Killing Britain's professional classes
Published in: Daily Mail
The worm has finally turned. Among the great and the good who gave Tony Blair a drubbing this week for the way he is handling the public services, one name in particular leapt from the page.
Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, put his name to a round robin which warned the Prime Minister to stop suggesting that the private sector has all the answers and that the public services must only carry out tasks set by central government.
It is thought to be unprecedented for the most significant police officer in the country publicly to express his anger with the government of the day. Nurses, doctors, teachers - we are accustomed to those people having a go at politicians.
But things have come to a pretty pass when the police service, normally the most buttoned-up, stoical and, above all, apolitical of our public services is moved to such deep anger that it sticks its helmet above the parapet in this way.
Stung by such a high-profile revolt, Tony Blair tried to calm everyone down by praising the dedication and talent of public sector workers who, he said, were the 'lifeblood' of Britain, performing miracles every day in our hospitals and classrooms and on our streets.
The Prime Minister is performing more changes on this issue than a stripper working the buses.
One minute he is attacking public service workers as 'wreckers' standing in the way of reform. The next minute, he is talking them up as public heroes, bizarrely implying that any criticism of the condition of these services is an attack on those who are keeping them running at all.
Now he has said he is going to pour untold extra billions of our money into the ailing NHS, and that we will all have to jolly well put our hands deep in our pockets to pay for it. So does this mean he is abandoning his 'radical' reform agenda after all, concluding instead that throwing money at the public services is all that's needed -- and that they can then be left alone to get on with the job?
On the contrary. With money come the strings - more and more of them. For the Treasury, all too aware of the dangers of pouring yet more taxpayers' money into a public sector black hole, is producing targets and performance indicators for virtually everything that moves. This is the way it thinks it can make sure the public sector gets its act together (and the way Gordon Brown makes sure he keeps his hands on the levers of power by assuming unprecedented control over day-to-day delivery).
This is an egregious error. Whitehall cannot run the public services. It does not possess the expertise and it cannot make well-informed judgments from such a distance. The targets it dictates merely distort priorities, as we can see from the waiting lists d