In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The “Road to Nowhere”- The Delusion of the Burgeoning Public Sector

Since the election of the Labour government in 1997, the UK has experienced a decline in the levels of employment in the private sector and a massive increase in the levels of employment in the public sector. Apparently, over 40% of those employed in the UK now work in the public sector.

At first glance this may not seem to be too troubling, jobs lost in the private sector being replaced by state sector jobs; the latter deemed by many to be worthy, and necessary, for the social well being of the country. Indeed Keynes expounded the view that it was better to employ a man digging a hole, rather than to let him idle away his time.

However, this rise of the state sector gives rise to serious concerns about the future economic prosperity of the UK:

 The jobs being created in the state sector are not “front line” jobs such as; nurses, doctors or teachers. They are newly invented bureaucratic creations; risk officers, empowerment managers etc. None of these positions actually “adds value” to the quality of life in the UK.

 A private sector job, more than likely, adds economic value by directly or indirectly producing a product or service that earns money from abroad. State sector jobs, more than likely, do not. In essence we are merely passing money between ourselves, like an enclosed game of “pass the parcel”.

 The quality of the state sector, despite having billions of pounds thrown at it, has not in the opinion of any front end users improved “one jot”. Ask any parent if they feel that the quality of teaching, and the level of resources available at their child’s school has improved.

 The state, unlike the private sector which is not shielded from economic reality, is inherently wasteful. A report issued in the last few days highlighted the fact that the state sector wastes £70BN a year; that is the equivalent of over 10p in the rate of income tax! On a personal level I can attest to this waste; on applying for a senior position recently in the state I was sent by post an information pack exceeding 200 pages, no private sector employer would ever dream of being so wasteful.

It is a matter of great concern to me and should be to the citizens of the UK that the Chancellor, despite being an intelligent individual, appears to be possessed by the old socialist disease of political dogma; namely:

“State good, private bad”.

This disease is clearly deadening his ability to see that the current path that the UK is taking, in building up the state at the expense of the private sector, is in fact the “road to nowhere”.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Dockers, Dinosaurs and Disputes

My father was a captain in the Merchant Navy. He told me story about working practices in the docks in the 1950’s, which I will relate to you.

Dockyard practices were rigidly applied, and were based on agreements between the powerful dockers’ unions and management of the docks. Should you wish to unload your cargo on a Saturday the rules were particularly inflexible.

Primarily the dockers were only on duty for 3 hours on Saturday, for which they naturally received double time. Time and motion studies had concluded that it took 30 minutes for the average docker to walk to the ship, and a further 30 minutes to walk back. This of course counted as part of the working day, and so only 2 hours were left for the docker to actually “work”.

Time and motion had also dictated that it took 45 minutes to open the cargo holds, and another 45 minutes to close them. This left some 30 minutes in which the cargo could be unloaded.

However, no doubt exhausted by the gruelling schedule, our hardworking dockers needed a break. Therefore two tea breaks, of 15 minutes each, were built into the day. The result, dockers were paid double time not to come to work.

Needless to say working practices like that ensured the destruction of the once thriving dockyards in the UK (something that Hitler had failed to achieve); as container ships moved to unload their cargoes on mainland Europe.

The power of the union dinosaurs was effectively castrated by the Thatcher governments of the 1980’s. However, their rotting corpses still occasionally twitch. Currently we are seeing such a spasm in the dispute over swipe cards between BA and three unions.

These three unions, who are also engaging in a public spat amongst themselves as to who is “head dinosaur”, brought Heathrow to a standstill last week. They are threatening to do so again.

This is sheer folly, BA like other airlines is in a parlous financial situation. Further days of lost revenue will more than likely push it to the edge of bankruptcy. The people whom the unions claim they represent, ie the members, will find themselves out of a job much like the dockers. All of this allegedly over a change in working practices.

The dockers once thought, as they gazed out to sea at the long line of ships queuing to unload their cargoes, that they had a job for life. How wrong they were. I suggest the staff of BA take heed from this, they could ask a docker (if they could find one) what their advice would be.

