March 25, 2014

Time for managerial brutalities in the state apparatus

Yesterday the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made no progress on the issue of how badly whistleblowers are treated. As usual, most of the MPs could not shift the bureaucrats who spoke wordily of their policies and practices but had mysteriously failed to come to the committee with any information about any particular case at all.

For instance, Charlie Massey, "Director General, Strategy and External Relations, Department of Health", was fluent in acronyms and the discussions that were taking place with a view to putting together new policies about treatment of whistleblowers, yet seemed to have no ideas about how present and previous policies on whistleblowers might have failed or might require improvement. True to form, most of the MPs put wordy questions allowing the bureaucrats to choose which parts to discuss and which inconvenient points to ignore. And most of the MPs are unfailingly polite, as if they were the ones in charge. The bureaucrats realise most of the MPs are no match for them, but the ceremonial demands that they seem respectful and keep straight faces as the charade proceeds.

There are two good interrogators on the PAC, and one of them asked what sanctions had been applied against NHS managers whose treatment of two whistleblowers had been particularly outrageous. Of course the NHS panjandrum had chosen not to bring with him anything so dangerous as specific facts that might have been useful to his questioners. Ignorance is far safer, don't you know - leaving aside the question (asked by 0 MPs) of how you can be in charge of setting a new policy when you appear to have absolutely no idea what was wrong with the old ones.

The answer is, of course, that the aim of the bureaucrats is not to put in place a ruthlessly effective new policy (that would take no more than a month, tops), but to give the appearance of being in a long meaningful process aiming ... well, aiming to give the impression that something is being done which might prove to be meaningful, but won't so long as the process is managed properly.

So it is not only that the NHS is too big to be managed effectively (which it is), but that people at the top are just committee smoothies.

Where are the managerial thugs?

Or, to put it at more length, who ensures that managers who mistreat whistleblowers suffer for it? Of course as long as they can protect themselves with impunity, of course they will do what it takes to stay safe in their organisational fortresses. Managers behaving badly must be punished. But of course they aren't. Goodness, if you made one or two examples, where might it end?

And who would wield the scalpel? Not their colleagues. Their priority will probably be the well-being of the organisation. So in egregious cases ministers should publicly give the organisation a month at most to deliver heads on a platter. If the platter is not delivered, they should send in a hitman. A managerial thug.

Here are two places where this might start. They are not both whistleblowing cases, but they are both instances where state officials have behaved so outrageously that they should be named, and suffer consequences for what they have done - and be seen to suffer consequences, quickly and openly, so that the next time someone in a state managerial fortress is tempted to abuse their power (and it happens all too often), they pause and consider what happened to Ms CoverUp and Mr Bully.

The cover up was at Kettering General Hospital, which killed a teenager - back in August 2012 - but thought it best to suppress details of their numerous errors to avoid stressing staff. Yes, they really did. If someone is not going to be marched out the door for such abuse of power, they need at the very least to suffer such public obloquy that their career will progress no further. They may not feel named and shamed, but they must be named. Their vile behaviour should at the very least incur vilification.

Secondly, we have a statement from a policeman who "raised concerns over policing, police reform, statistical manipulation, the Olympics and lobbying", sparking a parliamentary inquiry into crime statistics which has had a significant national impact. He goes public before MPs and what is his reward? To be treated so badly by his part of the state apparatus that he feels he has to resign. Again, the managers concerned feel safe in their fortress. Again, it's time for some public obloquy of the individuals who did this.

What do these two cases have in common apart from the abuse of the state's power over us? It is that both sets of events events were reported today.

Imagine how much of this is happening on the other 364 days of the year.

If there are no consequences for the managers, other state managers will see no deterrent.

March 24, 2014

A fatuous campaign

Someone who wants to speak for lawyers on twitter is pushing this graphic

Consider. Jeremy Hunt has never operated on anyone. Philip Hammond has never machine gunned anyone.

