How the ideal of public service can degenerate


           People working in the private sector get used to having to be polite, engaging,friendly in order to win business and retain customers. The smaller the company, the more individuals in it have to go out of their way to woo and charm, to retain and impress. Everyone in a competitive business knows there are others wanting to take their order or their customer away from them. Everyone accepts the customer is king or queen. All know that courtesy is part of service.

          Most of the time customers respond in a similar vein. Politeness and concern can beget politeness and concern. There are a few  who abuse the private business. There will always be someone who thinks it’s fine to be sick  from excess drink in the taxi or acceptable to demand money back for a fault which the business did not commit, or to be aggressive with the staff. Business has to learn to deal with the troublesome minority as best they can within the rules of the game. Customers are usually in the right, and nearly always think they are.

          Many public servants also observe the code that they should always be polite, helpful and concerned for their clients. After all, the very ideal of public service is designed to offer a better standard than the commercial market for some of the most sensitive services on offer.

               However, it is different with some public services. The BBC blasts its potential customers with aggressive letters about licence payments, knowing they have the force of law behind them. Public services can decide when they are available and when they are closed to suit themselves rather than to meet the convenience of their clientele. Some GP surgeries I am told are difficult to contact and make arranging an appointment a complex matter.(I do not  currently have cases for this problem in   Wokingham). Some hospitals book people in for operations which are cancelled at short notice, or give appointment times which the Consultants do not observe. When it comes to presenting the bill, the authorities can be demanding and unwilling to accept that people find the complexity of their process difficult to handle. I receive  various cases from people who have made honest mistakes over Council Tax, car park fees and Income Tax, or have been on the wrong end of the authorities’ mistakes, who need help. People have to devote large amounts of time these days to compliance. If they make a mistake with the public sector car park charge, with the Congestion charge, with the tax return, with the business VAT return, with the school catchment application or with the way they put their refuse out they can find themselves on the wrong end of an angry public authority.

              This attitude of some in the public sector of knowing the strict letter of a very detailed and voluminous law and wishing to enforce it come what may can generate an equal and opposite reaction from the public. It leads to “I know my rights”. It can help generate unfairly aggressive responses from members of the public to any shortfall or mistake they perceive by those in the public authority. It can lead to a coarsening of the language and hardening of the heart.  It ceases to be a generous public service welcomed by a grateful member of the public. It becomes a battle between the client and the provider, between the individual and the public authority.

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  1. lifelogic
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Indeed like all the state sector it is run for the benefit of the state sector staff. They have your cash so you are rationed at the point of use and often given appalling levels of service. The NHS must kill more than they ever save in my direct experience. The treatment of the elderly, especially one who has no one to keep an eye on them, is often just criminal. You go and see the doctor for one thing and they just want to give you some other test to meet their latest target and get their bonus.

    A typical example of rationing is an expensive 0845 number to contact them (HMRC for example) which keeps you on hold for a long time, then at the end just tells you to in effect “get lost and ring back later”. Not even a message facility. Often the state sector do not answer any phone lines (I assume the staff have ones that work for personal use), you get a letter from them with a phone number on it that is never answered at the top of it or is not even working. If you write you often get no reply at all.

    The public taxpayers are often (indeed usually) held in complete contempt in my experience.

    The BBC letters are hugely offensive I have received hundreds of them at a home where I have no TV.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      There is also huge over prescription of drugs in the NHS as the drug companies input to the systems is far greater than the input of the patient. The genuine needs of the tax payer from almost any “public service” come way below those of the staff, the drug companies, the politicians PR and the like.

      I remember one day going to court to chase up a small claims case through their absurd system (only because I had been unable to get through by phone) then only to find the whole court in London closed for the whole day because the minister was visiting.

      Who cares about the users? They have paid already, the main thing is to smile at the minister and pretend we are doing our best. Their input, through voting, and the political process is far too distant to be considered. The person who supplies the loo rolls to the court probably has more influence on the system than court users or voters ever will.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:08 am | Permalink

        the small claims court system is a joke, it fails in the basics of what it was setup to achieve, the judges have far too much freedom to do ridiculous things, an ordinary citizen stands little chance against (for instance) a public body able to throw large teams of lawyers into a case without a care in the world, the judges are far too easily pursuaded to move the case out of the “small claims track” and into the tracks where the citizen is liable to pay the oppositions legal fees often without giving the citizen the opportunity to withdraw at that point as is supposed to be their right, any feedback or appeal against the judge is ridiculously expensive so impossible for the poor ordinary citizen who is supposed to be the main beneficiary of the small claims system, and the judges interpert the expenses and other rules randomly and inconsistently

        Same issues with the employment tribunal system which has become quite unlike the system it was setup to be

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 27, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

          Indeed almost never worth using the small claims courts just a way of wasting more time and money – throwing good money after bad. Run for the benefit of employees as usual.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Looking at the best way to “use” the UK’s currently absurd tax system to the full.

      It seems you have to have your own limited company, pay yourself very little leaving the profits to be taxed at the low corporation tax level within the company. You then get your personal allowances, tax credits, child benefit, council tax benefit, free prescriptions and other benefits. You then close the company after a few years and pay very little tax on all the funds in the company as you get entrepreneur’s relief on the gain so only at 10%. You perhaps use the 50K in to pensions PA too if you trust them not to rob you by changing the rules again.

      Or you are rich and non dom and just pay the £30K

      Or you use the rather complex “Seed EIS or Enterprise Investment Scheme” with some mates.

      Or you get a state sector job.

      Or you leave for somewhere more sensible, taking you money, jobs and taxes with you – as I have done.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Or the illegal option (that I would not encourage) but is very, very common indeed, you live on benefits and join the black market.

        The tax system seems to be expressly, designed to encourage all the above and discourage other economic activity and stable family units. It is doing this very well.

      • Bazman
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        I wish I was super rich. Britains tax system seems to be voluntary. I would get my fat accountant to run rings round these nitwits and their rules while I was in my gold bath with a cigar and lots of girls.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          I have no interest I in sitting in a gold bath with a cigar and lots of girls they would only spoil the Bach or Claudio Monteverdi I was listening to. But if you use fake gold or gold plate then non of these indulgences cost very much anyway.

          You say “Britain’s tax system seems to be voluntary” it certainly is not I can assure you. It is at absurdly high levels, absurdly complex hard & expensive to get round and made me leave rather than pay circa £1M PA to them. Then just watch them waste it on green tosh, the pigis and the Olympics etc.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          You do not need to be rich for the first option I suggest above or some of the others.

  2. Mick Anderson
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    they can find themselves on the wrong end of an angry public authority

    We seem to have to live under a Nanny State. Shouldn’t Nanny be patient, caring and do things that are genuinely in our best long term interest? At the moment she seems more like a terrible Medusa. Nanny should be sacked by the childs parents, and refused a reference. This lack of a reference would (rightly) blight her career.

