Saturday 31 July 2010

A bad day with Eurostar

I had a nightmare journey back from Paris with the family on the Eurostar yesterday. Actually, to be precise, the journey was fine, it was the bizarrely disorganised queuing system – overwhelmed check-ins and long queues snaking around the station’s mezzanine at the Gare du Nord.

Our train was delayed for 20 minutes while they desperately tried to get their booked passengers on board. The Eurostar staff blamed the UK immigration desks for the chaos, and I’m sure they were at least partly right – this is obviously an ongoing argument.

On the other hand, what Eurostar revealed was a completely inflexible system. It could deal with no variation, either in the number or the kind of passengers (the mix of nationalities was bound to have an impact on immigration). The result was a kind of rigid hopelessness which I don’t want to experience again.

I mention this here because this same kind of inflexibility is now such a feature of UK public services, thanks to ten years of Gordon Brown at the Treasury. It is the result of a muddle by the government and its advisors (mainly IT consultancies) about what constitutes efficiency – and whether industrial processes can achieve it.

It is time we formulated a Liberal critique of the staggering inefficiency of systems that are supposed to be dealing with people, otherwise I’m afraid – thanks to other strange industrial fantasies like ‘Lean’ – that we’ll be getting more of them.


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