Tory reform or Labour waste?

Today the BBC struggled to grasp the obvious when interviewing George Osborne. We have just witnessed a twelve year ruinously expensive experiment, which entailed throwing money at public services, calling it investment, and assuming it would abolish poverty, raise educational standards for all and cure us of our illnesses. Instead it has left us ever deeper in debt, with burgeoning welfare rolls, a deep recession, poor quality services in many areas, a growing gap between independent schools and the rest and now a bungled response to swine flu as a fitting coda for the whole dreadful experience. We are now into the final baroque or punk phase, where it is just words. We are promised ever more millions or billions or trillions, just to contrast with so called “Tory cuts” and to make the task of any incoming government so much more difficult as it has to tear up the promises that never had money to back them.

Labour’s response is to offer more of the same, whilst no longer having the borrowing power to go on delivering it after the next election, if by any chance they were to be elected. They still do not understand that you can have too many spin docotors, initiatives, regulations, quangos, regional governments, spy cameras, administrators and management consultancies. It’s not how much you spend, but how you spend it, that matters.

One of the ways Labour has debauched the public service and wasted money is through their belief in “cross cutting issues”, “joined up government” and “partnership working”. The underlying perception that some probems like poor educational achievement or drugs or worklessness required responses from more than one department or agency was correct. That is why they inherited a Cabinet committee system designed to allocate work and decide priorities between departments in response to such issues.

Labour, believing their own rhetoric that no-one had noticed this before, spawned a huge army of quangos, working groups, partnerships and committees on top of a sensible number of internal government Cabinet committees to tackle this all in a more public way. They all needed their own armies of clerks, managers, spin doctors, PR specialists and elected officials to busy themselves with surveys, reports and injunctions to others to live better lives. Local government was cajoled or conned into doing the same thing at considerable expense.

Partnerships and cross cutting working became the ultimate way of wasting money and ducking responsibility. If a Chief Education Officer and a few Headteachers were responsible for the quality of education we knew who to blame and who to ask to put things right. If you needed to involve social services to discuss family deprivation,the police to deal with bad conduct, planners to deal with poor design of housing estates, the youth service to deal with out of hours activities and the rest no-one was to blame. Instead of solving the whole problem you just ended up spending more money and time getting nowhere. No one person or institution was responsible. Mettings took the form of laying off risk and demanding more resoruces.

In a business things usually work best if you keep the numbers of senior managers under good control, give them clear responsibilities and targets, and let them get on with it. They will liaise with colleagues if necessary, usually on the email or phone. It is the job of the board to deal with the “cross cutting” issues, to make sure the different jobs and targets fit into a harmonious whole. You keep down the number of working meeetings between people doing fundamentally different things.

I find it difficult to grasp why people buy the lie that quality can only go up if more money is spent. The law of reducing returns has long since set into some parts of the public service. If you throw more managers, spin doctors and management consultants at them, they will get worse, not better. We need to identify the good managers, give them tasks they can manage and stretching targets to hit. We need to dismantle the brueaucratic empires of spin, over regulation and waste.They are now the problem, not the solution.


  1. Brian Tomkinson
    August 11, 2009

    We know that the BBC is, shall we say, sympathetic to the Labour mantra of public investment. Given the opportunity to be interviewed it is essential that the case for true value for money and living within our means is clearly stated. Unfortunately, I don’t think that even now the Conservative front bench knows how to articulate this case convincingly. I don’t need convincing, but if I am not impressed after listening to these interviews how likely is it that those who do need convincing will get the message?

  2. Simon D
    August 11, 2009

    I think the UK may now have become ungovernable as a result of New Labour’s excesses.

    We have a broken society and a broken economy. We also have a broken cabinet and parliament. Everything seems to be run by the Prime Minister and Lord Mandelson. The media, led by the BBC, acts as cheerleader for the disaster. Meanwhile the electorate expects ever increasing public services and public expenditure, without thinking through where the money is going to come from to pay for it. The sole objective of the Prime Minister is to try to hang on to power by spinning his way to an election victory.

    The public domain (BBC, quangos, local government, “partnerships” etc.) is very much the playground of left of centre liberals who would be a significant and powerful barrier to any reform. It will still be there, unreformed, whichever party is given power by the electorate.

    One is reminded of France in 1789 which was also ungovernable and engulfed by a financial crisis.

