Wednesday 7 September 2011

Why public services fail

Kenneth Clarke's intervention in the debate about the riots was a breath of fresh air.  If 83 per cent of those arrested had already been through the criminal justice system at least once - then the system is not doing its job properly.

What interests me is how much this same argument could be applied to other public services.  It may be ridiculous to expect that people who have been through the NHS once should not remain ill, or that so many interventions are required with problem families.  Yet that is what Beveridge expected when he set out the terms of the new welfare state in 1942.  He expected it to get cheaper because it was so effective.

In fact, of course, Beveridge's Five Giants have to be slain again and again, every generation at at increasing expense.  The political establishment needs to start asking why this is.  So far they have been too afraid to, but those of us who support public services need to start asking why the are not more effective.  And, yes, I've got some ideas (see my new book published next month!)

In the meantime, we may not embrace the cuts.  But we should not unthinkingly defend all public services exactly as they are, because there may just be more effective (and therefore cheaper) ways of doing the same job.

Are the cuts heading in that direction.  No they're not.  But this admission about the manifest failings of the crimial justice system is an opportunity where we might just begin the debate.

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