Thursday, 22 November 2012

Want a Caring Society? Privatise the Public Sector.

Now I know what's coming, the usual tirade about the private sector being evil, putting money above all else and anybody working in it, is someone who's likely to sell their own grandmother, if it would make them a quid or two.

 The cry in defense of not privatising will be, only the fluffy public sector will care for our elderly, house our poor and look after our children.

 But we all know that is just not true.

 Anybody that's had any dealing with the public sector of late, whether it be a job centre, benefits office, local authority or social services will alert you to this.

 The immediate reaction when you mention privatisation is statements like: “What about A.T.O.S, that's a private company making money from inflicting the misery on disabled Britain's by forcing them off benefits. That's what your privatisation does.” Well, no, it doesn't. You see the problem with A.T.O.S and all other private organisations that are commissioned to run government schemes is that they end up acting and behaving just as if they were the public sector.

 And that's why I genuinely believe that the privatisation of the entire sector is the only way to go.

You see, people in the Public Sector just don't care. It's cultural, it's embedded in every organisation, like words through a stick of rock, the notion of doing the right thing has been either kicked or eroded out of them. Replaced instead with the type of people whose primary interest is job protection & their own salaries, rather than concern for the people they are paid to serve.

 Spend anytime in the waiting room of Westminster Council homeless help centre and you'll see what I mean. No understanding, no compassion. They behave as if they were child soldiers, programmed to kill without guilt or remorse. Ignoring the pleas of hard working mothers on the edge of eviction, to turn away and talk about what happened on X-Factor on Saturday.

 So, it really should come as no surprise when those kind of services are commissioned out to the private sector, that nothing really changes other than (theoretically) reduced cost.

The contracts are drafted by the Public Sector, the measures of success created and monitored by the Public Sector, many of the employees will come from the Public Sector and the whole thing is paid for by the Public Sector.

 So I'm not suggesting we privatise bits of it. I'm saying privatise it all.

 And not with monolith companies either.

For example, run every job centre as a franchise and make the measure of success based on customer satisfaction, not just outcomes.

 Don't think of conglomerate businesses in the private sector, think about chefs, artists, musicians, painters, film-makers, who are all part of that very same sector.

Think about the commitment and passion they invest in their work, the sacrifices they make to produce something great.

 Remember that amazing service you received from a waitress that's probably not even making minimum wage or the trouble your local dry cleaner went to, to ensure that annoying stain was removed and wouldn't dream of making any extra charge for it and you'll start to see what I mean.

 I worked in what was then the D.H.S.S. (or Dole office if you'd prefer) in Cardiff when I was 17/18 and was ostricised for not joining the local trade Union. I was earning more money than some of my friends parents who lived in my home town in the Welsh Valleys. I was on flexi-time so could come in and go pretty much as I pleased, had an index linked pension, guaranteed sick pay and holidays only teachers dream of, all for doing a job a lobotomised monkey could have done in its sleep.

 There was no rhyme or reason for me joining a union. But still, grown “adults” sent me to Coventry and wouldn't speak to me for weeks in the hope they could bully me into becoming one of them.

I didn't acquiesce.

 I was concerned for my claimants, the people who came into my office in need of help. It was they that mattered,

I'd been on the other side of that bazooka proof plastiglass and knew exactly what it felt like, but I was very much in the minority. In an office of 300 people there was only one other who thought and behaved like me. Thankfully, he'd been doing the job for years and between us, we'd often side step some ludicrous blockage to someone getting their benefits, by finding some obscure law, long buried in the regulations, so we could apply common sense rather than just follow policy.

 The last straw came when my Manager (SEO) said I should tell my claimants their cheques were in the post, 4 weeks into one of the biggest postal strikes on record, with post boxes nailed up and cheques siting in our finance office, all because he wanted to avoid the additional paperwork created by handing them over at the counter. I simply walked out of the building and never returned.

 These attitudes have not only not been eradicated, they have worsened over the past 25 years. They are embedded and they are cultural and to eradicate them, we have to change the culture of the organisation and the only way to do that, is start afresh.

 I work in the private sector, I have two film & TV production companies, one for profit and one not-for-profit. And all the people I work with are never interested in money. They do it for the love of the work and in the hope you can make something great. Some even end up forking out their own cash (as do I) to get involved. They are talented, hardworking and committed to improving society through television or film.

 This in stark contrast to the people I have to deal with in the Public Sector. Whether it was the ICO (information commissioners office) taking a year to get Equifax to put right an error on my credit file or Companies House, who failed to get a signature for a recorded letter but continued to act as if they had and suspended my bank account. Everyone's got a hundred stories of dispassion, failure and upset caused by the public sector. Equally, we've all got a hundred stories of people going out their way in the private sector, heres a couple of mine from the past week:

 Katie a waitress at the restaurant Giraffe on Southbank, London, epitomised the difference beautifully. I regularly go in for a Breakfast Special (£5 breakfast selection and a drink) and last Monday was no exception. Unfortunately they had changed the menus and the offer was no longer running. Katie could have easily just informed me of this and forced me to pay the full price (£10). You know the public sector would have done. But she didn't. She went to great lengths to offer me what I'd came in for, side stepping computer systems that wouldn't allow her to put through the deal. She wasn't of the ilk “Computer says no!” oh no. She was “screw the computer, I'm in charge here, I have the power”. Was it against company policy, probably, but what was the end result. I got what I came in for, so I was happy, she got a very pleased customer, so she was happy and Giraffe will be talked about all over town, have my continued custom for life and they'll be happy.

Access storage on hearing I was in hospital and struggling to sort out payments, just suspended them for 3 months, then froze the fees so I didn't get any increases. This is a so called money grabbing business, heartless.

 Yet at the same time I was being treated appallingly by Social Workers & staff in the hospital who were allegedly trying to find me housing as I'd become wheelchair bound. Literally, at one point, just being abandoned on the street unable to move.

Involved were a Nursing Practitioner (earning £58,000 a year) a discharge co-ordinator manager (earning £48,000 a year) and Social Workers (all on salaries over £35,000 a year).

And just yesterday my friend Daphna posted this on her Facebook wall:

"Patient calling dentist: "sorry I just discovered I will not be able to pay for the treatment we've schedualed for today until the next months maybe we should delay the appointment till next month? Dentist: "That's alright, the important thing is that we get that treatment done, sort us out when you can. Do not worry about it" Dr. Vicky Lee, Primrose Hill. Who brought that angel into my life?"

So even in the privatised world of medicine, we are seeing more and more good people than in the public sector.

My brother is a dentist, an excellent one in fact (and no I'm not biased), so good in fact, that he could no longer afford to be an NHS dentist. He'd taught his patients how to look after their teeth, through children's programs, lessons with hygienist etc. and most of his patients don't need treatment.

Rather than be rewarded for these huge savings and community benefits though, the NHS only pays for treatments. So it's not in the interest of an NHS Dentist to offer you good oral care, which may explain the giving of sugar infested lollipops if you got an all clear when you were a child?

So isn't it time we encouraged the caring society, gave great service in all our deliveries and have the users satisfaction above that of incoherent policy. For that, we must privatise the entire public sector and instil the customer focus we are so used to in the best of what the private sector has to offer.

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