The Rise of Incompetence

Somehow, actual competence does not seem to be a requirement for appointment to senior office, at least in the UK.

And I think it seems quite obvious if you look around, or examine most organisations in which you might work or study. Yes, there is the UK Prime Minister as the quintessential incompetent example, but I actually don’t think of any of the front benches as having people I can identify as having shown any competence.

And it isn’t just politicians. A sadly long litany of bankers has shown themselves to be unequal to the demands of their tasks. And I think that University leaders show the same lack of ability to do the work for which they are employed. Is industry well-managed? Well clearly major infrastructure projects aren’t.

Of course, there will be some exceptions, and we don’t see them because they don’t do things wrong, but I don’t think it is rose-tinted looking at the past to suggest that the past was a better place for competent management.

Prime Ministers: Johnson, May, Cameron, Brown, Blair, Major, Thatcher, Callaghan, Wilson. I think Blair (with Brown, perhaps) was possibly the transition, but going backwards from Major is just a different class of competence to our last three. And if I look back at VCs, it seems about the same to me. And all the people that supported them, in the cabinet or Deans etc.

Why? Whose “fault” is it?

Is it the Peter Principle at work? Perhaps a bit, but only partially (and if so. why not before?)

We have allowed ourselves to be seduced by a desire for a bunch of characteristics that mean that people are unlikely to also be competent.

We want leaders who will promise better things, of course, but how? The idea is always radical change. It is never that we could perhaps manage what we do more competently – if you suggest that, you lack “vision”. And that is the word that Really Pisses Me Off – “vision”. If anyone aspires to lead, and doesn’t have “vision”, they are completely discounted. And of course they need a 10-point plan too, which promises to change everything.

Did you notice there was no discussion about being competent to actually achieve the vision of the plan? Who cares? They have Vision.

Quite a lot of this comes out of the MBA world, I think. You can manage an organisation without knowing or understanding anything of its business. It isn’t just that, but it contributes.

The Civil Service used to be able to plug the gap in the leaders’ competence, but because recently the leaders have been so incompetent that they almost destroyed it, the Civil Service doesn’t have anything like the capability to work competently as it used to.

Oh, I should have mentioned targets. No discussion of whether the targets are sensible. How many Covid-19 tests did we need to perform by 1st April? Who cares? We had a target of 10,000, and so the question (to our leaders) is simply whether “they” achieved that. How many tests do we actually need by the end of the month? Who cares? We have a target of 100,000, so that’s all we need to know.

Quite often this is all referred to as “populism”. I don’t think that is right, and dangerously misunderstands, because it is a very deep change; and the intelligentsia (or Notting Hill Set or whatever) are probably more to blame than the rest of the population. They are the ones who promote this idea of vision and plan and organisational revolution and targets. As if that was all that is needed to run an organisation.

Perhaps ironically, it seems that the political system in China is delivering competent leaders in all walks of life, where the UK system has signally failed.

Gove put his thumb on it when he said UK people have had enough of experts; but that should have been taken to mean people feeling that we don’t actually need people who have expertise in running things effectively and competently.

But I think we are seeing that in fact we do, and now when we really need them, and we look around for them, we can’t find any.

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My Experience of the Privatised NHS is crap

So it seems it is often accepted as given that the patient’s experience is improved when NHS services are delivered by external contractors.
And there are all sorts of issues to do with money and stuff, which I will ignore for now.

But, having just waited more than 20 minutes on the phone to get an answer from such a contracted company, I thought I would rant about how the whole experience was worse than I get from the “normal” NHS.

My GP referred me for ENT investigation.
I ended up being invited for a consultation with someone from something labelled as “Community Outpatients”. It is not immediately obvious that this is a private company, especially given the name, but it is.
I had the consultation; some treatment was prescribed, along with a CT scan.
The CT scan was at RHCH (Winchester NHS Hospital). That was amazing:- the whole visit and scan was executed so quickly that I didn’t pay any parking charges because I was in and out in less than 30 mins., including the scan itself and walking the length of the site twice.
I then had another consultation with Community Outpatients (by telephone, in fact, but that isn’t unusual nowadays, my GP does that), and was told they were recommending I look at having surgical treatment.
So I have now been referred (you guessed it) back into the maintstream NHS to see a consultant at the RHCH.

So what has happened?
Privatised service: I will have had three consultations with three different consultants, and then an operation scheduled. And they can’t even answer the phone in a timely manner, or provide the records I need, by the way.
Non-privatised: (Typically) I would have two consultations with the same consultant and then an operation scheduled. And I can get through on the phone.

