporters would be at a disadvantage arguing for a few more million and next time for sure.

    In the episode, there being no credible counterargument the civil service buried it.

    In reality I have never seen a credible counterargument but it seems not to have been done over the last 4 decades.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      The credible counterargument is that all the new projects (mainly created by MPs) would be assigned to the same person, who would demand a high salary due to the prospect of their job being short term. As a result when this scapegoats get fired when the first project goes wrong there’ll be no one left to blame if any other project goes wrong.

      Also when new projects are created a new scapegoat will be hired and the cycle will repeated.

  28. Robert Taggart
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    £ incentives – for us minions ? – your lot will never allow that Johnny !

    An incentive to save £ would be of more help to us – like raising the poultry lower limit for capital assets (£6K) – for us scroungers !
    Regarding reform of public bodies – making us sign-on once a week in future (post 2015 ?) – will only serve to cause a breakdown – of the system ! Said system be ‘running on empty’ – under the current more ‘generous’ formula (sign-on once a fortnight) – it be heading for a nervous breakdown !
    FTR – one has a ‘lesser relie’ working for it – and they be looking for the exit !

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      @Robert Taggart ‘…An incentive to save £ would be of more help to us – like raising the poultry lower limit for capital assets (£6K) – for us scroungers !…’

      I think all you scroungers should be allowed to keep chickens. It would allow you to get cheap eggs and save on waste by feeding them your scraps. Win, win.

  29. boffin
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    ” … to try to complain through a Councillor” is likely to be a waste of effort; although the Councillor may (in theory) have some influence in shaping policy, he has scant power to do anything about bad performance nowadays.

    Local authorities have become self-serving – bureaucracies “wallowing in a jacuzzi of public cash”, BBC-style, with no real democratic accountabilty. Only if true individual accountablity of council staff is restored, with Councillors having power to fire malperformers, can we hope for any change for the better.

  30. NickW
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The problem with the NHS is that it’s customer is the Government, not the patients.

    All the problems stem from that single fact.

    The Government can change that instantly by ensuring that the only statistic it collects is the degree of patient satisfaction, which needs to be collected by an outside and independent agency.

  31. peter davies
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    This is precisely the reason that I think most supply side services which local authorites have to supply should be done by private sector contractors on their behalf so the public sector enabler acts as the gamekeeper as opposed to the gamekeeper and the poacher.

    This one act in itself should providing bidding and contract awards are administered properly drive in efficiencies and innovation by the suppliers. Too many public bodies appear to be there for themselves as opposed to what they should be doing in my opinion.

    As for the NHS, with the amount of money it has had surely it hould now be the best in the world? It funny how the Netherlands come top of all performance tables in health provision when they have a paid for by compulsory health insurance system.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      You seem to have ignored that as a percentage of GDP less is spent on the healthcare in the UK than is spent on healthcare in most other developed countries. So it’s no surprise that other countries have better health services when they spend more money on it.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Uni, you don’t still believe that standards will only rise if loads more extra money is spent do you?
        I thought that myth was killed off when Blair and Brown doubled the money spent on the NHS for little improvement.

  32. waramess
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    There is a very simple answer to all this and that is privatisation. Don’t let the State run anything.

    If this is too controversial then allow the State to compete on an even playing field.

    Change the system so that, for example, the moneys collected from taxpayers are spent on health insurance which can be used by patients at their discretion for treatments.

    The State can pay the insurance cost for those it considers needy and the NHS can compete in the free market for patients, with a requirement to turn in a respectable return on capital employed .

    The same can be done for schools where, out of the proceeds of taxation, an allowance is given for each child to be educated with parents free to “top up “where they wish. The State achools can then compete in the open market for pupils.

    Such a system would avoid the need for schools and hospitals in particular having to undergo constant shake ups by politicians and the State would be able to show its true worth, or otherwise.

    Might not be too popular with Socialists and closet socialists however for they are the very people who know full well that the State institutions would quickly fail, and that would never do. Would it?

    • Bazman
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      So toll roads then and no railway as such. With everything else run for profit and not the user? Might work in the world of takeaways but not in the more complex world of health and schools as has been proved many times. Most dentists are now private was that good thing for the majority. No it was not. So called competition has led to worst services and higher prices or in the case of banking a crash and debts for the taxpayer. Right wing simplistic fantasies by someone who would not last five minutes under such circumstances as found in Russia where the country is run as you say for the benefit of about a thousand people.