    I think, if elected, the Conservatives are going to find themselves in new political territory. They will need to grapple with the financial catastrophe they have inherited, the need for serious reform and an entrenched opposition and media determined to destroy them. The country will be torn apart and I am not looking forward to it.

  3. Lola
    August 11, 2009

    Careful with the ‘T’ word. Whereas you and I and the others on here understand clearly what is meant by – in the real world – targets, this is not the case on planet New Labour. To them targets are just more spin and reputation managment of their failed policies.

  4. Nick
    August 11, 2009

    Nope. Politicians are the problem. When you analyse most of the problems in the UK all roads lead back to politicians.

    8 trillion of debts, and politicians are responsible. All of you. Tory and Labour. None of you have stopped the rise of government debts.

    With an ‘income’ of 500 billion there is no way you can pay down the 8 trillion. That means you’re going to have to default, and people who have been forced to trust you are going to be hurt. You’re not. You will just vote another contribution to your pension fund, or pay rise to get away with it.

    Even if we take people like Carswell. Referenda he says are needed. Except when he know thinks he might get to make decisions, referenda aren’t quite so high up the agenda. He won’t trust his repeal bill going to a referenda.

    What is needed is wholesale axing of large parts of government. The first area that needs to be axed is politicians.

    1. Get rid of the HoL
    2. All acts have to be approved by referenda
    3. More government borrowing is made illegal.
    4. All debts have to be published (Pensions included)
    5. A new tax hypothecated to pay off the tax.
    6. Compulsorary savings for pensions and unemployment
    7. Vouchers for health and education.


  5. NigelC
    August 11, 2009

    There are plenty of basic process improvement methodologies that can systematically improve service delivery at lower cost by cutting out waste and variation ( Lean and Six Sigma are the current favourities). They are deployed in the private sector where cost control is important and managers have to deliver with tight and dimishing budgets.
    Why does the public sector not get it?

    1. Adam Collyer
      August 11, 2009

      “Lean”…”six sigma”…”process improvement methodologies”…”systematically improve service delivery”. Sounds just like a government press release!

      The public sector “gets it” very well. It well understands that this kind of thinking will need process improvement managers, six sigma specialists, service delivery improvement managers, process methodology supervisors, and of course a full team to report on achievement against the process improvement targets.

      Reply: Don’t scoff. 6 sigma and the other quality techniques can be most helpful. Thye do not require new people, but trainigna nd using some fo your exisitng people in a better way. It leads to less stock, less waste, more right first time, more rewarding jobs and higher productivity.

  6. Brian E.
    August 11, 2009

    Although I am strongly opposed to being in the EU, I do think that there are some ideas to be learnt from the individual countries, and indeed elsewhere in the world, from places like Australia & Canada.
    We need to ask how they run these various services and what are their administrative overheads. Both in Education and in the NHS, their seem to be far more administrators, inspectors, liaison offers, auditors, accountants and of course spin doctors, than Teaches or Doctors & Nurses.
    Private hospitals apparently run with a far lower administrative overhead in America in spite of the fact that they have the additional tasks of collecting payments from patients and dealing with insurance companies. And they have a much lower MRSA rate because it costs them money as insurers won’t pay for hospital acquired infection. We should look at the most efficient and say “Right, we can do the same” and tell the administrators here to get on with it or loose their jobs! Heath care on the continent apparently costs less per patient than in the UK, but in France, Italy & Spain it appears superior. Why?
    Education is exactly the same. Private schools spend a far higher percentage of their income on actual teaching rather than administrative overheads and fancy IT. Again we should look at the best, here and abroad, and make that the target for our running costs.
    We must look elsewhere, if they can do, so can we!
    And the same line could be adopted for virtually every other state run activity!

  7. michael, islington
    August 11, 2009

    It’s a wonderful thing to behold when someone comes to the same conclusion as oneself.

    I just didn’t believe the police bought into the Respect/anti-social behaviour initiatives involving the usual suspects – strategic partnerships, 360 degree management, meetings, more meetings, and, of course, a lot more money.

    Well, two police sergeants put up a good show of enthusiasm for at least 10 minutes before throwing in the towel and admitting they didn’t believe any of it, felt coralled into supporting it, and felt the whole deal was a waste of taxpayer’s money.

    They can do fluent bureaucratise these days. But that doesn’t mean they lose their own counsel.

