Public service reform anyone?

Ignoring the lessons, not learning them

Shoesmith on the court stepsShoesmith on the court steps
So Ed Balls, thanks to the Sharon Shoesmith case, comes bouncing back into the limelight. The Shoesmith case is a tangled web of incompetence held together by emotion. As Ken Clarke found out last week with his remarks about rape there are some subjects that carry seriously high voltage emotion; this means rational debate and analysis is overwhelmed. It looks as if the same process is going to happen again and working out who did what with Balls, Shoesmith and others will be hard going. As things stand so far, as you might have guessed, nobody is doing well and looking good.

It is a sad fact that many children die in circumstances similar to the death of the child in the Shoesmith case. Also that the head of Social Services in the district is never sacked. What happened to Shoesmith was simple, Balls made the big gesture, he sacked her, to win favour from the public for a failing government. So in that respect Shoesmith has a case. She has also pointed to failings in other organisations, the police for example, yet all the attention is focused, so far, on her.

It is a tradition that child abuse cases take over the MSM, first when the crime is reported and then during the hearing of the case. There is a mood of collective guilt that overlooks fine detail and as a finale to this awful theatre appreciates the closing act, which shows assorted public servants standing on the court steps solemnly intoning their guilt and sadness but assuring us that "lessons will be learnt". Despite the fact that it is also tradition to mention "the family" these public servants are not addressing them or even the general public. They are talking to the MSM and a panoply of cameras fussing, clicking and flashing throughout. It is not a solemn occasion it's a charade.

Nobody ever stops to wonder if the very fact that so many children die in this way means that the response is the right one. The cynical observer might wonder if it suits the authorities to leave things as they are. Some public service jobs do seem overpaid, over- pensioned and the people doing them overvalued. Shoesmith is not the first public servant to display a breathtaking degree of self-worth. It is time to admit that no amount of input into Social Services can make them work well enough to answer all of the problems they are supposed to cure.

However, anyone looking for change in the structure of Social Services, or any other public service, faces a long wait. Do remember that reform of the NHS was a well aired topic in the run up to the general election. NHS reform was even mentioned in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Yet it is the LDs who are leading the fight to prevent reform. And they do so because there are a lot of votes in the public services, the status quo suits the people and the organisations. The idea is, if we just leave them alone they will be better able to 'serve' the public and that all reform equates to dismantling and reduction. At no point can the quality and cost of these services be discussed.

But even within this case there have been moments of pure comedy. The Labour Party has spent years making it next to impossible to sack anyone and it's Balls who demonstrates this is a fact and in doing so costs the taxpayer yet more money. The part played by the MSM in getting this Shoesmith case up to its present emotive level was put into sharp focus by the John Humphrys' Radio 4 interview with Shoesmith. It was, as a Humphrys' interview, pretty standard fare; the typical hectoring style, he kept banging on about shame and blame, more emotive rather than substantive stuff. To her credit Shoesmith just batted him aside.

The humour here was that Humphrys is another overpaid, over-pensioned and overvalued person. He too, like Shoesmith, is not alone in having a breathtaking degree of self-worth. The BBC would have us believe that Humphrys is worth every penny of public money they pay him. They would also have us remember he gets up before dawn to do this radio programme. But then so do countless train drivers and farmers, they get up at dawn too. Lessons will be learnt, I ask you, have you ever heard so much tosh?