Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Alphabet soup and national characteristics

There is a large cardboard box labelled "campaign material" in the spare bedroom. It is a repository for stuff left over from elections past which could be useful in future. Rooting through it for rosettes for this year's effort (and not looking forward to ironing them - why can't they be made from crease-resistant fabric?) I came across a copy of Liberal Democrat News for March 2005.

So many of the items marked up for use in Focus leaflets still resonate today, after a further five years of Labservatism. One in particular struck me as particularly applicable to Wales.

In an article headed "A bonfire of the inspectorates", we called for the scrapping of seven inspection agencies, netting £400m. The figure must be nearer a billion today. The article continues: "There is now an alphabet soup of inspection bodies, each with their own acronym, their own head office, their own chief executive and their own armies of inspectors.

"Yet despite this growth there is scant evidence of any improvement in services, with less than half of inspectors making any specific recommendations. A 'tick the box' culture has been created which short-changes consumers and staff. A staggering 96 per cent of local government employees think inspections take up too much time - time that would be better spent providing an improved service."

Since then, we have had the mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal, where a hospital given a clean bill of health by one government QuaNGO was found by an independent inquiry to have shown "callous disregard" for its patients. This inquiry in itlself cost £1.8m.

In Wales, inspection bodies seem to cover up more than they expose - unless the target is a Liberal Democrat-run council, of course. Let us hope that the savings achieved in the rest of the UK by abolishing the excrescences are mirrored in Wales - though the suspicion that many of them provide "jobs for the boys" must give cause for concern that there will be strong resistance.

Also in the paper was this typical shaft from a speech by Vince Cable: "Brown and Blair between them have fashioned a Britain based on an eclectic choice of role models: American inequality, French centralisation, Italian ethical standards and Chinese civil liberties." To this, one can now add "Greek economics"

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