In all the pre-election excitement/apathy/hype/horror (make your own selection and delete as appropriate) I have a novel idea for politicians of all parties everywhere. Promise, if elected, to do as little as possible. I'm convinced it's a winner.
How many "top to bottom," "root and branch," "once in a lifetime," etc., reorganisations of different areas of public service have we had in Britain in recent decades? Well, where education is concerned there have been upwards of forty - yes forty - attempts at total restructuring since the war. Obviously, we want to keep up with our competitors, like Germany, where there's been, er, one. Health has had an equally whirlwind time. Between 1993 and the present day there has been only one year (2007) when government has neither proposed nor implemented a major overhaul of the health service.
The funny thing is that all of these enormous and expensive reform programmes have the same agenda : deliver better value for money. In health things must, at the same time, be more, "patient-centred," "clinically driven," in education it's all about being "child-centred" and "letting teachers teach." And in the skill sector it's all about preparing people better for future jobs. I've observed through the years that once these reorganisations are carried out, a general consensus arises that far from promoting these ideals, the latest batch of changes turns them into even less realisable ambitions. Such is the frequency with which western governments (primarily in Britain and the USA) carry out these "once and for all" changes that a whole new area of study (or possibly protest) has grown up called Redisorganisation Theory. It works on the principle that the more frequent and far-reaching the policy, the more extreme the negative impact and the greater the cost. An article well worth reading in this context can be found in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1299350/ ) and is entitled, A surrealistic mega-analysis of redisorganization theories.
The piece has a cheek full of tongues but its overall conclusion has a certain resonance in so many areas of government saying, "We propose the establishment of ethics committees to review all future redisorganization proposals in order to put a stop to uncontrolled, unplanned experimentation inflicted on providers and users of the health services."
The big problem is that as each new wave of reform breaks over the remnants of the previous sweeping changes there is no way to judge what works and what doesn't. Imagine if FIFA took a break from awarding World Cups to unsuitable countries and generating questionable income (bitter that England (& StadiumMK) didn't win the bid to host the 2018 World Cup? Not me.) long enough to completely rewrite the rules of football every year. Tactics would go out of the window as teams struggled to acclimatise. Referees would be constantly uncertain about what was or wasn't a penalty, a yellow or red card. It would be chaos. Welcome to the world of health and education.
So, all you would-be members of Parliament out there, heed this cry and make this your plan for action after your glorious victory at the ballot box. Day One of the new government, ask those in health and education how much they need to provide the services the country demands. Day Two, ask the Chancellor for her or his response and have a debate about how much the nation can afford. Day Three, shuttle the bill back-and-forth between Lords and Commons and pass the figure into law. Day Four, go home, and leave the teachers and clinicians to decide how best to spend it. Day 1099 (three years later), come back and see how things are going.
Who could possibly fail to vote for that?