Is this really the best this lawyers' spokesman can do?

Every producer interest thinks they're they're important. Cuts should be for the less important interests.

Just to remind the lawyers and the doctors and the teachers and everyone else ... there's no more money. 

Indeed, government are borrowing hand over fist. The country is plunging ever deeper into debit. Maybe, just maybe, we can't afford any longer the way our ponderous legal system is run.

Is major change going to emerge from within the legal profession? It's highly unlikely, isn't it.

So I'm glad the Ministry of Justice isn't headed by a lawyer.

Long may it continue.

March 12, 2014

There's still much for Gove to do

According to Ben Brogan and James Forsyth, Tory MPs are sniping at Michael Gove.

Forsyth puts it in the context of the succession to Cameron - as if Osborne had the ghost of a chance of being an effective and popular leader. (He has as much chance of that as Theresa May - that is, none. Any Tory who disagrees should get out more.) Gove, it is said, would support Osborne, even though that would be (in his word) bonkeroony. So Boris's acolytes are sniping at him.

Brogan has it that Gove has done all he can do at Education and needs a fresh challenge. This too is bonkers.

At a recent performance by the clever Fascinating Aida, one of the songs to get the most enthusiastic applause was a long and witless diatribe attacking education reform and even Ofsted. Its theme was that teachers were doing fine, thank you, and government should get off their backs. The audience loved it.

Remember a Question Time last year when a school student said some of his teachers had been more interested in their pay cheques than their subjects? The audience gasp could not have been louder if he had uttered an awful swear word. The panel were dumbstruck.

So Gove's job at education is not done. The structure of the changes may be clear. But seemingly the public remains to be convinced that change is necessary. And you can't do that without attacking the recent record of the teaching profession.

Gove has been reluctant to do this, and no one has been licensed to take on this task of persuasion. The case is clear. But without anyone putting that case clearly and repeatedly, why would the country embrace change (apart from those who have seen it in their own neighbourhoods)?

This critical task remains to be tackled. Until it is tackled, and tackled successfully, Gove's work is not done and his reforms will be at risk under a government beholden to the NUT.

February 14, 2014

Greens are dismal, narrow and self-righteous

Guido reports the Greens' leader, Natalie Bennett, saying that the government should
Get rid of any cabinet Ministers or senior governmental advisors who refuse to accept the scientific consensus on climate change or who won’t take the risks to the UK seriously.
This call for an authoritarian, Stalinist purge comes as Matt Ridley describes what he calls the beauty of science - "the more you find out, the more you realise what you did not know":
The story of human prehistory is not special in this regard. You can tell the same tale of expanding new mysteries in cosmology, neuroscience, the history of climate, the workings of the immune system. On the voyage of science we are perpetually sighting great continents of ignorance that we did not even know were there.
Yet the narrow, crabbed Natalie Bennett worships the "scientific consensus".

Science makes advances through new discoveries. Discoveries. Those things that overturn a previous scientific consensus. The consensus that there was an invisible gas called phlogiston. The consensus that phrenology was a science. The consensus that earthquakes were nothing to do with tectonic plates. The consensus on the cause of stomach ulcers. All overturned by discoveries. Did I mention the scientific consensus that global temperatures would rise smoothly like the blade of a hockey stick?

The Greens are showing themselves as narrow, puritanical, blinkered apparatchiks who are sure that The Truth has been revealed, sure that they possess the Ultimate Truth, the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question.

As Matt Ridley shows, science isn't like that. It doesn't give a fig for consensus. Or for Natalie Bennett's self-righteous preening.

The world didn't start a few months ago

The Telegraph has been running some interesting letters on the floods. This for instance today:
SIR – Like many readers, I am concerned that the Environment Agency has lost direction. Under the Land Drainage Acts, it has a duty to “maintain flows” in main rivers and critical watercourses. Along with district and county councils, it can serve notices on (riparian) landowners to clear ordinary watercourses of any obstructions.

