DH superhospital fiasco

The implementation of a plan to merge and renew three out of date hospitals into a superhospital in London has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee. The original plan estmated the total cost to be £300m and the project to be completed by 2006. But my May 2005 costs had risen to £894m and the hospital was expected to be finished only by 2013. The superhospital plans were cancelled in June 2006 after 5 years of struggle to get the project on course.

The Department of Health left the planning and managing of such a huge project to local staff who were not capable of overseeing the work carried out by DH's chosen PFI partners. The department did not set out sound plans from the outset and it was made worse by the fact that the creation of the superhotel was left in the hands of amateur and incompetent civil servants.  

Over budget IT projects

According to the official figures obtained by the Lib Dems, many information technology projects across government have overrun their initial budgets by more than £260 million over the last five years. The Department of the Environment Food and Rural (Defra) was the worst offender with the highest proportional overruns. Defra managed to run over budget by an average of 46 per cent with one scheme costing the department 72 per cent more than anticipated.The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Education had such poor management systems in place that they could not provide sufficient data. The Treasury itself overran by 7.3 per cent on its own projects.

Troubled Home Office

Tony Blair said on the BBC's Politics Show yesterday that Britain's prisons are "full to bursting point" but suggested that the public should be relieved that dangerous prisoners are being locked up for longer. The PM also said that the Home Office is facing some big problems.

Indeed, the Home Office and its problems have dominated the headlines for weeks now. And it does seem to be getting worse by the day with new revelations of its undone work and nonfulfillment of its responsibilities appearing daily.

Not so HIP

The government is determined to force home owners to pay more than £200 for a green energy certificate when they put their house on the market. HIPs (Home Information Packs) which will be obligatory from June this year, will rate houses' energy efficiency and must be available even before potential buyers view a property.

The initiative might encourage some people to make their homes more energy efficient but more likely it will reduce the housing stock and force prices even higher. Older houses are obviously less energy efficient and the new complication arising from the certificates might deter people from selling their properties.

Olympic budget

The celebrations of 2012 days left to the London Olympic Games a few days ago were overshadowed by the publication of a critical Commons Committee report. MPs (mainly Labour) criticised the planners for poor management of the games' finances.

The cost of the delivery has increased from £2.4bn to 3.3bn. This is a result of the planners not thoroughly thinking through the budget before they submitted their bid. Now the government wants taxpayers to foot the bill.

Red tape website

Pat McFadden, the Cabinet Office Minister, is set to announce today (23 January) at IPPR the relaunch of a website for complaints on red tape. The site will allow business and lobby groups to complain about specific regulations. The government will then review the proposals, repealing some laws but if it will reject a suggestion it will explain why it is necessary.

Sounds like a good idea.... but it was tried before and failed due to the lack of interest from businesses. So why bother again? Companies have heard it many times before that the government will listen to them and will ease their red tape burden. But the opposite has happened - rules and regulations have increased significantly since 1997. 

Overstretched and underfunded

According to the Telegraph, defence spending is lowest since the 1930s. Government figures show that 2.5% of the UK's GDP (About £32bn) was likely to be spent on defence in 2005-06 compared with 4.4% in 1978-88.

An MoD spokesperson said that the spending has increased in real terms. Obviously this is not enough to secure the efficiency of our defence forces and equipment. The UK's armed forces are clearly "overstretched" - it has 4 ongoing commitments (Iraq, Afganistan, Sierra Leone and Kosovo) operating with low levels of deployment and falling number of new recruits. Also, the current spending puts in risk the necessary renewal and upgrade of MoD's fleet.

GPs generous pay package

Since the new government contract with GPs, the average pay for GPs is now more than £100,000. The new contract was designed to give general practices additional funds to invest in improving and developing services to patients. But it was not anticipated that GPs would take higher share of income in profits and would not use the money to imrpove the services.

GP earnings have risen 63% in three years but many of them have given up out-of-hours work, home visits, working during the weekends and on average a GP works only 44 hours a week (from the Guardian).

Gordon the film-maker

British film industry seems to be doing better than ever. The UK Film Council recently revealed that £840m was spent last year (up by 48% from 2005). Also more studios are coming to Britain. The change has occured after the introduction of a tax regime designed to facilitate low-budget domestic productions and lure big-budget investment. Gordon has been offering up to 20% tax relief to the film industry since 2005.

This is a fine example of government picking winners. Why does it consider producing films to be such an important industry? After all, it's existence is not in any shape or form crucial for the wealth of the nation and making films is still the prerogative of a small elite. Now the government promotes their business further.

