Politics 2: Central Government

“In December 2005 I watched a BBC interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, lash out at a junior minster for the inadequate supply of foam to meet a fire in Hertfordshire … it did not occur to either interviewer or interviewee to point out that putting out fires had nothing to do with London Ministers. They were a local responsibility.”

I just finished reading Thatcher and Sons by Simon Jenkins. I won’t even try to outline his detailed analysis of the rise of Thatcher and Blair, because frankly I can’t hold a candle to his writing and dissection of the facts. Instead I’d like to talk about the points he raised.

Problem: Central Targets

Schools, hospitals, jails and police stations are all run to meet a set of centrally set targets. These targets are not written by teachers, doctors of police officers, but are instead decided by administrators and managers in the heart of government who have never worked in the departments they regulate. These targets are nationwide and do not take into account any local variance in ethnicity, income or health status. A GP in the richest parts of London is told to meet the same heart attack targets as one in the poorest parts of the Hebrides.

Millions are spent each year to collect, collate and analyse data from all these sources to see if they match the targets central government sets. Countless hours are wasted filling out paperwork to generate these statistics by those employed to aid the public. All this data is used for one simple purpose.

If you meet all the targets and quotas you receive more money next year. If you miss them you get your funding cut.

This means one thing – richer areas get the best provision and the poorest ones get the poorest. If most crime happens in poor areas, the police stations in these poor areas are fined for their high crime rates, while the police stations in wealthy areas are praised for their surprisingly low crime rates and receive bonus funding.

The taxpayer pays statisticians to work out which areas of the country are struggling so they can have their funding taken away.

These statistics are also manipulated now more than any time in the past as funding depends so heavily on them. I remember my school would force the struggling pupils to take their exams at a different examination centre so the poor results would not feature on their results paper, meaning the received more money in the next year.

I don’t know enough about being a doctor, a teacher or a police officer to comment on how rife this sort of statistical manipulation is, but I do know one thing; if my next pay-cheque depended upon statistics, I’d do everything I could to skew them in my favour. This skewing renders the entire system pointless as all the results are hugely biased.

Solution: Local Allocation

In the past, hospitals were given more money if they needed more money to tackle the problems in their community. High rates of HIV in the local population? Here’s money for your HIV department. Successfully reducing rates of heart attacks? Let’s relocate that money to areas where they need that money more.

Funds should be allocated on the needs of the population today, not on the outcomes of yesterday’s services.

Instead of getting service centres to report their successes and failures to us, we should match the best provision of healthcare to the unhealthiest areas, the best crime-fighters in the most crime-ridden areas, the best teachers to the most uneducated. We cannot do this by sending down decrees from on high; a politician in Westminster simply cannot know which parts of the country need help in a particular field.

The best way to do this, and the system used in other European countries, it to let local government decide what to do with their health/police/education funding and allocate it based on their own needs. Give them a pot of money and let them run with it. Who knows better what the money should be spent on than the people who will end up using the money locally?

This also eliminates the huge wastage that comes with multi-tiered bureaucracy seen in Whitehall and saves vast amounts of valuable doctor/teacher/police time.

Problem: No Accountability

In the UK we currently have a bed crisis in our hospitals. There aren’t enough beds in the hospitals to allow surgeries to happen. Who is to blame?

Is it the patient’s fault for staying in hospital longer than they need to?

Is it the doctors at fault for not getting people out of hospital quickly enough?

Is it the managers fault for not managing the beds properly?

Is it the regional CCG’s fault for allocating money to the hospitals incorrectly?

Is it the Minister for Health’s fault for setting incorrect targets on admission times?

In other countries maybe a solution would have been found, but in the UK we came up with an ingenious solution. Nobody is at fault. The system is just broken. Nobody is to blame, so nobody steps up to the plate and therefore nothing is changed. The layers of bureaucracy protect each individual level from any blame as it is everybody else’s mistake, and therefore ultimately nobody’s mistake.

I have the feeling Odysseus would have really liked the modern NHS. Polyphemus not so much.

Solution: Local Accountability

One of the main reasons this doesn’t happen to nearly the same extent in other countries is simply the fact that the buck stops earlier. If the local hospital is failing then the local councillor is absolutely and completely responsible. All the constituents know who they are and will fight tooth-and-nail to save and improve their own local hospital and get rid of the councillor who messed things up if they have to. When things start to go wrong locally, politicians step in because they are completely aware they will be held to account by their constituency for things going wrong.

Instead of taxing people locally with council tax then sending most of it off to central government to be slowly dripped back down through giant NHS behemoth, why not let local councils use the tax they already gather to fund the hospitals that are already there?

Make government local, and it will become locally accountable, because people care about their own things far more than the broad ideas sent down to them by politicians.

Conclusion

VoterTurnout

People have been convinced that local government means less efficiency and poorer outcomes even though all countries in the EU run with a more devolved system than the UK and do better for it. They can name their local mayor, their local MP, their local councillor. Can we Brits say the same?

I am certain that no politician is ever going to read these points and local government is never going to gain any more power because it would require a government to actually consciously chose to devolve some of its power back to the people.

This post was therefore entirely pointless.