Early in my career, the Sussex River Authority employed me to survey drainage channels in the rivers Ouse and Cuckmere and Pevensey Marsh catchments, and to draw up schemes for their maintenance.

This excellent authority (long since disbanded) employed “sluice keepers”, who lived locally and made seasonal adjustments to retained water levels. They responded quickly, when extreme weather was predicted, to reduce risk of flooding.

Since the demise of the river authority, I have been appalled at the lack of routine maintenance. The Environment Agency is too remote from local communities. Even local flood-defence committees, which monitored its activities, have been scrapped. People’s lives and properties must come first, and conservation second, when funds are short.

A R Stevens
Herstmonceux, East Sussex
Paul Homewood also brings some history to bear, suggesting that the winter of 1929-30 will turn out to have been wetter than this winter. So if the lamentable Met Office wants to link this winter's floods with climate change stalled global warming, it has to explain (among much else) how the causes of 1929-30 don't apply today.

This is without even considering the democratic deficit that is the Environment Agency. Fraser Nelson is level headed today. Why, he even mentions the EU.

The government has some hard thinking to do which should lead to some conclusions it will find unpalatable. Let's hope Owen Paterson is there to push it through.

February 10, 2014

What is this "climate change"?

Just what is this "climate change"?

As Southern England suffers storm after storm, and Julia Sligo of the Met Office insinuates that climate change may be to blame, it's instructive to see tweets looking back to those distant days when climate change enthusiasts predicted it would cause dryer weather.

Thus in 2006 George Monbiot claimed that "the freshwater boom is over. Our rivers are starting to run dry"! We can avert global thirst, he said - "but it means cutting carbon emissions by 60%".

And in 2012 we were told that Caroline Spelman had said climate change could mean that drought is “the new normal”. She urged water companies to produce long-term plans for saving water.

But what is this "climate change"? It can't be the dry (or now wet) weather, because that was (or is) supposedly an effect of this climate change. It can't be increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, because that is just what it says, increases in a trace gas going into the atmosphere.

Can it be global warming? That stopped 17 years ago and hasn't restarted. How would that work, then? It caused dryer weather and now it's causing wetter weather? A stalled temperature rise causes whatever the weather happens to be at the time - even if that weather isn't unprecedented?


So what is this "climate change"?

"Climate change" is an empty black box. Into it go increased emissions of a trace gas, out of it come droughts or floods, take your pick. Maybe plagues of locusts? If the locusts appear, George and Caroline, all the Lib Dems, and Ed Miliband, and the other charlatans will claim a consensus of climate scientists predicted them all along, while the Environment Agency will create reserves where the locusts can flourish.

Anything to try to justify their compulsion to control us - however implausible, however tawdry.

February 08, 2014

Our housing scandal

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that house prices will rise 27% by 2018. Now, their forecasting record is hardly unsullied, but the direction of travel is clear.

It's a moral crusade to have enough homes for people here to live in. But why is demand rising? That has to be looked at too.

The not so great and not so good

Forget the waffly reports in today's Telegraph about the Somerset Levels written by their reporting stars. Look instead at two very interesting letters there.

One is from Lord De Ramsey, first chairman of the Environment Agency (EA). He tells us that
At Easter 1998, 142 constituencies in England and Wales were flooded.
Today's floods are not so 'biblical' then (to use David Cameron's word). And so the Somerset Levels inundation can hardly be blamed on climate change old global warming.

And then who did the ineffable John Prescott choose to succeed Lord De Ramsey? One Barbara Young, plucked from being Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - which she continued to protect during her tenure at the EA from 2000 to 2008. According to Lord De Ramsey
she set common sense on its head, called for pumping stations to be blown up and cut maintenance by putting environment first and food and villages second.
(Her appointment to the EA led to her becoming a non-affiliated member of the House of Lords. "Previously she had taken the Labour Party whip." A Labour luvvie in disguise, then - was that common practice? And can this be the same Barbara Young who went on to head the CQC so scandalously after her disastrous turn at the EA? Indeed it can.)