    It seems that the public authorities are using faux anger to threaten us into paying them as many charges, fees and (particularly) fines as they can possibly invent. There can be no surprise that many of us have a “them and us” attitude, especially when there are so many of “them” and I am the only member of “us” who cares about me.

    Whatever happened to the promised “Bonfire of Quangos”, the “Great Repeal Bill”, and all those other things that were meant to rebalance the relationship between State and Individual? Oh yes, they were promises from politicians, most of whom have also forgotten that they are meant to be public servants, not fireproof gods.

  3. Boudicca
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink


    We live in a bully state.

    It starts in the EU – empowered by our politicians without out consent – which enforce laws which do not have a public mandate. It continues through Parliament, which ignores the wishes of a majority of the people on a whole variety of matters (the latest being the proposal to change the meaning of marriage to suit a tiny but vocal minority). It continues through the county and local authorities.

    The ‘little hitlers’ in the Town Halls and the BBC are only doing what Brussels has commanded and Parliament has empowered.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      This week, in Cambridgeshire, our green bin was not emptied (fortnightly). I was abrupt with Linda on the phone. My wife was much more polite with Sarah on the phone. By tea-time, the bin was actually emptied and the dustman came round to apologise!

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Good – It is always better to grit you teeth and be over polite I find to get results from them.

    • Patrick LOaring
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      We now live in a country where the minority decide most things. The vast silent majority are ignored because through apathy we let the minorities set the agendas. The EU is the case in point followed by the insane judgements made by the court of human rights and supported by our judiciary.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Any law made by the EU has to be approved by the European Parliament and all MEPs are elected using proportional representation from all the EU countries. So your claim that these laws lack a public mandate is blatantly false.

      • libertarian
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        You actually think that this arrangement constitutes a mandate?

        Boy socialists really do despise democracy don’t they

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        That is hardly sufficient to give these laws “a public mandate” it is your logic that is blatantly false.

      • Boudicca
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Please point out to me where the British people voted to give foreign MEPs the right to decide on our laws – bearing in mind that the EEC and the EU are completely different entities?

        MEPs cannot vote to reject proposals made by the EU Commission. They can only advise amendments or approve what is put before them. They are there to give a semblance of democracy – nothing more.

    • Disaffected
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Quite right. Today it is reported Borroso is offering an incentive for the UK to give up on the financial transaction tax. Pity Osborne did not find it important enough to stay at home or in Europe to argue the case or plan the budget a bit better instead of going on a jolly to the US to support a socialist president get re-elected- I mean it is not as though the likes the UK does he?

      Why did Osborne need to tag along? To fly on AirForce one for a seventy minute journey to a basket ball match. How about the lack of green agenda?

      Tories appear washed up. No ideas for any strategy to help the country. More borrowing, spending and taxation than Gordon Brown- who would have thought it.

  4. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    In education Michael Gove has delivered on his promise of giving teachers the professional freedom the need to properly respond to the needs of students and the communities in which they are located.

    No longer are schools forced to focus on delivering inappropriate narrow targets with threat of extreme punishment if they are less than average which forces their interactions with students and parents to focus on their own requirement rather than those of the people they really should be serving.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha vomit

    • Richard
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Whilst I realise the education elite despise the changes, it seems your customers (especially those who canot afford to opt out and go private) find the opportunity to at last be allowed just a small extra amount of choice in what schools they are able to send their children to quite appealing.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        A few people are actually being offered a small amount of extra choice.

        What about the rest of state education?

        • Richard
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          Mr Gove is up against entrenched and agressive opposition but he is slowly bringing about a little extra choice, especially for those who cannot afford to opt out and go private.

          Eventually, I hope all parents will have a proper choice as to where they want their children to go to school, instead of being herded into a school of the LEA’s choice.
          Here where our family live the schools that were poor when I was a child are still poor today but each year they are full with the childeren sent to them.
          This year in Birmingham just 75% got their children into their first choice school, with the popular schools being massively oversubscribed and yet those popular schools are not allowed to expand to meet demand.
          Crazy…I spent my life working in a competitive industry where poorly performing companies either improved or failed and the very best expanded and grew.
          Why not the education industry

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

            “Mr Gove is up against entrenched and agressive opposition”

            Bunkum. It just feels aggressive to Gove because he’s not actually capable of understanding the criticisms of his policies due to not having the relevant experience in education or life in general. If he was a bit more capable he’d be able to have interesting and intelligent conversations with the people who are concerned about his policies instead of dancing around screaming that they’re we’re all militant socialists.

            Why not the education industry?

            The economics of education change fundamentally when it is required to have full coverage and provision for the most needy. Hayek’s economics fail completely due to his denial of the role of altruism, issues of limits on location and the social dynamics of systems with complete coverage.

  5. Robert K
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    A current bugbear is my local planning office. I need to repair a brick wall. We live in a conservation area. To start with, it seemed that conservation area consent would not be needed. Now, it does. There is no logic for it. The conservation officers have been perfectly courteous, so I don’t have a beef about that. However, it will involve appointing an architect to produce a drawing and specification for work that a competent bricklayer could do in his sleep.
    It strikes me, as I go cut through the bureaucratic red tape, that if the planning process is as clumsy and time consuming on something as simple as fixing a brick wall, what other gigantic inefficiencies are inherent in the planning system that are stifling development and innovation? The planners are great at tellling us what they have planned – they are unable, however, to explain what their tactics have prevented.

    • StevenL
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      In my experience ‘conservation zones’ are there because the residents insist on having them there. I don’t know you, and therefore don’t judge your opinions on planning and housing, but there is a delicious hint of irony in your post.

      If you want to see all the economic activity your town planners have prevented, look up the refused applications on their website.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      You say “There is no logic for it” yes there is. The logic is to create pointless work for the state sector. They exploit the sectional interests of the public to control developments and make a job for themselves. The things everyone objects to go through anyway by and large but little jobs create a nice little fee earner for them.

      • Rebecca Hanson
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        wow lifelogic I’m just looking down at your posts today! I hope you have a nice relaxing weekend. A walk in the sunshine maybe?

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Will do with my Bach on the ipod or something perhaps the cliffs lovely day today. All cost almost nothing at all either.

          • Rebecca Hanson
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

            hope you had a nice time 🙂

      • Bazman
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        That’ll predictably be banks and utilities. Utilities including privately owned transport like railways and water too Another point lost on you and your religious beliefs in the free market.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          It is not lost on me regulation and competition laws are needed sometimes and need to work.

          • Bazman
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            The only regulation you believe is the regulation of regulations, as in no regulations. All evidence points to this race to the bottom.