  8. Demetrius
    August 11, 2009

    Long ago when I was on a General Staff, it took a dozen of us to move 17,000 men, with all their vehicles, equipment, consumables and personal possession at one hours notice to wherever we chose to send them. There was not much in the way of consultation, and the orders were models of brevity. We managed it, because we did it often, and we knew what we were doing.

  9. Alan Phillips
    August 11, 2009

    On the day Lord Mandelson was diagnosed (and treated for a kidney stone) the same was happening to me.

    Now I didn’t for second imagine I’d be treated as quick as this, but tomorrow is going to be my third attempt to address the situation. The 1st attempt was abandoned because of failure to read my notes, giving me Tramadol instead of morphine the former being a drug to control my pain on an everyday basis. Thus meaning I was to try a fight the pain from Lithotriper treatment on drugs that weren’t up to the job, they were told before hand but choose to ignore my reservations.

    Six weeks later, they’ve lost my note and as such couldn’t treat me.

    So not only am I £70 out of pocket travelling for treatments that didn’t work, particularly in the first instance, the non-treatment from the NHS has meant more admin and more costs to them too. My wife is a nurse in the NHS also, and see’s swathes of expensive choices being made in their name. The service is ripe for cost cutting measures, and improvements in delivery at the same time. This isn’t impossible, indeed its impossible to continue without further degeneration of service and costs.
    Cuts do need to be made, succeed in getting this message out and the GE will see the Tories return to office.

    I might be speaking out of turn here, but wouldn’t incentivising the NHS staff (those who truly know where the waste is) to receive bonuses based on savings, whilst maintaining/improving services lead to a better outcome for everybody. They could make the changes, empower themselves to do whats required and benefit from their own engaugement into the scheme. Gerry Robinson did do this in his excellent programme when he tackled a northern hospital.

    I believe that investing into the staff of an organisation reaps more for all concerned if they have a genuine stakeholder gain to be made. This could be achieved from the cleaners (sadly always used as the lowest in an organisation, but oh so vital) to the management. It would be probable that when retirements occur, there won’t be a rush to advertise the job vacated unless there is a real need for it as such appointments dilute the hospital service and the stakeholders bonus.

    1. Mike Stallard
      August 11, 2009

      When I was mortally ill, I was in a Mexican Hospital. The treatment was basic. My wife had to come and see me by taxi. The food was mediocre, but always on time.
      But do you know what made it a good experience?
      The attitude of the staff. They really cared about me. They were gentle and understanding and friendly. They chatted and took time to look in.
      Because they believed in what they were doing. They were nice people. They were truly professional. And I have no doubt that even the Specialist was on a pittance.
      Hospitals depend on this attitude. You cannot buy it. It comes from the very top down. And, in the NHS, it seems to be an optional extra.

  10. oldrightie
    August 11, 2009

    Ever since the early nineties, Labour devised a system of favoured placements throughout our public services. Police, schools, The NHS and so forth. They also created a quango, advisory and spin hierarchy to “manage” them all. This was meant to allow Blair, Brown and The cabinet to concentrate on politics and how too use “investment” for political gain. Once the front man, chosen by Mandleson for this agenda, left, it fell apart faster than it was fragmenting under the smug Blair.
    The damage and cost of this selfish plan is visible all around us.

  11. Shaun Pilkington
    August 11, 2009

    I would point out that it is also, lamentably, true that the quality of the people available is in decline. David Braben, author of Elite and a seminal figure in the UK Video Game industry has said in an interview:

    “Eurogamer: NESTA issued a report earlier this year saying that things look bleak for the UK industry: a brain drain tempting qualified developers abroad where there’s a lot more in the way of tax incentives, and poor educational standards. As a UK developer, how do you feel about the future?

    David Braben: The real problem is that this has been triggered by the fact that educational standards have, in my opinion, fallen quite dramatically, and that’s a tragedy. There are a lot of complex reasons for that. In parallel, countries like Canada are making it very attractive to head over there. So there is a brain drain – and the people coming up through the education system are nowhere near as well trained as they were five years ago. That’s a huge loss and a real worry. And it’s not just for the games industry. It’s for any industry that’s reliant on stem subjects. This is going to be a real problem for the country, not today, but in 10 years’ time, when those people are becoming seniors then. And it’s not worldwide: it’s fairly specific to this country.

    Eurogamer: Why do you think that is?