By the way, my father managed to circumnavigate the intransigent dinosaur; and managed to get his ship unloaded on a Saturday. How? Simple, he opened the cargo holds whilst still at sea.

Maybe the management of BA could come up with a similarly imaginative method for side-stepping the rotting corpses of union intransigence?

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Emperor’s Clothes

In 1997 Tony Blair won a sweeping election victory, he was elected Prime Minister; as the British people had finally tired of 18 years of rule by the Conservative Party. The promise of a fresh approach to the governing of the UK gave people hope that “things could only get better”. This fresh approach was emphasised by Tony Blair’s well spun phrase “trust me, I’m a straightforward kind of a guy”.

It has taken some 6 years, but now the British people have seen that the spin manufactured by New Labour adds as little value to effective, honest government and to the quality of their lives; as the emperor’s clothes did for his dignity and protection against the elements.

In a poll carried out this week, the majority of those questioned stated that they didn’t believe a single word the Prime Minister said.

Whilst politicians are known to tell the “odd porky”, it is a disgrace of the highest magnitude to find oneself governed by a Prime Minister whose every word is greeted with disbelief by the citizens of the UK.

This situation, in effect, makes the country ungovernable. Tony Blair, were he a man of honour and principle would at this point step down. However, it is evident that he is bereft of both of these qualities necessary in a leader.

With the imminent departure of Alastair Campbell (the Prime Minister’s master of spin), the situation for Blair and Labour will worsen. What little protection the spin once provided will now be removed (there will be no effective replacement for Campbell). The court of Blair, and his own peculiar personality traits (we are assured he is not psychotic), will be exposed to the glare of public scrutiny; without the distractions and deflections of spin.

Additionally, the forthcoming enquiry in to the death of Dr Kelly will be the closest the UK has come to the Watergate hearings in the USA.

Mr Blair deludes himself if he thinks he can ride this one out:

 The country doesn’t trust him.

 The Labour Party despises him.

 He will soon have no spin master.

This will turn very ugly indeed.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Wages of Spin

As I write this, the body found in the woods has not yet been formally identified. However, it is taken as a certainty that it is Dr Kelly.

Dr Kelly was a respected professional scientist in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who found himself thrust into the public eye as a result of the ongoing fight between the BBC and No 10; over the “dodgy dossier” on WMD, allegedly “sexed up” by No 10.

Dr Kelly had to endure a number of humiliations:

 Being named by No 10 as the source of the BBC’s story on the “dodgy dossier”; he denied this.

 Being publicly cross examined in a brusque, and patronising way by the Commons Select Committee; made up of second rate politicians, who clearly relished their opportunity to kick around someone who was not at ease with politicians or the media.

 Being put under siege by the media, who encamped outside his house.

This tragedy could have been prevented if any one of the following events had happened:

 Alastair Campbell (spin master to Tony Blair) had called off his personal vendetta against the BBC. He is now reported to believe that something has gone very wrong with the way politics and the media conduct themselves; well spotted Alastair.

 The BBC had made a statement confirming, or denying, that Dr Kelly was their source. Since the tragedy they have now offered their condolences, possibly tinged with guilt?

 The Chairman of the select Committee, Donald Anderson, had exercised some control over its members; and made them treat Dr Kelly with the respect that he deserved. Since the tragedy members of the committee have appeared on TV denying, in the weasel manner of the guilty, that they were too harsh with Dr Kelly.

 The MoD had publicly backed Dr Kelly.

 No 10 had not named Dr Kelly as the mole. Tony Blair of course now expresses public sympathy, and requests that restraint be shown. Where was that last week Tony?

None of the above happened. Demonstrating that those organisations have no feelings or respect for the rights, feelings or dignity of the individual citizen. Their only concern is their self perpetuation at whatever cost.

Tony Blair made much in his speech to Congress, about the Iraq war, over the fact that history will judge.

Very true Tony, but it won’t judge in your favour. I believe that this tragedy will be a watershed; the current Administration is finished, and will be history by Q4 2003.