    • Rebecca Hanson
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Robert are you new to living in your conservation area? I live in one and I find that if you ask around there are quite a lot of things you can do that no-one will object to because they know they are in keeping and are about essential repairs or appropriate improvements.

      I found it frustrating and awkward when I first moved here as it felt like you had to get complicated permission for everything but as I got to know people I found that I could just ask and people would reassure me on many things and guide me through the process on others. It takes a while to find out who you can rely on for sound advice and who you can’t but on the other hand once you’ve sussed out these things you really do feel like part of the community!

      • alan jutson
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink


        Think you will find that whilst most people will do the odd improvement without a problem, (and without seeking official approval) and people do turn a blind eye, you will find you do actually need official approval especially if someone shops you to the Council, if you do live in a conservation area, or heaven forbid, own a listed building.

        • Rebecca Hanson
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          People don’t, generally, if you’re someone who cares about and contributes to the community and if what you’ve done is entirely in keeping. They generally shop you if you’re rich and selfish and don’t pay your bills promptly or treat people around you decently.

    • EleventySix
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink


      You’ve been zoomed. The “repair” of a brick wall (or ‘repairing’ any other element of your house) is NOT ‘development’; as such it does not require ‘planning permission’. Whether you’re in a Conservation Area or not is irrelevant.

      The “perfectly courteous” conservation officers know this fine well: they, like most LPA development control officers, were ‘twisting meaning for the purposes of gaining control’ and relying on your (and your architect’s) ignorance of the “strict letter of a very detailed and voluminous law”.

      Even if your “repair” involves substantial dismantling of the existing wall prior to re-building, it’s still a ‘repair’. You might find the council claiming that because you are ‘demolishing’ a substantial part of the wall in a conservation area you’ll need planning permission for that ‘demolition’. Wrong. The House of Lords held (in the ‘Shimizu’ case) that ‘demolition’ means the whole artifact, not merely part of it no matter how substantial. Your conservation officers know this too.

      You have been led to waste every minute and every pound you’ve spent on this so far. Your council has no interest in your legal rights; it concerns itself with exercising discretionary powers wherever possible whether those are lawfully exercised or gained by misleading the public, as in your case. Their other motive, as Lifelogic correctly observes, is the generation of fee income.

      This has been going on for decades, not just years—although it has grown worse since New Labour’s time in office. The conservative government of the mid 1980’s knew this, as did their mandarins in the then DoE, as revealed in a government white paper from that era (no link, I’m afraid).

      The problem is not just the waste of time and money, the foregone economic benefits of building projects going ahead (more promptly or even at all) in favour of more money for the planners’ empire building (all in the name of the ‘public interest’, of course) and the undermining of public confidence in the system we pay for—the real problem is that there are no sanctions on the council for deceiving the public into making planning applications they don’t need. So, no sanctions/accountablity for what amounts to malfeasance in public office leads to…….more malfeasance. If they are ‘caught trying it on’ in any one instance they’ll merely shrug that off as one that got away and wait for the next opportunity. Rinse and repeat.

      Needless to say, this type of conduct breeds the ‘us and them’ atmosphere which prevails particularly in planning departments (you don’t get this type of c**p from building inspectors in the same council).

      Lastly, the white paper I referred to above uses the following phrase: “….discretionary powers that would not be tolerated in general legislation…”.
      Those powers are widely, regularly and routinely abused by planning departments country wide.

      Will the tories in the coalition re-discover their concern for the little man over the state’s functionaries’ interests expressed in that white paper from the 1980’s? I’m not holding my breath.

      Reply: You may well be right, but these matters are complex and if one or more party decides to go to law you might end up with large fees and a result you do not like. This site cannot give professional advice.

    • stred
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      I loathe pvc front doors and wanted to put an oak door in my house. Unfortunately the new building regulations require a U value or thermal transmittence of 1.8 and there are no timber external doors that comply except glazed ones with the latest K glass. The lowest U value is 2.2.

      If you are wondering why the pointy heads in the regulation department have decided that timber front doors are a no-no, the answer is – global warming. The difference in heating costs between the 1.8 and 2.2 doors is about 40 pence per heating season.

      Fortunately, for doors in existing frames, the change of a door is not ‘notifyable’ so most people will ignore the requirement. If, however, I wish to modify the frame and make it more efficient, I would have to put a pvc frame and door in, costing several hundred pounds and giving a pay off off about 500 years.

  6. A.Sedgwick
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    A good theme – as regards the BBC the time has long since come when this organisation is privatised with a subscription service with licence payers receiving any sale proceeds. TV can be received on numerous forms of equipment apart from the usual set in the corner of a room, which makes the inequity of the system more acute.

    A recent report said 10% of magistrate cases were for licence fee defaulters and a senior magistrate was calling for the offence to be decriminalised. I suspect if it was decriminalised the BBC’s finances would collapse as fines seem optional for many in our courts, which is probably why the establishment maintains this window tax.

    A personal anecdote -when we bought our current house we did not move in for three weeks. At about 6pm on the evening of our taking up residence a TV licence inspector turned up at our door demanding to see our licence. I said do you want me to try find it amongst all our packing cases and debris he demanded that I should – a very menacing individual. I suggested he check their records for the address we vacated – he would not hear of it so I duly found it after about ten minutes, much to his clear annoyance. Their systems were efficient enough to register the gap in a TV licence holder at our new address. I subsequently checked his legal right to doorstep me in that manner and it is nil. These collectors should be contracted to pursue untaxed/insured cars not TV receivers with drivers getting criminal records for those offences which makes more sense than not paying to watch TV.

    • Bob
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      The “inspectors” are just debt collectors and they work on commission.
      No need to enter into any dialogue with them.

      You do not need to let them onto your property unless they have a search warrant and are accompanied by a police officer.

      In the absence of said police officer and search warrant you should inform them that their implied invitation to come on to your property is withdrawn with immediate effect and inform them that such removal of implied invitation applies to any and all representatives or agents of TVLA. You can also send a written notice of such to their head office.

      You only need a TV licence if you watch TV programs as they are broadcast.

      You do not need a licence to watch DVDs or other recorded media.

      You do not need a TV licence to watch iPlayer, “4 on demand” or ITV catchup etc.

      The so called inspectors work mainly on bluff and bluster and to get a successful prosecution they need the defendant to confess to the heinous crime watching a TV broadcast without a licence. It’s is practically impossible for them to prove that someone has broken the law without a confession, unless they can get video evidence of them sitting on the sofa watching broadcast TV without a licence.
      The TV detector vans are just another bluff. Can you imagine them going into a high rise block in Peckham and pinpointing the unlicensed flats? 🙂

      Their main weapon is their database of names and addresses and the billions of pounds that the public pay them which in turn funds their bully boys at TVLA to harass the public for more money.

