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Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sovietisation of the public sector isn't working

British bureaucracies had many failings. They were expensive, slow to change, inefficient, slow adopters of new technologies and methods of workings. On the plus side they were stable, professional and had a high degree of probity embedded. Hierarchies were well defined, there were a finite number of evenly-spaced steps between the lowest clerical post and the office of the most senior mandarins. The pay of those at the top was probably not more than four or five times the pay of those at the bottom. A secure pension, and a bit of Royal bling were the accepted rewards for a career of service; MBEs and OBEs for the lower grades, CBEs and KBEs for those at the top.

It was the job of politicians to keep this behemoth under control, and curb its natural tendency to expand indefinitely. Shrinking the State meant a uniform contraction of the entire hierarchies, and a surrender of powers and functions.

But how to implement reform for a government that wanted both to have its cake and eat it? A government that wanted to expand the control and reach of the Central State, but wanted to do it on the cheap?

The adopted solution has been twofold; the growth of scores of quangos 'off the books' that exercise statutory powers but without accountability, and the adoption of the commercial models of the 1980s and 1990s, backed by vast and inefficient Information Technology (IT) systems.

Bureaucratic structures have become Sovietised, with a small number of very highly paid mandarins at the top table, enjoying bonuses and rewards at the same rates of those at the helm of successful plcs, and, beyond a huge rewards gulf, a mass of unmotivated, poorly paid workers who man the call centres, press the buttons and staff the Customer Relationship Management Systems. Contract workers, temporary staff, with no pensions entitlements for new entrants, no career structures. The hierarchies have been demolished. Those at the top table can now earn ten or fifteen times the pay of the lowest workers - and still enjoy multi-million pound pension pots and the ego-stroking of a bit of Royal bling.

With these reforms, the professionalism and the probity that the public expected of its State structures has also disappeared.

The Soviet model is not confined to the civil service. The NHS and local government have already adopted it. Chief executives of health trusts and local councils now trouser £200k a year or more, with all the perks and bonuses that go with it, whilst unmotivated contract workers on minimum wage man the switchboards, empty the bins or drag a filthy mop across a filthy ward.

The merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise is a textbook case. Some lowly paid data geek in the outer doughnut screwed up, whilst those at the top table, completely isolated from the working of their department, totted up the performance targets they've met this year and the size of their bonuses.

For this government to distance itself from responsibility for this failure is disingenuous. New Labour has been responsible more than any other other administration for this Sovietisation of British public services, and Gordon Brown, a Central Statist control freak of the most utter ruthlessness, has driven this for more than ten years.

1 comment:

Dr Pangloss said...

I think everything's working rather well.