OK – not *such* a big difference, but the point is that it is different, and *worse*, not *better*.

And what really pisses me off, of course, is that my worse experience has cost the NHS *more* money. At the minimum, they have had to fund an extra consultation.
In fact, they will have also put some profit into someone’s pocket. I accept that Community Outpatients has managed some stuff, and therefore can be paid for management as well as the clinical stuff, but they are actually a big business making a chunk of profit from my taxes that are funding the NHS.

If you want to know, they are one of a number of subsidiaries of Concordia Health Holdings LLP, which is owned by two Mr Hurds from Nottingham, and which had a turnover of over £18M in 2016, with a gross profit of over £6M.

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“It’ll be alright”

And yes, I mean Brexit.

I heard this yet again the other night from a street interview on TV: we might have a bit of short term economic disruption, but it’ll be alright after that.

I mean, where does the come from? Since when did the the future of me, my children and grandchild(ren) depend on some vague conviction that “it’ll be alright”, without any decent study of the processes, and attempt to understand?

Being an old fart, I see this as part of the decline of society, and it isn’t just Brexit, of course. I have a sense that Trumpism is the same. People can’t be bothered (or don’t want to) think about and try to work out what will happen. They want something to change, and vote for something to change, and just do, confident in the ‘knowledge’ that “it’ll be alright”.

I suspect that the same is true of many of the credit bills being run up – I don’t have the money now, and I don’t know where it will come from in the future, but “it’ll be alright”. Although I have no evidence for that.

So what is going on?

Is it anti-intellectualism – we can’t trust those experts? I’m not so sure.

I have a feeling it is just that the world feels so complicated, that any attempt to actually analyse and predict just feels so hard, that it feels like it isn’t worth trying. It is much easier to believe that “it’ll be alright”, and just go with the flow.

Only, of course, the future won’t be like you want it to be just because that’s what you want.

I am reminded of when I used to play chess as a 12 year old, and why I stopped playing. It would get to the complex middle game, an hour or two in, and I would make a big mistake. I worked out that what happened was that I had been sitting looking at some difficult combination for a while, and it just got so hard, that I would just say to myself “Yeah, I think this move is OK – what could go wrong? Anyway, it’s only a game.” A few moves later I would have discovered what could go wrong, when I lost a piece, or whatever. This meant that I had to grind on for another two or three hours trying to rescue a draw, when what should have happened is that I won.

This is, I think, what is happening with Brexit and many other decisions being made – and, unfortunately it isn’t just a game.

And here’s some more from later:

In technology, the government is pathetic with this.
1. Let’s ban end-to-end encryption. But e-Commerce will die. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
2. Let’s have a backdoor in mobile devices. But it will put everyone’s data at risk. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
3. Let’s require ISPs etc. to log everything. But that puts peoples privacy and human rights at risk. Oh, it’ll be alright, someone will solve the problem.
4. Let’s require all porn sites to verify the age of uses. But all sorts of things might go wrong and are unpredictable. Oh, it’ll be alright.

And, as Steve Harris said, what about climate change, population growth, the end of high levels of employment.

I think what really pisses me off about it is the utter and outrageous irresponsibility of it all. The population elects people to spend their time understanding the consequences of actions. That is what they have to do. And so many just completely renege on the deal.

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More rich kids going to university

So they have noticed that the average income of the parents of graduating lawyers, medics, etc has risen sharply over the last 25 years. And they (BBC) interview two parents who say it is too expensive, the second of which says he sent his first daughter but can’t afford to send his second.

So what is the initiative to address the imbalance?

Let’s have lots of career advisors, outreach from universities, role models, etc. to change the expectations that kids from poorer homes have.

Excuse me, what is the main thing that has happened in the last 15 years? Tuition fees. What were the parents saying? The problem is money.

Were tuition fees or financial issues even mentioned in the subsequent discussion? No.

So lets have an army of people changing the expectations of kids from poor families that their parents can’t possibly match financially – that’s a nice recipe for familial harmony.

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The usual lie about privatisation

“It will give the Royal Mail greater commercial freedom and enable it to open talks with continental rivals” (Mandelson in Sunday Times, 2008-12-14)

Er, excuse me, this is not the only way. Simply changing the treasury rules, etc would allow this to happen. Any lack of commercial freedom is simply because the government imposed rules say that state-owned companies should not have commercial freedom.

Exactly the same could be achieved by running an organisation such that the government is the sole shareholder. In fact, I think the newly-nationalised banks are being run like this, and apart from the tendency of the government/shareholder to interfere, are not losing out on commercial freedom.

The usual canard.

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