      It’s time that this anachronistic system was scrapped in favour of a voluntary subscription (like Virgin or Sky), and the only way it will happen is if we refuse to play their game.

      BTW Mr Redwood, I’m not inciting anyone to break the law, rather that we use lawful protest to bring down this malign behemoth.

      Reply: This site always advises people to observe the law, and reminds them that this site cannot give a definitive view of what the law is. We can however, happily discuss reform of the law, and the idiocy of some laws as they appear to many.

    • A Different Simon
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes , paying for the right to use a road which needs to be maintained is fair enough .

      What are we are meant to be paying for with a TV license ?

      Certainly not given any choice whether we want it or not .

      Just Big Brother throwing his weight around criminalising people for doing nothing wrong , just like failing to fill in a SORN notification .

      Absolutely no reason for it . Abolish it and make the BBC fend for themselves .

      • Bob
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        I posted a comment here outlining your rights with respect to TVLA, but it’s still awaiting moderation.

        I recommend everyone to use the internet to educate themselves about the practices of TVLA and the law, as my previous comment will probably be either suppressed or published in censored form (after this thread has dropped off the bottom of the blog).

  7. Steve Cox
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    In my experience, John, some of the worst public service offenders in this respect are our elected representatives themselves. Of the three MP’s I have had over the last decade or so, two Labour and one Lib Dem (the current one), none of them generally bothers to give a personal reply to any issue I may raise with them. At best they (deliberately?) misinterpret the question or point, and then provide a platitudinous response that both suits and represents their own agenda rather than dealing with my concerns. At worst, they cannot even be bothered to read my message and simply send me a paper copy or pdf file of any handy press release or government publication, as long as it’s vaguely related to the subject in question, that happens to be lying around their office. I feel pretty sure that my current MP doesn’t even bother reading anything I e-mail him, he just leaves it to his assistant to send me some often-unrelated material in response.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Indeed sound like the usual practice in my experience.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        They sensibly (from there perspective) and given the voting system, usually respond to party not the public.

    • Trevor Butler
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      My MP always responds promptly, courteously and on subject – you’d better move to Wokingham!

      • alan jutson
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink



  8. Richard1
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    These are good points. Representatives of the public sector dominate the airwaves – with occasional contributions from big business. Politicians feel obliged to pay ritual obeisance to ‘hard working’ (or in the case of the NHS ‘wonderful’) public sector workers. Poor service isnt the result of bad people, its the result of the lack of competition. Hopefully Andrew Lansley’s reforms will go some way to changing this in the NHS. There was a recent illustration of the point you make: apparently there is a higher risk of dying at the weekend due to a lack of consultants working weekends. Imagine if we had a nationalised food retail industry – e.g. only the Co-op could sell food – and we heard there was a peak in deaths from starvation at the weekend. Would we put up with it?

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      As you say: “Representatives of the public sector dominate the airwaves – with occasional contributions from big business.”

      Also the leaders of big business (say the head of HR at M&S for example) cannot come on and say the truth that these new anti-discrimination, anti ageist, laws, safely laws etc. are mad and will destroy thousands UK jobs and create pointless work for lawyers.

      As they surely must think.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      How do you explain the poor service offered by the rail industry?

      • libertarian
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        Most of the rail industry is nationalised and all of it is a monopoly

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        Monopolies on certain routes, a poor legal structure & set up on privatisation and poor regulation.

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        Uanime5 – The whole thing has been a hotch-potch over the past 50 years. Under invested pre privatisation; lacking integration and long term vision post privatisation.

        • Mike Fowle
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          I wonder if that is the whole story. My father used to commute in the 1950s and the station master would ring him up to let him know if there was a problem. But by the 1960s he was complaining at the high cost of fares which had enticed people like himself out to the suburbs and the increased fares on a captive market. I commuted for years between the 1960s and 80s and it was dire. It seems to me that governments are undecided about rail. If there was the political will I am sure we could have a marvellous rail system again, but the objections to rail travel – stations are often now in the wrong place, the infrastructure is expensive, one delay has a knock on effect all the way back and the rail unions being bloody minded undermines the whole. I think the attitude of the unions destroys the morale of people who work on the railways which would otherwise help with monotonous repetitive jobs – the pride of serving the public is taken away by unions who treat the public with contempt.

  9. J Mitchell
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    The real problem of an over-zealous and officious public sector which punishes every innocent mistake by the citizen is that it leads to withdrawal of consent to government, i.e. anarchy.

  10. stred
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Having overpaid my income tax on time, received a reference number and emailed receipt from HMRC, I went back on the form to complain that they had not allowed the personal allowance for a 65 year old. I did not see a ‘next’ button which was at the bottom and needed to be scrolled to be visible. Because of this the form was not finally submitted, unknown to me at the time.

    A month later I received a fine of £100 for late submission. Having held on for 8 minutes I was finally able to speak to a young geordie who curtly explained that a should have hit the button and would have to pay. I then completed the form and found the button. However, I appealed on the form on the letter sending the fine and posted it to Newcastle. So far, no receipt or decision has been received.

    In the post HMRC has sent another bill for the £100 fine but have also refunded the excess £860 which their computer calculated wrongly that was due when I filled the return online. If I do not pay perhaps they will fine me another £10 a day.
    The appeal is sent to the department which designed the difficult programme, calulated the tax wrongly and fail to acknowlege receipt. Some of your other correspondents have said they have also been caught by this lack of clarity and been fined. The total amount to HMRC must be many millions.

    Your lines about the effect of this uncaring arrogance from the ‘civil service’ sums up the situation very well.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely typical of my experience of HMRC.

  11. Alan Wheatley
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I agree with the tone of the post.

    However, I do offer a mild criticism with respect to the way the collection of the television licence fee is characterised. It is an individual choice to watch television in a way that requires a TV licence. We know that many people try to evade paying. We also know that the BBC have the incentive to collect as much of the fee that is due, so are probably the best organisation to do the job. We also know the government have determined how all this shall work.

    Perhaps the BBC should cary out the job with a more human face, and if some feel they are “blasted” then the BBC need to look to their PR. But with regard this issue, on the scale of Failed Public Service the BBC hardly warrant top billing.

    If the BBC are “blasting” then how should we describe the Chancellor’s dictatorial threat to introduce retrospective legislation to deal with tax avoidance that he finds unacceptable?

    • forthurst
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      “on the scale of Failed Public Service the BBC hardly warrant top billing”

      “inform, educate and entertain” – you think?

    • emale
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      “It is an individual choice to watch television in a way that requires a TV licence.”

      If you could tell me of any way of watching television that doesn’t require a TV license, I would be happy to use it. If you can’t then the BBC’s position remains indefensible.

      • lifelogic
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        You can watch on computer on Iplayer so long as it is not a “live” transmission I understand without a licence.

