Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Environment agency: not enough money for dredging – but enough to pay staff £395.3 million, apparently

One of the many things right-wingers know that lefties don’t is that all public sector organisations ends up protecting the interests of their staff rather than the public who fund the damned things.  Chris “Trougher” Smith (someone has to bear the title now that Tim Yeo has been so deservedly defenestrated by his constituency association), the £97,000 for a three-day-week chairperson of the Environment Agency who somehow manages to juggle this role with ten other paid and unpaid jobs, has been on the box claiming that “cuts” are to blame for the whole of Somerset being underwater – but “cuts” didn’t prevent staff costs increasing by 8% last year or an extra £4m being spent on “travel and subsistence” in the same period.

Left-wingers like Baron Smith of Finsbury (I can’t write that without sniggering: I I have a similar reaction whenever I hear Toby Harris – another contemporary of mine at university – referred to as Lord Harris of Haringey) – anyway, socialists like Smith spend their whole lives complaining about greedy, exploitative businesses being run purely in the interests of their directors and shareholders, while blithely ignoring the fact that quangos and government agencies and suchlike also exist purely for the benefit of their employees, directors and shareholders (i.e. their government paymasters).

Of course, public sector organisations do some good (and quite a bit of bad) in the process – the NHS treats sick people, Social Services remove children from abusive parents (occasionally), and the BBC produces a lot of excellent programmes (mainly on BBC 4). But, then, businesses - quite apart from providing us with the goods and services that we want - also employ the people who pay the taxes that fund everything the public sector does. The real difference is that public sector organisations are ostensibly there entirely for our benefit, while businesses exist purely to turn a profit. (Whether we should applaud companies who “put something back” is questionable – Milton Friedman and the eminent American libertarian Isabel Paterson, for instance, both argued cogently that the sole purpose of business is to make money, and that using profits to fund warm, fuzzy, socially "useful" initiatives amounts to a dereliction of duty. I tend to agree, mainly because when the dividing line between government and business blurs, very bad things tend to happen.)

Another story going the rounds this morning is that the NHS Ombudsman (obviously a whole bunch of people rather an individual) fully investigated a mere 400 complaints about Health Service care out of 16,000 made last year. This demonstrates a related truth also known only to right-wingers – that all organisations set up by the public sector to police other public sector organisations end up closing ranks against the public who pay for both. The BBC Trust is a perfect example of this – does any licence-fee payer feel that the Trust represents his interests? Or that Ofcom is on her side? Do you get the impression that Ofgen is out there battling on your behalf? Or the Office of Rail Regulation? Do me a favour! 

When the people running a business do a lousy job, the company either goes under or gets taken over, or the  executives are frog-marched out of the building (unless, of course they run a bank, in which case the taxpayer will bail them out). This doesn’t tend to happen in the public sector, where - because politicians and regulators hate admitting mistakes – it’s rare that anyone is asked to carry the can for failure: instead, more funding is found, “results” are massaged, and the whole rotten merry-go-round keeps on turning.

Any politician or watchdog refusing to play this game should be wildly applauded. Take a bow, Michael Gove - the inchoate rage of the teaching establishment ("The Blob" as he has referred to it) bears testimony to his honesty, courage and effectiveness: it's no coincidence that the Education Secretary is one of the few politicians willing to own up to mistakes.


  1. OK. Crisis over. Lord Smith is appearing in Somerset this morning to personally take charge of the situation [ they must eventually have found a 5-star hotel to house him and his staff?]. He follows in the highly effective foot-steps of that other Labour peer, Lord Howell [Denis to his friends] who was variously Minister for Drought, Floods and Snow between 1976-79. A hard act to follow.

    1. I bet he chose today because sun was forecast - mind you, he's had to suffer a right monstering from the locals. Lovely to see a representative of the great and the good being confronted by the disgrunted oiks who pay his wages.