Saturday, 7 November 2015


Over the years, many people have drawn my attention to polls which suggest that a significant majority of people would be prepared to pay more tax or higher charges if the extra money raised was being directed to the NHS. As it happens, I support that view.
Unfortunately, the same people want to ignore all the research evidence which shows that, when actually offered that choice, people don’t vote to pay more. When challenged about the contradiction, people explain their decisions by saying “I didn’t believe the extra cash would go to the NHS” or “I would pay more…….. but only when the number of managers is cut, or there isn’t any waste,”.

Of course, we have the right to expect that all our public services are run efficiently, effectively and responsively and that there is a continuous quest for performance improvement. Actually, the evidence suggests that they are, despite the relentless flow of stories to the contrary from some parts of the media which are determined to promote a particular view of the world.

There is an irony in the fact that, as an important part of our democratic process, we devote resources to exposing and making transparent any failure in public performance. I’m the chair of an all-party select committee part of whose remit is to hold the government’s performance to public account and quite right too.

But, just imagine the outcry there would be if there was a proposal that all companies were required to fund overview and scrutiny of every aspect of their own performances and that all the information and findings had to be made public. 

I wonder what Volkswagen’s scrutiny committee would have disclosed about the technology for assessing noxious emissions? Or what would Tesco’s scrutiny committee have told us about its accounting practices? Or what would the banks’ scrutiny committees have told us about the integrity of their activities? 

As a matter of interest, the world’s biggest 20 banks have now paid getting on for £200bn in fines alone since 2008. But, despite the extent of public anger about the banks’ activities, in true contradictory style, when faced with the choice, the same people express reluctance to regulate to intervene.