A second letter is from one David Jordan, who is (for the moment) Director of Operations, Environment Agency. Responsibility for protecting the Dawlish rail line sits with Network Rail, he writes, and "we recently met them to discuss the Exeter flood-risk management scheme and its interaction with the rail line to Exeter". Now comes the money quote:
There was no suggestion by us that their work to protect the area where the line was damaged could be delayed by a study of local bird life.
But this was not what the EA was accused of by Peers and others who attended a meeting with the EA. The EA had said it was considering putting extra sand on the beach at Dawlish - and that was the scheme which would have to wait a year while they conducted a survey of the possible effects on birdlife.

Surely the EA has had its day. It's a supposedly independent agency, supposedly free of what some see as ministerial interference. Yet when its policies fail, the government of the day is blamed.

Charles Moore argues today (at too great length) that no one capable of running the EA would volunteer for the obloquy that goes with the job. A whistleblowing blog attacks it as wasteful and over-staffed. That's probably true but it's not the fundamental problem.

Nor is the main problem that ministers tend to dole out leading roles to incompetent cronies with their own personal agendas such as Barbara Young (a serial incompetent, now heading Diabetes UK) and Chris Smith. Both of them unqualified for the role, both with several other jobs, many paid for by taxpayers. The occasional strong minister could put strong people in charge.

The fundamental issue is the EA itself. It has too much power and too little accountability. Independent agencies must have a defined function within a tight mandate. Even the DVLA is criticised for some of its policies, and its responsibilities are far narrower than those of the EA (when should it release car owners' addresses to third parties, for instance?).

Funding has to be distributed nationally, involving decisions ministers should account for (as they do with grants to local authorities). Operational decisions should be taken and implemented locally and accountably. The specialist local bodies already exist and just need to be given more resources.

Bonfire of the quangos, anyone?!

There's a policy for UKIP. Less cronyism, more power to local people.

P.S. Richard North tweets to point out that this post ignores the EU dimension, and of course he's right, as ever. However, these incompetents choose to defend their performance in its own terms, not by using the EU as an excuse. So that's how we should judge them.

Let's deal with the EA in the way that's right for England, and let the Brussels frites fall as they may.

January 25, 2014

What a jape! Last UKIP manifesto was "drivel"

It's perfectly reasonable for Nigel Farage to disown UKIP's manifesto for the last election. No party will go into the next election on their 2010 manifesto.

But never to have read it even though he wrote the foreword? To say now the manifesto he ran on was drivel?

Richard North and North Junior discuss this.

As I say in the comments on North Junior's piece, Farage is a mountebank. He's just made up this pro-handguns policy.

UKIP isn't a proper political party, it's his creature, there to do whatever his will is that day. He is a salesman, not a strategist, but he cannot tolerate good people around him as they will show up his limitations.

If its polling stays high, be sure the media and UKIP's political opponents will subject its policies to close scrutiny as the election nears.

Nigel Farage is a lot nastier than he looks.

January 22, 2014

What is this poverty thing?

In PMQ's, Ed Miliband claimed that 13 million people in this country are "in poverty", many of them working (and presumably receiving tax credits).

"In poverty" sounds somehow more official and defined than calling them "poor".

Thirteen million people out of 60 million. That's more than 20% of the total population.

What sense does it make to define poverty so that over 20% of people are defined as "poor"? - unless of course you want to make a political point.

What is this poverty? It's a slippery concept. People in Benefits Street can afford cigarettes. Are 13 million people starving in the gutter? No. Are 13 million people shivering in the cold (thanks in no small part to Mr Miliband's energy policies)? No. So what is this "poverty" and how can we recognise it?

It sounds like an excuse for a further programme of state confiscation and redistribution even more sweeping than tax credits.

How Labour would relish that.