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        The licence is for watching programmes as broadcast. So, for instance, you do not need a licence to watch programmes after the event on iPlayer and the like.

        The other option is not to have a TV. I happily lived without TV for several years and found the radio sufficient. Despite the wider choice of TV I now have available on digital I often find the best choice of programme is on the radio.

        A similar choice would be not to have a driving licence and to use public transport or walk.

        • Bob
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          You do not need a licence to own a TV, so long as you do not use your TV to receive broadcast TV signals.

          You may use your telly to watch DVDs and other recorded media without a licence.

          This information is deliberately obscured from the public because in reality the TV licence is easily avoided, and they don’t want you to know it.

          Check it on the web, there is plenty of info available, but I cannot mention it here.

      • Bazman
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        Are you a SKY subscriber volunteering their fees every month.

  12. Nick
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    And look at what you are currently up to as a party in power.

    1. Insisting people pay the tax. When it comes to the services, for example, child benefit, because you’re paying you get denied the service. ie. All of the cost, non of the benefit.

    Cameron goes on about the something for nothing society, but he is running the biggest something for nothing scam going.

    2. People want their taxes to go on services. Currently that’s not the case. You’re cutting lots of services. Why is spending is up above inflation with the cuts, the implication is that there is a huge increase in spending elsewhere, and its not welfare.

    At some point people will say, why pay all these taxes, and get nothing back. Why pay all these taxes and get abuse from politicians as to being rich and working hard. What will happen is that the money will move, and people remain.

  13. Alex
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, I agree with much of the above, but may I add one further example?
    While the private sector is usually trying to cut prices, what about public servants who are intending to impose a minimum price for something – i.e.alcohol?
    This is when the governments own data shows that UK alcohol consumption has been steadily decreasing for about 10 years.
    Incidentally, is it still the case that the taxpayer subsidises the bars at Westminster? If so, would this not be a excellent time to end that subsidy?

    • outsider
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      As a pipesmoker I know how, once the officious puritans, “health professionals” and pressure groups take hold, life will be made ever harder for anyone who wants an alcoholic drink. A minimum price of 40 pence per unit will do nothing to curb binge drinking, because it has cultural roots. So the the minimum will then be raised to 50p and 60p, making the minimum price of a bottle of wine £5.63. As binge drinking continues, it will rise to 100p within a dozen years, making a basic bottle of whisky £28. Of course, prices of better wines and blends will rise too in order to maintain some differentials. Then supermarkets will be accused of excessive profits, so duty will be doubled and trebled to syphon off these profits and then alcohol will only be purchasable during restricted hours with a passport, blood alcohol levels for drivers will be reduced to zero, forcing any rural driver to be a teetotaller and then …

      Please be warned. “They” hate us. And it becomes mutual, which is why the relationship between the public and public servants spirals downwards, even though we are the same people in the same boat.

      • sm
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Taxing alcohol will succeed in driving down use of taxed alcohol.

        Perhaps if we abolished the subsidy on alcohol or better still ban the serving of alcohol whilst parliament is sitting may be a better solution?

        Or a drinkvote limit with automatic bans and cancellation of the relevant vote whislt under the influence.

    • Atlas
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Good point – does the tax-payer subsidise the bars at Westminster? If so then this nanny state move on drinks will rebound upon even the responsible drinkers in Westminster.

      • Bob
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Well if the objective is to prevent drunken violence, then why would the bars in Westminster be exempted from the nannying?

        Unless it’s the don’t do as I do principle.

        Minimum prices for us and subsidised prices for them.

        reply: Commons bar prices I am told are above the minimum price threshold as are pub prices.

    • norman
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      The decontamination of the nasty party (as the Home Sec calls it) having been an abject failure the new plan seems to be the creation of the nanny party. I predict similar success.

  14. John C
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Before my brother in law died, he spent years going to appointments to see various consultants in the NHS. One department booked everyone’s appointment at 2 pm. He found out about this as a receptionist took pity on him when he had to wait three hours to be seen. He had chronic arthritis and a chest drain for the last year of his life.

    After that, he always turned up at least 15 minutes before the appointment as they had a policy of seeing people in the order they presented themselves to the reception.

    A classic case where appointments were set to make it easier for the consultants. They didn’t even bump those up in the queue who were most frail.

    Why do people insist that we have the best health system in the world?

    Don’t even get me started on the amount of times he had to chase up letters that were never sent to book follow up appointments…

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Indeed typical again of the nhs. “Why do people insist that we have the best health system in the world?” because the BBC and the labour party keep saying it is and they do not have much experience anywhere else with far better ones.

      And Cameron defends the “free at the point of rationing and incompetence” NHS all the time. My advice is to keep away from it as far as possible, do not smoke, do not eat too much and exercise a little. The increase in life expectancy is main due to better drains, better child birth, fewer infectious diseases, better food and cleaner water rather than the NHS in the main I suspect. The hospitals always seem filthy to me and I am hardly a stickler for cleanliness.

      • Bazman
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        The link between tobacco and lung cancer has never been proved conclusively. A nanny state preventing adults making a free choice to use a non additive substance. It’s addictiveness also has never been proved, and oppressing a legitimate industry that produces billions in revenue. You do not agree? How strange?

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          “It’s addictiveness also has never been proved” you should have seen my friend after he had not had a nicotine fix for a few hours or more!

        • outsider
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Dear Bazman, I think you are stretching the point here. Sir Richard Doll did demonstrate the link between cigarette smoking and cancer conclusively, if not the mechanism. The San Francisco study did show conclusively that nicotine was addictive and why, thereby also demonstrating its benefits. Links between cancer and passive smoking are, however, so statistically weak s to be negligible, as are some of the other claims printed by law on my pipe tobacco packets. But you are right on choice, provided it is well informed. The interests of the NHS are now used as an excuse to bully people in many directions.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          What is you explanation for the increased incidence of cancer and heart and circulatory disease then?

          • Bazman
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            The type of people who smoke already have unhealthy lifestyles smoking probably provides a little bit of antiseptic to for them health a safety gone mad. What’s next? I’ll tell you what’s next the cigarette Fascists will then start to try and ban alcohol and cream cakes. Leading to the closure of the drinks industry and bakers across the country making baking and brewing an offence leading us to smuggle pastry like drugs from the French. Don’t get me started.. It’s all statistics and lies and misinformation, put forward by an interfering overbearing nanny state. You can’t even smoke a fag in a pub these days. In a pub! I’ll go on for a couple of thousand or more words, but John will edit this. Proving that there is no such thing a free speech on the net. etc. Ah! G&T time.

      • John
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        As a doctor I agree with you. You are correct about the reasons for increase in life expectancy. I’m lucky to work in a London hospital but I’m terrified about anything further north.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          Just the hospitals or anything at all further north?