In the meantime should anyone of the following people have a shred of decency, they should take my advice and resign:

 Tony Blair, for presiding over and encouraging the spin culture that corrodes government in the UK; this corrosion has now claimed a life.

 Donald Anderson, for presiding over the “witch finder” star chamber that humiliated Dr Kelly.

 Alastair Campbell, for pursuing a private vendetta against the BBC and for naming Dr Kelly.

 Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, for abandoning a respected member of staff.

 Greg Dyke, head of the BBC, who chose not to confirm or deny that Dr Kelly was the mole.

I doubt very much that any of the above will resign voluntarily; accepting responsibility for events is not the “done thing” anymore in the UK.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Lesson of The Million Dollar Biro

Let me tell you a little story about the space race, when the competition between the USA and Soviet Block was at its height. It was discovered that the normal biro would not work in “zero G”.

Therefore the USA, as is its won’t, spent vast sums of money (several million dollars) on research to develop a pen that would work in “zero G”. Success, they achieved their objective; and could proudly boast that they had beaten the Soviets, in this most important of technical breakthroughs.

However, over in Moscow the wily old guardians of Lenin’s legacy afforded themselves a wry smile. They had also managed to solve the problem, at zero cost in fact. The solution, well simple really; they used pencils in space.

The moral from this story is that, throwing money at something is not always the best way to resolve a problem.

I would ask that Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister, at the time that this article is being written) and his Chancellor (Gordon Brown) heed the above, and revise downwards their current multi billion pound “spending splurge” on public services.

This spending, which was announced with fanfares and the usual hubris of the government spin machine in a previous budget, is not achieving the stated aim of improving public services.

Instead it is creating a vast layer of bureaucracy, and strange titled meaningless jobs, as government departments struggle to spend what they are given within each fiscal year.

Naturally, the poor tax payer is required to foot the bill for this ill thought out largess. There have, in fact, been some 60 tax rises since labour took power in 1997.

My message to the Blair and chums is this; governments are not efficient allocators of resources, do us all a favour and cut back your spending and taxation plans.

This will allow the people at the “sharp end”, ie we the voters, more resources with which to better manage and improve our lives.

Monday, July 07, 2003

A Poll Tax by Any Other Name

The UK government intends to introduce a national identity card for every adult living in the UK. The rationale, it argues, is the increase in perceived security threats to the UK since 9/11.

The government argues that is has strong public support for this, well it would wouldn’t it?

We are told that the cards will contain details of individuals; including a unique identifier, such as finger prints.

We are assured that our civil liberties will not be threatened, and that the card will not have to be carried 24 hours a day. That argument fails, by default; commercial enterprises, banks, airports, local government and other areas of daily life that an individual comes into contact with will all require the card as a proof of identity.

The introduction and administration of this scheme will naturally cost money; we are advised that a charge of £39 per head will cover these costs.

I don’t doubt that there will now be a spirited debate about the civil liberty implications of this scheme. I don’t intend to cover those issues in this article; save for the following observations:

 The UK is currently governed by a party with no core ideology, save the pursuit of power for its own sake.

 The government is obsessed by spin and presentation. Any criticism of it is robustly crushed, witness the current campaign against the BBC.

 There is no effective political opposition, save for the media.

The above points raise serious concerns about the future of democracy within the UK. I would venture to suggest that given these issues; any proposal, by this government, to introduce a national identity card should be viewed with great suspicion.

However, let us not ignore the other aspect of the proposal; the charge of £39. As I have noted in another article (
The Illusion of Increasing Property Values), this government is revenue greedy. This charge is another neat “stealth tax”.

Indeed since it will be levied on every adult (save for a few means tested exceptions), it is in fact the purest form of regressive poll tax that can be created.

The last time a poll tax was introduced in the UK, in the early nineties, the charge was based on the cost base of the citizen’s local council. Theoretically, the citizen could reduce the size of the poll tax by voting for a lower spending council. In reality, it didn’t work; poll tax bills soared, and Margaret Thatcher was ousted from office. The tax was repealed.

The version now being proposed offers no opportunity for electoral input. It is in effect taxation without representation.

In my opinion, this proposal must be resisted at all costs.