From NHS to local councils, nothing in Britain works anymore…and I know why our leaders don’t want to talk about it

AT the heart of this election lies a fundamental contradiction about the British state.

On the one hand, Government spending and therefore the burden of taxation have never been higher.

AlamyDespite extra funding hospitals are still under massive pressure[/caption]

Getty Images – GettyThere are 65,000 cases waiting to be heard at crown courts[/caption]

AFP3.9m days have been lost to strikes with 96% of them in the public sector[/caption]

GettySewage is pumped into our rivers[/caption]

AlamyThe cost of absenteeism in the civil service is £459m[/caption]

On the other hand, despite these record budgets, our public services have never seemed so badly run or less able to fulfil their essential functions.

So voters feel they are constantly forking out more but receiving less in return.

Nothing in the civic realm seems to work properly any more, from the rail network to the ambulance service.

Crimes are neglected by the police, sewage is pumped into our rivers, potholes go unrepaired in our roads, social care is mired in permanent crisis and pupil absences are soaring in our secondary schools.

We live in a land where employers complain bitterly about skill shortages despite half of all our young people going to university; where the NHS waiting list rose in April to a record 7.57million, even though spending on the health service got a substantial increase of £3.3billion in 2023/24 and again in 2024/25; and where we have record numbers of qualified lawyers yet the backlog of cases at the crown courts reached 65,000 last June, up from 41,000 in March 2020.

It is no wonder that public faith in justice is collapsing when, last year, the average time to complete a crown court case hit 382 days.

The paradox of breakdown amid record cash sums has given a surreal quality to the election debate about the public sector.

While the country is crying out for action, the two main parties are paralysed from saying anything constructive or radical because they are so fearful of any policy that might come with a price tag.

So they just jeer at the opposition while proposing nothing themselves except some minor structural tinkering to give the illusion of progress.

Indeed, Labour have taken this practice to an absurd level.

Across the airwaves, their representatives continually denounce “Tory cuts”, but sink into incoherent timidity when asked about their own spending.

That was the stance taken last week by Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting in a BBC interview with Laura Kuenssberg, after she pointed out that, for all his attacks on the Government over the NHS, he was offering no extra money.

In fact, she said, both the Tory and Labour manifestos were promising less cash for the health service than the Tory-led coalition had provided at the height of the austerity programme just over a decade ago.

Predictably, Streeting just fell back on meaningless verbiage.

The debate about public services is not just surreal, it is also sterile, because it is trapped in a false narrative that the only way to improve any state organisation is to pour more taxpayers’ money into it.

But that is manifestly untrue.

The reality is that much of the public sector is badly run and wasteful, gripped by low productivity, outdated working practices and bloated bureaucracies.

In 2009, ex-trade minister Digby Jones said the civil service could do its job with “half as many staff. It could be more productive, more efficient. It could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer”.

For all the whines about lack of resources, the civil service payroll has actually grown by 100,000 in the past eight years.

The absence of commercial competition fuels complacency and sclerosis because the public institutions receive their subsidies regardless of performance.

‘No meaningful debate’

As Kate Bingham — the brilliant head of the Covid UK Vaccines Taskforce, which had private and public sector involvement — recently put it: “The machinery of government is dominated by process, rather than outcome, causing delay and inertia.

“There is an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism, a culture of groupthink and risk aversion that stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging.”

The culture of groupthink is also shown in the obsession of our public services with woke ideology, as reflected in the employment of around 10,000 state employees in the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion, with a total estimated bill of £557million a year.

Some of our public bosses appear to be keener on social engineering and indoctrination than on running effective services, a trend exemplified by the RAF’s discrimination in 2020 against the recruitment of white men in the quest to embrace diversity.

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The public sector is in desperate need of serious reform, but you will not hear that from the politicians, who cling to the failing status quo because they don’t want to offend this workforce, given that state employees tend to be more unionised, more aware of their rights and more prone to air their grievances than staff from the private sector.

Just 12 per cent of private workers are union members, compared to 49 per cent of state workers.

While Labour are constrained by their ties to the union paymasters, the current Tories have nothing like Margaret Thatcher’s courage in dealing with militancy.

So the public sector unions can inflict mayhem without consequences.

AlamyKate Bingham — the brilliant head of the Covid UK Vaccines Taskforce[/caption]

GettyShadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting[/caption]

Incredibly, of the 3.9million days lost to strikes in the year to May 2023, 96  per cent were in the public sector.

A proper election discussion would see proposals to end this endless cycle of disruption, such as banning emergency workers from industrial action or ending the unions’ privileged immunity from claims for damages.

But there is only silence, just as there is no meaningful debate about soft management, molly-coddled staff and the culture of victimhood in the public sector.

These are all traits that mean levels of sick leave in the public sector are twice those of the private sector.

Civil service absenteeism

In the civil service alone, absenteeism in 2023 cost the taxpayer £459million.

In the absence of robustness, this pattern is likely to worsen, especially given the fashionable fixation with mental health, which has created a climate of learned anxiety and vulnerability within the machinery of government.

Last year, the number of mental health sick days taken by civil servants increased by 38 per cent.

A proper debate would challenge many of the most corrosive features of the public sector, like the neurosis about identity politics and the composition of workforces.

Is it really desirable to set a target that women should make up 50 per cent of police forces, given that crime is not an equal opportunities activity but is largely perpetrated by men?

Where is the honesty to demand that so much of useless officialdom be swept away, like the sprawling hierarchies that are attached to the police commissioners’ offices?

At Hampshire, for instance, the Commissioner apparently could not manage in 2022 without a £92,000-a-year chief executive, a deputy chief executive, a head of performance, a head of commissioning, a modern slavery partnership co-ordinator and a head of communications, plus a communications manager, three senior communications officers, three business support officers, two cyber ambassador co-ordinators and a youth engagement officer.

But all the action plans, diversity training initiatives, consultation meetings and awareness-raising programmes do nothing to solve crimes, which is what the public really want.

Last year, a phenomenal 216,000 burglaries went unsolved, the equivalent of, on average, 592 a day.

Where is the bold action?

Instead of continuing to cower before the hardline Fire Brigades Union (FBU), why isn’t any politician proposing the merger of fire and ambulance services to reduce the strain on the latter?

The incidence of fires is plummeting, down 23 per cent in the past year alone, yet we pointlessly maintain these two separate operations out of misguided tradition and the FBU’s determination to uphold routines that allow many of their members to hold second jobs.

One recent fire inspectorate report stated that “in some stations we visited, almost 25 per cent of the day was taken up with refreshment breaks and stand-down periods”.

That sort of nonsense should have no place in modern Britain.

The public sector needs a good shake-up.

But sadly there is no sign of such change emerging from this election.

Clock-watching, virtue-signalling and empire-building will remain prime activities of the unreformed public sector.

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