      • uanime5
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Hospitals only became dirty because cleaning hospitals was outsourced to the private sector to save money. The result was that the cleaners who won the contracts were the ones that would charge the least because they did the least work.

        reply: There are dirty hospitals with public sector cleaning. It is usually public sector executives who place and supervise the private sector contracts.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

          He who pays the ferryman – The NHS should make sure it is getting what they pay for or not pay.

        • Robert Christopher
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

          “Hospitals only became dirty because cleaning hospitals was outsourced to the private sector to save money.”

          It was NHS management who made this decision.

          Whether they were aware of this is another matter!

  15. Paul Danon
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Discreetly put. We are ill-served by the state and it will always be thus. The task of a truly liberal government is to find ways to make it in public servants’ interests actually to serve.

    Customers need to be able to punish poor service economically rather than needing to complain or rant. As we leave a restaurant that has treated us badly, we can quietly vow never to visit it again though without making a scene. If it closes three months later, then others agree.

    If we must finance public services from tax or debt, users need a budget that can be switched as effectively as we can switch grocers or dry cleaners – more effectively than we can switch energy-supplier and with actual choice (unlike with most rail-privatisation).

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Customers need to be able to punish poor service economically rather than needing to complain or rant.


  16. Mike Fowle
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I would go along with all of that.

  17. Joe
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the conservative party can pass laws to deal with bad customer service in the private sector which I assure you doest exist.

    I agree though The license fee should be abolished

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink


      You already have a commonsense law if you are disatisfied with a private sector service.

      You simply do not ever need to use it again, you just take your money and custom elsewhere.

    • Bob
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      The TV licence underpins the big state.
      The technology is now here to enable the BBC to run on voluntary subscription like Virgin and Sky.
      What are they afraid of?
      Are they scared that people would rather subscribe to Virgin or Sky?
      Would they need to up their game?
      Would they need to cut the dead wood?
      Would they need to drop the lefty propaganda?

      • Bazman
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        They would need to dumb down much of their programming. Now I’m not the most paranoid person on the net, but from what I have read and watched on the net American TV news is often staged. Very strange goings on. Like the Soviet Union, but much more sophisticated.
        Google. Why They Call It The American Dream(The Truth Exposed Pt.1) and
        You be da judge…
        At least the BBC is a trustworthy news source with the people interviewed at any scene real people and not actors.
        We don’t need more SKY or rubbish satellite Bob and the licence fee is a red herring. Ram it.

  18. fake
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    *Some GP surgeries I am told are difficult to contact and make arranging an appointment a complex matter*

    A few surgeries where I live will not allow you to make bookings in advance, they will only allow you to ring up on the day and make an appointment (High Wycombe).

    I’m sure you can appreciate how much of a pain that is when you can’t get an appointment a few days in a row.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      This is very common. Can you ring back tomorrow? Why can I not book now for heaven’s sake? We want to deter you and hit some silly targets.

      • Bob
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        You ask for an appointment with the GP.
        1. They say they are fully booked today.
        2. You say can I have an appointment for tomorrow.
        3. They say you need to call back tomorrow.
        4. You call back the next day -> go back to No.1

        It’s Pythonesque.

        • Bob
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          And after of this you are either feeling better, losing the will to live or dead. Either way, the NHS don’t care.

          • Bazman
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

            Certainly don’t care about non private dentistry. Must be 6-7 dentist in my town all private, selling insurance not dentistry. You pay up to 40 quid a month in case you need work on your teeth. My NHS one however has cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances next month! This is where the NHS is going to go. Good treatment if you can pay. No money? Hard luck.
            Interesting to see the light aircraft and expensive car magazines in the surgery of these wannabe doctors who are in reality tradesman milking the NHS when it suits them. The NHS ones learning their trade then becoming private. Giving a new meaning to ‘dental practice’ Practice on the poor. Get some.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink


      Exactly the same here in Wokingham in our Practice.

      My Wife fell down the stairs last weekend (no not drunk)

      Took her to Minor injuries hospital in Henley, excellent service and attention, but they wanted to make 100% sure no ankle break, (lots of pain, large swelling) so could we return on Monday for an X-ray, just to make sure of their initial diagnosis (extensive soft tissue damage) was correct.

      We arrived at the required time, x ray taken rapidly, diagnosis made, no break they thought, but second opinion would be sought from Royal Berks.
      We went back to reception, waited two and a half hours to be seen again, and only then when called, two and a half hours later, were X- rays then sent onto Royal Berks, so another three quatrers of an hours wait for their diagnosis.

      Why did someone not send X rays to Royal Berks after they were taken ??

      Wife rings our surgery on Wednesday to make an appointment for Monday, as she now needs a certificate for work for that week, informed earliest appointment is in two weeks time, BUT if she rings first thing Friday morning, they can give probably give her an appointment for the Monday.

      Wife rings this morning and has an appointment for Monday !

      Why ?

      • Mike Fowle
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t this a lot to do with the target set by Tony Blair’s government that everybody should get an appointment with their GP in 48 hours. As the surgeries couldn’t manage this they simply don’t allow you to make an appointment in advance of more than 48 hours. Target met. Well done. (My GP’s surgery no longer does this, to be fair).

  19. English Pensioner
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    One of the worst aspects is that you can never find the name of the person with whom you are dealing. If they know my name, as a matter of courtesy, I would expect to know theirs. They argue that they cannot give their name for “Health and Safety” reasons, ie for fear that someone might assault them. I think that they should all be compelled to show some identity in a similar manner to police officers. Even when they write a letter, there is rarely a name, a letter received yesterday from Inland Revenue simply ended with the words “Senior Manager”, which fails to impress and of which there are no doubt many thousands.
    Oh for the days when a letter from any branch of the Civil Service ended “I remain, sir, your obedient servant” and a real handwritten signature in ink !

  20. JimF
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have to say this attitude also pervades the banks, which are the only non-governmental organisations I know which can debit my account without asking me. It brings to the fore your idea of enhancing competition amongst them, of which the Budget contained not one word of encouragement to this end.

    Also you haven’t even mentioned the “political correctness” mentality, which pervades the whole response discourse in the public sector. Pointing out mistakes to people in the public sector generates one of 3 responses:

    1 “I don’t set the rules, that’s what I’ve been told to do”
    2 An unsaid response of “You’re getting at me because I’m an x, y or z”
    3 “The system is down, so I can’t check. You’ll have to ring back later”

  21. RDM
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Should we not start from the premise that we are all in Public Service?

    The only question is how? And, as long as it is to the Public good and not any idea of service to the Establishment (especially Judges, senior Civil Servants, etc …)! There can only be one person that we all look too and HM is there as someone we can all believe in!


  22. alan robinson
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    And the public sector can, and does, levy large fines automatically for small infringements e.g. £150 for late filing of a non-trading comopany’s accounts, and HMRC penalties. No private business could behave in this way.