 

 

Politics 1: MPs Salary

We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples.

Introduction

The basic annual salary of a British MP is currently £74,000. Alongside this they receive allowances for accommodation, second homes,  and various expenses to pay for travel + food etc.

As an example, they receive £9,000 for postage and stationary.

This raises the question of their need for such a high salary. They are fed, housed, and travel at the taxpayer’s expense, and therefore have no expenditure to speak of, yet they still receive an exorbitant salary three times that of a Doctor’s starting salary.  This pay is relieved regardless of their performance, their attendance and their contribution to British Politics in general.

This pay doesn’t take into account all the other benefits that come with being a member of parliament. You easily walk through the revolving door into CEO positions, receive extravagant gifts from corporations to use your connections and even get to edit a newspaper while still being paid by the taxpayer to be an MP. George Osborne will be paid by the taxpayer to play at politics in his spare time alongside his other job of running a newspaper.

In my opinion this is not how a democracy should function. Despite Dave’s statement that we are “all in this together”, this appears to be far from the truth. I have found 3 main arguments for why the pay is so high and I aim to refute them and put forward a better way of structuring pay for Members of British Parliament.

Reason 1: High Pay = High Quality

The best way to get the best people for the important jobs is to pay them better. The more money we offer, the more people apply for the job so the more likely we are to get the best MP.

Argument 1.1: High Pay = Money-Orientated

If you offer lots of money for a job you get a different sort of person applying for it, and that person is often money-orientated. They chose to be an MP not because of any desire for civil duty, but because they want money.

We do not want MPs who became MPs to be paid well.

The sorts of people who we want to be politicians are the kinds driven by political ideals and a desire to make the country better, not those who want to make their bank balance better. If we cut the salary all the greedy money-orientated people wouldn’t apply, but those with a strong desire for civic duty would still apply.

If we cut the salary we would get a better quality of applicants.

Argument 1.2: High Pay = Ivory Tower

If you pay MPs so well, they will get worse at their jobs because they will lose touch with reality. How many MPs have to chose between heating their homes and feeding their families, while the poorest and most vulnerable in our society make that calculation ever day.

The MPs will lose touch with the struggles of the average Brit and actually become worse at their jobs because of their high salary.

Reason 2: High Pay = Equality

We need to pay MPs well so that everybody can become an MP. A low salary would stop the poorest in our country from becoming MPs at all.

Argument 2.1: Benefits = Equality, High Pay = Profit

We already ensure everybody can become an MP by subsidising their rent, food and travel. At no point do MPs have to spend their own money to do their jobs or run their campaigns, that is already covered by the taxpayer.

The high pay therefore is pure profit, straight into a bank account. We can slash that profit by 90% and still anybody could afford to be an MP because all their day-to-day expenses are covered by us.

Argument 2.2: High Pay hasn’t generated Equality

90% of current MPs went to university. 38% of them came from Oxbridge. Since 2010 the umber of MPs from public schools has been steadily rising.

This high salary has not generated equality, it has simply meant that instead of becoming bankers/lawyers etc. those from wealthy backgrounds now pursue politics as a way of remaining at the top of the upper-middle class.

Reason 3: High Pay = Incorruptible

We pay MPs well so that their loyalty is to the state and not to private interests. If we paid them poorly they’d be open to bribery from corporations.

Argument 3.1: They’re still corruptible

Private interests can offer them things that we can’t, whether that be positive press coverage, a future job or money for the party. The cash-for honours scandle is a prime example of this, where MPs were bribed to give out knighthoods to ensure greater party funding.

Argument 3.2: We can’t compete

The salary and wages (and bribes) are orders of magnitude greater than we could ever compete with. Even if it were true that paying them so much would make them impossible to corrupt, the British taxpayer cannot compete with Saudi princes and international banks when trying to buy loyalty.

Argument 3.3: Morality

If the only reason an MP isn’t taking a bribe is because (s)he’s paid well to not take one, (s)he shouldn’t be an MP.

Solutions

Outlined below are my ideas for reducing pay and expenditure while also increasing the quality and diligence of the MPs we hire. Each of these solutions can be implemented in tandem; they are not mutually exclusive.

Idea 1: House all MPs in council housing

a) Truly shows we are all in this together

b) Saves a great deal of money on second home allowance/rent etc.

c) Shows MPs the conditions that their constituents live in, driving them to improve the housing quality as it will directly affect their own.

Idea 2: Pay all MPs a Means Tested National Average Wage

a) Eliminates the money-minded MPs while retaining the truly motivated ones

b) It is already considered an acceptable wage for the average citizen, so why not for the politicians themselves?

c) They will be motivated to improve the economy and the salaries of their constituents as it directly affects their own.

Idea 3: Make MPs Bank Statements Publicly Accessible

a) They are spending our money, so we should be allowed to see where it goes

b) We can also easily see their various sources of income, thus making it harder to receive a bribe or have a conflict of interests.

Conclusion

Ultimately MPs will never cut their own salaries for as long as they have control over their own pay so this entire post was completely pointless.

I don’t know how wordpress works, but I look forward to reading comments/ideas as to where I’m wrong and how I could become more right.