    David Braben: There’s been quite a dumbing down. One of the problems we’ve had is the proliferation of courses. There are so many universities now, and the gold standard of what a university should be is getting lower and lower.”

    That’s pretty damning. Or dumbing. But I’m not here to make bad puns, I’m here to point out that the last 12 years have seen a terrible decline of educational standards and because of the kinds of industries now available to the west, the so called ‘knowledge economy’, this is going to really cost us dear. It must be reversed as soon as possible!

  12. Robert Pay
    August 11, 2009

    You are correct that the aim of public sector spending is political rather than to provide services. With the state accounting for nearly 50% of GDP and massive indebtedness, the public sector i.e. the Labour Party at work, can call the shots. Our job is to shut up and pay up. The BBC is a key beneficiary of the explosion of a public sector plutocracy.

    The current attempt to reflate at any cost is a classic of the Labour party putting party before country…Balls et al are planning five years protesting at the the Tory cuts. The money is announced even if not spent in order to prepare this ground.

  13. Johnny Norfolk
    August 11, 2009

    You are so right John. My concern is the Cameron & co will not have the bottle to sort it out the right way. Just like Heath in fact who made thing worse not better.

      August 12, 2009

      We tend to agree with Johnny here. We’ve still to hear anyone from the Shadow Cabinet articulate the Waste Case as well as this in everyday language. Good to see a take on OUR slogan

      Don’t forget the pay-off line – “THAT’S what gets results”!

      Now set it to the old song and hammer it home to the public AND Conservative members!

      The deftness of JR’s style here – the first Obituary of this disastrous Labour administration, written in the past tense – will not go unnoticed by his regulars.

      But are we paying sufficient attention to Labour contracts, appointments, feather bedding, gaining future influence over ‘written off assets’ and generally trying to tie the hands of the next government in a final gigantic dip into the trough during Labour’s dying days?

  14. TomTom
    August 11, 2009

    The British Broadcasting Company was a private affair set up by Marconi, Thomson-Houston, Metropolitan-Vickers etc to boost sales of radio sets in 1922. Radio Corporation of America (RCA) created CBS for the same purpose…but CBS stayed part of RCA until GE broke up RCA.

    The BBC was effectively nationalised in 1927 by Royal Charter just as the East India Company was nationalised and its Royal Charter rescinded following the Mutiny. Ever since the BBC has lived from first a voluntary levy made compulsory and subject to Criminal Law by the 1945 Labour Government.

    That the BBC exists by Statute and is funded by compulsory taxation backed by Criminal Law hardly inspires the civil servants there to view notions of tax and spend with any sense of disdain.

    The BBC sees itself as a propaganda unit to eradicate “false consciousness” and “educate” the populace into the ‘true path’. Yesterday Radio 4 Today managed to turn voter anger at Hazel Blears in Salford into bored teenagers unaware of their error. That this ran counter to most perceptions of Hazel Blear’s unpopularity may have something to do with the imminent move of the BBC to Salford; or it may be to do with the fear in BBC circles that the hoi-polloi might be revolting and rebelling against the imposition of TV tax and other burdens they bear for the Eloi Class.

    Indeed the Eloi lived in dreadful fear of the Morlocks and it may be that Salford has quite a few Morlocks ready to express anger and disgust at the self-serving clique…..first Hazel Blears….next the BBC. Gravy trains do need someone to ride shotgun

    1. Adrian Peirson
      August 11, 2009

      The Eloi and the Morlocks is quite apt, wasn’t it H G Wells who said, Millions will die protestng the New world Order.

      I’m convinced he got his idea for the time machine from his knowledge of their intention to create a two tier society.

      Which in itself explains why Neurotoxic Mercury is now injected into our Youngsters at ever incresaing rates.

      Not just Mercury, but Flouride in our Water, another Neurotoxin, amazingly if you look on the back of your toothpaste it will say if you swallow, contact the poisons control agency.
      Sodium Flouride is the chief component of Rat Poison, one ‘dose’ contains the same amount of flouride as a Glass of Water, if we drink a glass of tap water, should we also contact the poisons control agency ??
      Shouldn’t water just be water.

      Tell me this isn’t what their intention is.

      1. Steve Hemingway
        August 15, 2009

        How on earth did this lunatic’s comment get past moderation? Sodium Flouride (sic) [presumably sodium fluoride] is about as toxic as common salt and would kill about as many rats. The general standard of comments on this blog is good. Please don’t let the conspiracy theorists ruin it.