    Love your blogs John.

    • lifelogic
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed even fines for late filing when you are ill and no tax was ever even due.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes they can. The construction industry often has harsh clauses for contractors who fail to fulfil what they’ve been contracted to do or for setting something on fire (surprisingly common).

      • norman
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

        A difference being this is a voluntary contact both sides happily signed up for. try telling the taxman you no longer want further dealings with him. he’ll laugh all the way to the Court.

      • Bazman
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        Who then take the council to court and hope to overwhelm them with legal fees if they loose. Check out the guided bus way fiasco in Cambridgeshire.

        • lifelogic
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          Fasco indeed caused by bad government as usual.

  23. peter davies
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    This is yet another reason why I have said before that as many of the delivery mechanisms as possible should be carried out by the private sector making the public sector more of an enabler.

    • Bob
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      “enabler”? not the word that immediately springs to mind.

  24. lojolondon
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    On a different subject, Taxing ‘sins’ doesn’t work – people have not stopped driving because of taxes on fuel, nor have they stopped heating their houses! People stopped smoking because it was banned, after years of taxing cigarettes to no effect.

    I am disappointed that the Conservatives are pushing through this idea of increasing the price of alcohol instead of tackling antisocial behaviour.

    The nail in the coffin for the plan is that when Labour and the Lib Dems are right behind an idea, you pretty much know you have got it wrong and should go back to the drawing board!

    • Bob
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      No, the Tories don’t lead any more. They’re followers.

      Labour abolish grammar schools
      – Tory Reaction: Fall in behind Labour
      -Result: Less working class kids going to Oxbridge
      – Solution: Introduce social class quotas
      -Method: Les Ebdon will make them an OFFA they can’t refuse
      – Result: British tertiary education follows secondary education (down the glugger)

    • uanime5
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      People also haven’t stopped going to university despite the cost of attending increasing massively.

  25. AJAX
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    …. I was waiting for a punch line at the end of that, it seemed to cut short suddenly?

    Thoughts ….?

    #1 Scrap the television tax. The BBC’s a bloated statist monolith that’s had its day in its publically funded form & its output is bland as hell, typical of what you would expect of a broadcasting company run by civil servants.

    Those tv tax ads the BBC put out a while back to obtain money with menaces from the people for the privilege of possessing a tv so as to fund its absurdly bloated staff salaries, were extraordinary. 1 night I found myself sitting in my front room gradually disconcertingly becoming aware from noises off from the box whilst I was reading that my television screen had suddenly started issuing threats along the lines of:

    “Don’t think you can hide or defy us, we know where you are & are coming to get you with our technology … & you will be punished in a way that you will bear its mark for ever (i.e. a criminal record)

    It was like a scene from 1 of Eric Blair’s novel.

    That brief campaign – quickly abandoned when the uproar began, led by Noel Edmonds of all people – revealed something quite worrying in the bureaucratic heart, & was a warning against an Englishman’s inborn assumption that “that sort of thing can’t happen here!”

    #2 Politeness is important in the provision a state services, but it’s better to have reasonable people with a sense of proportion than mere lip-service politeness, & politicians should do some real work in running the Ministries they work in when they are there rather than just fronting the PR for the civil service operation in the way far too many of them do, & elements of the civil service have now become accustomed to thru cultural practise.

    The clerks have acquired far too much power against the elected in government at present, & too many of the elected seem at ease with this situation & use public office for a comfortable life, as was revealed by the Rotten Parliament just gone.

    The local governing Councils are also an area increasingly where the unelected clerkocracy has wrested power increasingly from the elected over the last few decades, & this trend constitutionally needs to be reversed for the governing health of the nation

    Keeping the State as small as you possibly can is the best way of providing good services I suspect, as I’ve found that the civil service, altho usually living up to the literal meaning of its name, has a propensity to attract an element of the population which has a hunger for petty authority, which is not to be trusted with undue levels of governing power over their fellows.

    Starve the Beast

  26. Adam5x5
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    The public sector is run for the benefit of the staff in this country – not the public.

    It is well known that hospitals book all the appointments at one time and treat whoever shows up first. Imagine a garage doing that with your car!!

    The TV licence is irrelevant to me as I don’t watch TV and therefore don’t have one. Can’t stand the idea of paying to watch the tripe that is on the idiot box these days, and anything I do want to watch (generally American series) I’ll buy on DVD to allow watching at my leisure.

    The bad treatment comes from the fact that the public sector workers are all too secure in their jobs. A private company can go bust or sack any individual who is cr*p. If the public sector tried to cut out the dead weight the unions would be in uproar.
    Pull the teeth of the unions and let people deal with their employer individually. Its the best way and allows people to be paid what they’re worth.

    • uanime5
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      “A private company can go bust or sack any individual who is cr*p.”

      Unless the cr*p individual is a manager or higher, then they just blame their staff and fire them.

  27. rose
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    A most excellent piece and one I have long wanted you to write. Will you send it to Jessica Raine in answer to her remarks on p9, para 3, of today’s Spectator?

    There is no comparison between the midwife depicted by Miranda on the TV, and the majority of the nurses and other hospital staff today. Privatisation or no privatisation, this change in behaviour is cultural, and we will be stuck with it, and the destructive bureaucracy that nurtures it, until we undergo a deep moral and political change.

    • Bob
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Well said rose.

  28. Barbara Stevens
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Well all this hype about the new NHS system, will be a shock for many, GP’s don’t or won’t come out now. My husband cannot access public transport because after two hip replacements and two other operations, his balance is not to good. We don’t own a car, both of us have never learnt to drive, we couldn’t afford it. So, the scenorio is with an infected toe he was told to go out of the district to a clinic where it could only be reached via three buses to have the toe asscessed. Which would have meant several visits and a cost to us of £14 a time for taxi’s. NO way was I prepared for that. My point. If we are to have community services now via GPs, and those services are out of the district one lives in, and no transport to get to them, what is the point of them in the first place? After much wrangling with GP receptionists and irritation, I took him to A&E where we asked first if we could come, and he was dealt with within two hours, excellant service, and good staff; the problem dealt with and no need to return. All in one morning. Cost to us £14 for taxi. If this is what the new service is going to be then the government can keep it. I refuse to go to clinics out of my district as they are not compatable for ease and speed of dealing with the problem. The appointment was also a wait of five weeks. I wait to see if others have the same problems in the future, if so, then God help us all.

    • alan jutson
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink


      It has recently been reported that many people just bypass their GP altogether, and go straight to A&E for everything, it causes hospitals major problems, but until the system changes, I am sure it will continue.

      Would not your doctors practice make a home visit ?

