We have seen the future, and it sucks.

The problem with “public” services

26th September 2009

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Something that has perplexed me for a long time is why we put up with government providing so-called public services. Ask the little people two questions and I think I know what the answers will be. “Would you send your children to an independent school if you could afford to?” “Would you use private healthcare if you could afford to do so?” There will be some who will answer in the negative on grounds of political ideology, but my guess is that the vast majority would give affirmative answers. Then ask them why they would use private-sector services and my guess is that they would say they are better than the services offered by the State. It would, of course, be fair to point out that many of the answers would not be based on direct knowledge of the superior quality of private-sector schools and hospitals (although increasing numbers are now receiving treatment in private hospitals where they have had to wait too long for a new NHS hip or the removal of a gall bladder). However, one factor cannot, in my view, be denied namely that those providing services in the private sector have to keep their standards high or they will lose customers.

It seems to me that the problem with State education and healthcare is that they are provided by the State rather than just funded by the State. It leaves them open to political interference which, as we have seen in spades, creates huge difficulties for those actually delivering the services at the bottom of the pyramid. Constant chopping and changing of performance criteria does nobody any favours. One manifestation of that problem is that a top-down nationwide system of anything requires so many layers of bureaucracy that vast sums of money are consumed passing information back and forth.

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