Monday, June 01, 2009

John Healey on decentralisation

Here's John Healey with a generally encouraging post on decentralisation over at Labour Home.

Two observations:

1. Healey is right that Cameron's decentralising rhetoric is one that masks a refusal to address the causes of political centralisation, and one that will, in practice, continue and deepen the tendency that has gathered pace since the 1970s

2. Healey needs to distance Labour from it's past on this one. There are plenty of understandable reasons why Labour took the approach that it did - he hints at it here:

"When we were elected in 1997 we were a government in a hurry. Our landslide was in part a rejection of under-funded, under-performing and highly uneven public services and our mandate was to transform them. So while we may have overdone the targets, central programmes and performance management, we were right at that time to drive the change from the centre. However, the arguments for doing so are now long gone."

He needs to go a great deal further for two reasons. The first is a principled one, the second is one that is more Machiavellian:

a) in democratic terms, what has happened to local democracy has been indefensible. It's been bad and wrong on so many levels, and they don't need listing again here again, do they?

b) people that work in the public sector are voters too. They've lived through a decade where they've had money chucked at them in a way that they wouldn't have dreamed of in the mid-1990s. They should be Labour votes that are weighed rather than counted.

Yet they hate their work. They hate the useless ever-multiplying over-paid audit-obsessed middle-managers.

They hate the insecurity of 'contestable' jobs. They despair - on behalf of the people they work to serve - of the lack of continuity, the inconsistency and the collapse of professionalism that has come with the rise of the managerial consultariat.

Politicians routinely get their targets met, but more rarely get anything useful done. Public sector employees understand - as voters as well as workers - that these clipboard-wielding zombies are incapable of moving small pebbles up hills. That they are great at giving the public what they say want - but never in a way that they want it. 

As Dr Faustus discovered, you have to be careful what you wish for....

Labour needs to go one step further. It needs to do what is in it's soul. It needs to announce an about-turn. A re-statement of faith in professionalism. A shift towards a publicly accountable - but professionally capable - public service ethos.

It's no longer acceptable for all aspects of government to be about upwards accountability. That's what fosters our enervated arse-covering public sector. 

Instead, we need an almost revolutionary commitment to decentralisation. One that only Labour - with it's Trades Union footprint - can promise.

The case is made here better than I can make it

It's time for an apology and a change of tack. Change is in the air. Now's the time to do it.

Go get 'em John!

5 comments:

The Plump said...

"people that work in the public sector are voters too. They've lived through a decade where they've had money chucked at them in a way that they wouldn't have dreamed of in the mid-1990s".

Well, some money has been chucked at some workers. Earnings have risen at the professional level - though not as much it has at senior management level. Though what really matters is the funding for real service delivery. There the record is more patchy.

Additional public sector money has been chucked at corporations through PFI, useless computer systems, consultants etc and much extra spending has been on ever changing short-term initiatives, mad marketisation schemes etc. The solid increases in core funding are harder to track down.

Also, that money was chucked at them after more than two years of real-terms cuts as Labour committed itself to Tory spending limits. Rather than be in a hurry, they dawdled for ages. And the initial spending was simply recovering the situation that they had let deteriorate. The target setting came in pretty sharp though.

Take all that out and the record isn't quite as dramatic. And some of us have experienced dramatic reductions in funding for service provision! Increases have been centrally directed to favoured areas and some of those favoured areas have been the private sector delivering public services.

So yes we are voters, yes we are pissed off and yes, yes, yes - we need Labour's soul back.

Anonymous said...

"Instead, we need an almost revolutionary commitment to decentralisation. One that only Labour - with it's Trades Union footprint - can promise."So, after 12 years of Labour and no improvement, what we need is... Labour!?!

Genius.

The Plump said...

No anonymous, what we need after years of NEW Labour is the Labour we thought we were getting in 1997, but somehow never materialised.

stephen said...

No anonymous, what we need after years of NEW Labour is the Labour we thought we were getting in 1997, but somehow never materialised

But you are not going to get it. I'd probably still be a supporter of Labour if it were the Labour 'we thought we were getting'. But instead we got authoritarian managerialism. I worked on the NHS Spine for five years and I can't think of anything I did that had a direct improvement on the delivery of service, except perhaps 'Choose and Book' but £12 billion for that is a bit steep. The Tories are going to be in power for at least two terms. We'd better hope that Cameron is the Tory version of Blair, and betrays his natural supporters in order to chase the 'middle ground of politics'. If not, millions of the most vulnerable people are in a for an even rougher time than they had under Labour.

By the way Paulie, if you are going to delete every post I make because you disagree with my opinions, why not be honest about it, and implement comment moderation?

Paulie said...

I'm not deleting every post you leave here because I disagree with your opinions. I delete them because the way you express them annoys me and I don't think there is any upside in arguing with you - I don't recall the last time you behaved in a conversational way.

I've decided that I can't be bothered dealing with you so I'm generally deleting anything you say. I can't contact you to tell you why otherwise I probably would have done so.

You're the only person I've deleted in a very long time.

Bye now.