      Do you not have a local charity that provides a transport service for elderly, disabled people, who need to go to Hospital, we have one here in Wokingham, only requires a phone call and advance notification.

  29. StevenL
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    In the public sector, the customers are often senior council managers, Whitehall officials or even Ministers who provide the money for any given function or project.

    So while the consumer can often go elsewhere (for instance instead of come to see me in Trading Standards they could pay for a consultant, a solicitor, use an ombudsman service, research how to and draft a court claim themselves or even take the law into their own hands) the customer still stumps up the cash.

  30. Electro-Kevin
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Certain sections in society (or might I say outside of it) seem left alone by the State. They behave with seeming impunity.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Also – the banks can be pretty intimidating if you put a foot wrong. The debt and credit agencies are worse.

      (From my experience over a credit card fraud on my account recently)

  31. Jon
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Take the FSA, an average annual increase to their operating costs over the last 5 years of 13%. This year they are increasing their costs by 15% with a 3.5% payrise.

    When the private sector often reduces costs they also take on additional work so produce more for less. The FSA like others not only doesn’t reduce staff and costs but any hint of an additional task and its an extra 50 employees to do it. Their operating costs are now over £500m.

    Maybe you could come near to justifying that cost if they did the compliance. However they outsourced it so every financial firm is forced to employ compliance regulators at their own cost to police, 10s of thousands of them that the industry employs and the public ultimately pay for. So how come the ever increasing costs of the FSA?

  32. Jon
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Take the Financial Services Authority, an average annual increase to their operating costs over the last 5 years of 13%. This year they are increasing their costs by 15% with a 3.5% payrise.

    When the private sector often reduces costs they also take on additional work so produce more for less. The FSA like others not only doesn’t reduce staff and costs but any hint of an additional task and its an extra 50 employees to do it. Their operating costs are now over £500m.

    Maybe you could come near to justifying that cost if they did the compliance. However they outsourced it so every financial firm is forced to employ compliance regulators at their own cost to police, 10s of thousands of them that the industry employs and the public ultimately pay for. So how come the ever increasing costs of the FSA?

  33. John Moss
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    John, when your pay depends on meeting the terms of a contract set by those bureaucrats and/or politicians who sit above you, rather than selling a service to an empowered customer who can take their business elsewhere, there is no surprise that the suppliers focus is to the paymaster not the customer.

    Fund users of services; through personal social care budgets, education vouchers, housing benefit and social healthcare insurance, then open up the service to competitive supply. The focus will change. the Big Society can bloom.

    Imagine an elderly person able to pay their son or daughter, properly, to provide their care? No demeaning “carer’s allowance”, just the dignity of a fair days pay for a fair day’s work – and a tax receipt for the Government.

    While ever the money flows from Government to the provider of a service, whether private, public or charitable, the service will not change. Only by funding users, not providers of services, will things change.

  34. uanime5
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Of course when there isn’t a high level of competition businesses can have terrible customer service knowing that they’re unlikely to lose any customers. This is why service is usually terrible in banks, broadband companies, and energy companies.

    One good example of the public sector which delivers poor customer service is the Job Centre which often lies and tells people that voluntary schemes such as the Work Programme and the Work Placement Scheme are mandatory to force people onto these schemes and get them off their books. They can also stop paying people benefits without giving them any warning or providing any reason.

  35. Frances Matta
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    The BBC is a failure and it should be made to sink or swim in the market.
    I would not choose to pay for it as it is now.
    Would you?

    • Bazman
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      SKY for you then? I suspect you do not even watch TV.

      • alan jutson
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink


        Can also get/use FreeSat, no monthly subscription at all, you just need your own box, can even use a redundant Sky satellite dish, as the signal is broadcast from the same satellite, you do not even need to adjust or retune it.

  36. Monty
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Some parts of the public sector are still held in high regard, such as the armed forces, coastguard, fire service, paramedics, police and prison officers. In general, the more regimented, highly disciplined, and the more devoted they are to traditional principles, the greater their immunity to overt decline.
    As for the rest, far too many of them could be replaced by a continuous loop tape recording that responds to all enquiries and complaints with “It’s not our policy” or “The computer says no”. Over the past ten years I have done quite a lot of hospital visiting, and the overall impression of our hospitals is one of dirty floors, staff (that do not care enough about good quality and cleanliness-ed), an evasive and sometimes dishonest obsession with concealing problems. Including deliberately neglecting to replenish patients drinking water because “they will keep needing the commode”. Disgusting.

  37. BobE
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    (there is a danger that-ed) contractors (will) now use as much cash as possible, with just a trickle through the books. Also they (might-ed) use “Mates Rates” where possible, meaning no money changes hands, its a barter system. This black economy is increasing at a fast pace as people adapt to government incompetence.

    Reply: These methods are criminal and should be reported if there is evidence of them happening.

  38. Max Dunbar
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine who unwisely left to the last day the renewal certificate for a House in Multiple Occupancy, realised on arrival at the council offices that the council staff were on strike, which was November 30 last year if I recall. He went in the following day and was told that he had missed the deadline. The result? A hefty surcharge of several hundred pounds.

  39. Jan M
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    What would you care Mr Redwood, cosseted within the cradle of government, if you really cared about our country, you would renounce your seat and at least stand as an Independent.
    Government is not fit for purpose and people that work within the public service are as intelligent as their master, which does not bode well for our country.

    reply: What good would such a gesture do? David Davis resigned and won his seat back as a Conservative in the last Parliament, but it did n to stop the erosion of our civil liberties.

  40. David in Kent
    Posted March 24, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly it is only public sector organisations which feel they have to put up those signs saying how nasty they will be to anyone who abuses their staff. Private sector organisations take care not to provoke such a hostile reaction from their customers.

  41. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    There are areas where public sector Little Hitlers have huge powers, backed by law, with in practice little redress.

    Social workers can now confiscate people’s children from them, without so much as a ‘by your leave’, not because of injury or risk of injury to the child, but because of RISK OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE. That could be triggered my mum or dad shouting at a misbehaving child.

    Psychiatrists can section somebody under the Mental Health Act, forcing them to spend 28 days imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital (section 2) or 6 months (section 3), without any recourse to the law in advance. You can only have a judicial procedure to be released AFTER you have been banged up – and under no circumstances can your jailer the psychiatrist be tried. The tribunal doesn’t cover that.

    Prisoners on remand awaiting trial, who have NOT been found guilty, endure worse conditions than prisoners who HAVE been convicted.

    You can be extradited to the States without the American authorities being forced to make a prima facia case in a British court first.

    Perhaps the worst offender is our beloved NHS, which considers itself to be THE health authority rather than A supplier of services.

    These are all stains on our proud reputation for civil liberties. And they all go unchecked.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, JR’s editor. Why is moderation taking so long? What laws have I broken? Whom have I libelled?

  • 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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