  15. Mike Stallard
    August 11, 2009

    For the Labour, it is all a question of money. Lord Mandelson is intensely relaxed about people making money. Tony Blair loved playing tennis with Lord Levy and being told he had cojones by George Bush. Money, to the government, is the answer. If you shower money on poor people, then they must become rich. You say this is what has happened over the last twelve long years: it is true.
    The Conservatives, on the other hand, are traditionally the people who administer and run things. That means we can probably expect better management with less of a chip.
    What seems to me to be lacking is national attitude. Why is our birth rate falling catastrophically? Why are so many families dissolving? Why are our professions in such sharp decline? Why aren’t there any Robert Stephensons around? Or General Haigs, or Alexander Flemings? Why is China so much better at being the workshop of the world than us?
    The EU corruption is surely part, but not all, of the answer. I think it accounts for Lord Mandelson’s attitude, but what about all the rest?
    And how much of this sharp decline can be put down to government? Or indeed cured by government?

  16. Jon
    August 11, 2009

    BBC struggled to understand or choosing not to?

    Off topic here and not your bag but thinking about labour moving their investigations from Muslim extremists to the BNP (Shahid Malik) and the Birmingham riots sponsored by Labour MPs. The BNP are socialists yet Torys seem to struggle to shed that connection. BNP are socialists and Labour are socialists but Tory’s seem timmid to me in making that all important distinction. Being on the right does not make one a socialist. Why does the BNP candidate sit on the right of Boris when he is a socialist.

  17. Adrian Peirson
    August 11, 2009

    It all becomes easier to understand if you accept that their intention IS to destroy us as a nation and a people.

    You cannot have control over a unified, wealthy, prosperous, well educated people.

    The intention is to bring us to our Knees, everything they do is to this aim, they get away with this because it’s hidden behind words that we are decent ( or stupid ) enough to accept.

    We are under attack, mayday, mayday, mayday.

  18. Mike Cormack
    August 12, 2009

    “I find it difficult to grasp why people buy the lie that quality can only go up if more money is spent”.

    Riiiiiiiight… so why is Waitrose is better than Asda, and Ferrari better than Ford, and a nice suburban villa better than a tiny bedsitter in a grotty part of town? Come off it John. Public services don’t live on thin air.


    In manufacturing, every year your customers tell you to cut costs and raise quality.That’s exactly what you do, to keep the business.

    1. Steve Hemingway
      August 15, 2009

      In the private sector you can only increase costs if you create added value greater than those added costs and maintain demand. If you simply allow costs to go up without a commensurate rise in quality you will lose sales and go out of business. Sadly, no such discipline exists in the public sector.

  19. […] John Redwood, on his blog, praises Osborne for his approach to public services. […]

  20. Robert K, Oxford
    August 12, 2009

    the lameness of questioning in the Naughtie/Osborne interview drove me up the wall.
    Here are five questions I would ask Mr Osborne (there are more but they would take longer than eight minutes of the Today programme to get through):
    1) Do you accept that lower tax rates lead to higher tax income? If so, will you commit to lower taxes as one element of paying off public debt? If not, in what sense are you an economic liberal?
    2) Do you accept that the route to greatest prosperity for all is to free citizens from the intrusions of the state? If not, in what sense are you an economic liberal?
    3) Do you accept that the effect of spending £189bn a year on social protection is to institutionalise poverty? What policies will you pursue to reduce this spending radically – by, say, half in your first term of government?
    4) You talk about giving state schools independence. Will you commit to similar independence for the health service?
    5) Will you commit to breaking up the zombie banks bought by Mr Darling, return them to the private sector and promise never again to bail out another bank?

    I say Yes to 1, Yes to 2 but I do want to protect the vulnerable. The party is pledged to substantial welfare reform and to lower business taxes. I am strongly in favour of 5.

    1. Steve Hemingway
      August 15, 2009

      Naughtie is a useless interviewer. None of the Today Programme crew ever ask questions about principles or ideology. Reluctantly, I might admit that even if they did they’d never anything like a straight answer so it may just be a strategy to avoid wasting the listener’s time.

  21. Steve Hemingway
    August 15, 2009

    Congratulations on a great post. It’s such a pity that we never hear the Cameroons ever say anything so incisive.

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