Philip Whiteley's Blog

February 15, 2011

Time to stand up to the banking and NHS lobbyists

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:12 pm

Could two sectors have failed more completely in the UK than investment banking and the NHS? The current global recession stems from failures in the banks, while shocking reports on dirty hospitals and erratic care continue to pour out of the NHS – even before the public inquiry report into the scandal at Stafford. See this report, and a poignant essay on how the NHS was superior in the austerity Britain of the 1950s.

Left and right wing activists like to emphasise their differences. But let’s look at the behavioural similarities.

Give us more, said the banks. Give us more freedom; deregulate. We can manage risk.

Give us more, said Labour party activists on behalf of the NHS. Increase spending, which we shall re-label ‘investment’, and we shall transform the service. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why standards should actually plummet while ‘investment’ doubled between 2000 and 2007, but the evidence points to over-emphasis on management by targets and an increase in working to rule by nurses who increasingly refuse to carry out more basic tasks. The European Working Time Directive is likely to have played a part as well. Younger people may not know that filthy hospitals and neglectful care are recent phenomena in the NHS.

It turns out that both the banks and the Labour Party were respectively acting as giant lobbying groups for vested interests. Both cared much less about the society they were supposed to be serving than they can possibly admit – even to themselves. Once their demands were met, standards of stewardship, risk management and duty of care in the banks and the hospitals of the United Kingdom actually fell. Yet far from acknowledging their errors, the two greedy lobbying industries continue to clamour for more.

One lesson is that Labour is better at running the banks (Alistair Darling did a good job of nationalisation), and the Conservatives are better with the NHS (hospitals were immaculate under Thatcher and Major).  It seems counter-intuitive, but actually it’s logical; you are more likely to operate in the public interest if you are not pandering to a loyal interest group.

But the bigger lesson is to understand that it’s the way you manage, not the political ideology you cling to, that actually improves services.

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