No trust in civil service

Lord Wilson, a former Cabinet Secretary, is writing in today's Telegraph how Tony Blair has "brought in an increasing number of consultants at huge cost and created a dizzying array of units for modernisation and delivery, armed with centralised targets and league tables."  He argues that this has ruined people's trust in the Civil Service.

Schools falling apart because of red tape

Gordon Brown promised in successive budget speeches

  • to rebuild or refurbish all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020
  • to spend £3bn a year on rebuilding or refurbishing
  • to complete 100 schools by this year and 200 the next
  • to sign 100 building contracts in 2006

But according to the figures obtained by the Conservatives, the schools investment programme has become mired in red tape. Nothing really has happened since Gordon announced the plans in 2004:

  • not a single project has been completed
  • the Government expects to open only 1

How sound is our money?

Wat Tyler posted an entry on his excellent Burning Our Money blog, pointing out that yesterday's interest-rate hike was a positive sign that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee were deciding to get back on top of inflation, not a disaster for an economy, as it was reported by much of the mainstream press. As usual, Wat is quite right, but I questioned the final part of his post:

"this time through all those pensioners, widows and orphans who've invested their savings in fixed income debt such as government bonds will be protected. For the first time since we abandoned the Gold Standard....Let us all give thanks for sound money."

I questioned not whether an increase in interest rates is necessary, but whether it is sufficient. Is it sufficient, for the purposes of maintaining sound money, to target changes in inflation indices with interest-rate adjustments, or can those inflation indices be misleading? In particular, I questioned whether expansion of the money supply and net sale/consumption of capital could conspire to give the appearance of only modest inflation (according to price indices) when the real value of our money and national wealth was falling faster than the indices indicated.

Blue plaques for trees

The Tree Council is calling for historic trees to be awarded "blue plaques" like historic buildings, concerned that "historic trees are left to wither and die".

Are blue plaques (or something equivalent) supposed to stop trees from withering and dieing? Can the Tree Council hold back the forces of nature?

The joy of protecting buildings is that owners are prevented from carrying out many essential improvements. Now owners of properties on which "historic trees" are located are to be faced with the same constraints.

Paperwork over patient care

It is reported today that Government reforms have led to patients being put at unnecessary risk by an over load of paperwork required by their carers. The British Medical Journal describes hospital wards as having "appalling conditions" and blames nurses for spending more time filling out paperwork that spending time on the wards.

All this negates the effects of a successful operation as many patients are catching hospital acquired infections or developing pressure sores.

Assets Recovery Agency to close at cost of £90m

The Assets Recovery Agency, set up four years ago with aim of seizing £60m a year in assets from organised crime, is to be closed. It cost £20m a year to run, yet only seized £4.4m a year. In total, the agency cost the tax payer £90m.
Yet another example of the Government making headlines with being tough on crime, throwing money at the problem, getting negative results and then making a silent retreat hoping no-one has noticed.

"Doing nothing is not an option"

"Doing nothing is not an option." So says the Government's spokesman, as an explanation for why they will press ahead with road pricing against strong public antipathy.

The culture of doing something because "something must be done" is what this site exists to challenge. Though it is endemic, you rarely hear this approach to government expressed so baldly.

There are arguments for and against road pricing. And there are arguments against those arguments. But "doing nothing is not an option" is no argument either in favour of any particular option, or against people who oppose that option. On that basis, you might as well stick your arm in the fire, because the flame is dieing and "something needs to be done".

Carbon offsetting

Tony Blair has promised to offset emissions from his holiday flights after opposition parties and green groups questioned his leadership on climate change. But offsetting emissions is not a solution to the problem. It is a great idea to pay for plating trees but it won't change our behaviour. Carbon offsetting only allows us to believe we can carry on polluting. Also, the timing is critical: "emissions saved today are far more valuable, in terms of reducing climate change, than emissions saved in 10 years' time, yet the trees you plant start absorbing carbon long after your fact

Chavez: I am the state

The re-elected Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, yesterday announced his plans to nationalise the main telecoms company and the likely nationalisation of a power company. The announcement is part of President Chavez's pledge "to radicalise his administration during his new 6-year term and fully convert Venezuela into a socialist state (FT)."  

State-funded Nazis

This is what happens when you fund political parties using taxpayers' money:

The excellent Open Europe think-tank reports in its Daily Press Summary that the British National Party (BNP) are to receive a share of the £130,000 of funding that the EU has been obliged to provide to a grouping of extreme nationalist political parties. The entry of Bulgaria and Romania has given such parties sufficient representation in the European parliament to entitle them to the funding that is automatically provided by the EU to pan-European political groups.