      • waramess
        Posted July 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        I guess Bazman you think (or is that a too strong verb) that supermarkets, drug companies, hospital equipment manufacturers, farms etc should all be in state ownership.

        Why do you think the private sector provision of schools and health to be any different and why do you think the state could do those functions better?

        • Bazman
          Posted July 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          What would be the advantage to the taxpayer of running private schools and hospitals where profit is put before the patient or pupil and the profits syphoned off abroad as the taxpayer is made to pay through the nose? There can be some choice in drug companies and supermarkets, but many of these are oligopolies anyway. How can you choose a road? Well you can. The one past your house will be the cheapest. The utilities especially water have little or no competition and can there really be any between what are just billing companies? Dogma is no use to us.

      • waramess
        Posted July 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Also Bazman, if you are still there which I doubt, the corporate sector should not be confused with the free market, in fact the corporate sector hates the free market just as much as the socialists and the statists for much the same reasons.

        None like competition or the need to make a profit and all will try to subvert the market in this respect for their own reasons.

        • Bazman
          Posted July 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          So village hospitals competing with each other and lorries equipped with generators selling power? As I said not real. Any profits such as in the health and energy sector need to be put back into the industry and not find their way into offshore accounts in the case of your ‘private enterprise dogma fantasy.

  33. uanime5
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    One of the main problems with monopoly public services is there is no way of ensuring change, innovation and progress.

    Why are these needed? Given that these public bodies are providing a service, rather than making a product, as long as they use new technology when it’s available and keep abreast with any new developments there’s very few changes they need to make.

    I can’t imagine there are many ways to change, innovation, or progress rubbish collection.

    As I do not use all the sacks they supply me with, why do I not get a rebate on my refuse charge?

    Regarding a rebate I would recommend tapering off any benefits, so you get £1 for the first 5 spare bags you still have, 90p for the next 5 spare bags you still have, etc. If the council were to do the opposite and offer an increasing amount of money to people who put out less rubbish all this will do is encourage people to sell their rubbish to their neighbours in exchange for a larger rebate.

    Also an alternative would be to allow those who don’t use all their bags this year to throw out more next year.

    Reply Of course we need to innovate and strive to improve in public service, just as private enterprise does. Global Technology to handle, use, recycle and process waste has improved greatly in recent years.

  34. REPay
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    More outsourcing of services is a good solution, providing the government service or local council manages the interface with its electorate. That should incentivize both service provider and council workers/councilors to care.

    It seems that a main function of the state services public sector unions is to oppose outsourcing (privatization as they call it) or any innovation in delivery. A friend of mine set up a cataract service which massively outperformed the local hospitals in both patient outcomes and costs. The local Trust, pressured by the hospitals decided not to renew the contract for a year. Of course the business had to close. This is the “cherry picking” the public sector complains of. The result is that people lose out in terms of their vision and the taxpayer pays for underperforming and expensive professionals and their infrastructure.

  35. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Excellent. Now apply this kind of logic to the NHS.

  36. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    We have a very good refuse collection service and recycling centre in Bury. I must admit having 4 very large dustbins for a single person seems rather OTT and I wish there was some choice in size of waste bins , but otherwise I applaud our system. Bury have put a lot of effort in cleaning up the area.
    Thank goodness for public services, which have used their own and bought private services sensibly. The state power is the greatest thing we are going to get in this country and if the money grabbers try and take more and more out of the public funds on the premise that it is failing then we truly will see failure and corruption on a grander scale.
    The NHS is the biggest employer, so we are not only talking about a large service industry, but a Britain we all take part in. I have worked both in the private sector and the public sector. I found that the private organisations I worked in , were showy, arrogant , hierarchical without having the skills to match and negatively competitive. The loudness and organisation of the staff allowed bossy youngsters whose parents were in a good position to speak down experience and skills. The patients thought they were getting good treatment , but it was superficial; the carpets and the food masking important medical considerations.
    I am suspicious of those who want to run down our country breaking it into small pieces to be swallowed up and bought by larger outside interests. It is the people who eventually suffer and there is no going back when it has been taken over.

  37. Bob
    Posted July 9, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Perhaps we should be allowed to withhold payment for poor service, the way we do with in the private sector?

    You wouldn’t pay for a restaurant meal if the chicken was raw and the wine was corked.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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