Slaying some dragons

There is a great piece in today’s Daily Telegraph by Francis Maude MP who is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General about his radical programme to secure value for money after 13 years of Labour profligacy.  It is worth reading but it provides me with food for thought on a wider level.

There is a danger of a growing gap between Cameron’s immediate team and his backbenchers.  There is probably an even wider one to his party membership at large.   There are a number of lessons to be learned here:

  • Francis Maude’s message is a good one but, with all respect to this great newspaper, The Daily Telegraph cannot be the only communication channel to get this mesage across.  Boris would know how to do it better.
  • The party faithful are much vexed about the level of spending on overseas aid and its continued ring-fencing from the cuts everyone else has to face.  If this is to be accepted by the Conservative core, they need to be persuaded that it is well spent and brings lasting benefit both to indigenous populations and to the donor nation.   The Liberals will survive with pious hand-wringing; Connservatives demand a better evidence-base of economic improvement for recipients and donors alike.  We have failed to do this effectively.
  • The party faithful are also much vexed about the mounting cost of welfare and what they see as the feckless minority living a chosen lifestyle  at the expense of a compliant majority.  We need to apply the same principle of demonstrated economic advantage in how the benefit system gets people out of dependency and back into making a contribution to the economy as a whole.  Louise Casey has the right ideas with her troubled families programme; Conservatives should be supporting her and defining the limits that the welfare system can afford.  If the Liberals do not like it, they will have to face the test of public opinion.
  • There is a far bigger job to do in slaying dragons in the NHS.  For the British public, the NHS can still do no wrong.  During the 13 years of Labour misrule, spending on health doubled but health outcomes showed no comparable improvement.  This is because the health unions duped Labour ministers – not difficult when the unions are the paymasters.  GPs’ incomes have doubled over the last 15 years while their working hours have shrunk and their out-of-hours service has been handed to medics from Europe and further afield with poor language skills flying in to cover for absent GPs at weekends.
  • Nursing in the NHS has been professionalised and turned into a graduate-only profession when it needs a combination of intellectual skills for some, managerial skills for others and more personal skills in toileting, bottom wiping, bathing and feeding as well as listening to individuals at the other.  We seem to have created a nursing work force keen to manage, work at PCs and form filling and work out how to rise up the medical career ladder without wishing to engage in the vital work of meeting basic physical human needs.  This cannot be blamed wholly on the last Labour government;  it is a movement that started much earlier but it is one that needs to be reversed.
  • I will end with a plea to local government’s leaders.  In today’s Daily Telegraph, Francis Maude rightly boasts what he has done as Cabinet Office Minister to stem the wasteful spending of the Labour years.  Local government has been doing this for years.  We are actually quite good at it which is why local government took the biggest hit in the last round of spending cuts and will see the same in the next and even more savage ones.  It saddens me to see the public’s perception of local government as profligate, slack and poorly managed when, by and large and with some obvious exceptions, this is simply not true.  I fear the public has had an excessive diet of The Daily Mail, Private Eye and The Taxpayers Alliance and, hard as it is to get the message across, I do hope local government’s leading voices will make clear that we are the most efficient and value-for-money part of the public sector and have been for years.

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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