Category Archives: Public Sector

Public sector management and including all not for profit organisations

The Care Home Pandemic Lesson

The mortality statistics reported as resulting from Covid-19 refer only to those who die in hospital. Those who die at home or in care homes are not included, even though, despite such obfuscation, it is known the death rate among the elderly and infirm accommodated in care homes far exceeds death rates among NHS patients. It has become clear that such care home residents have been abandoned, not by care home staff – there have been many stories of their heroic human caring – it is the system that has abandoned those in care. It is a valuable lesson, first learned decades ago, and it has far wider relevance than care homes.

That abandonment is longstanding and is well known and understood. The sector has been made available for rape and pillage with impunity, as indicated in the following quotes. The solution is clear.

The Lesson of Southern Cross, 10th June, 2011:
10th June 2011: “On 1st September, 1976, Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University, economic theoretician and Nobel laureate, addressed the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The title of his talk was “The Road to Economic Freedom: The Steps from Here to There”. Friedman, being the quintessential free market fundamentalist, took a dim view of the mixed British economy with around 60% of national income then being spent by government. He prescribed the ‘shock treatment’ of low flat rate taxes and wholesale privatisation which a few years later Margaret Thatcher implemented.

His justification for privatising provision of education and healthcare was simplistic in the extreme. ‘There is,’ he argued, ‘a sort of empirical generalisation that it costs the state twice as much to do anything as it costs private enterprise, whatever it is.’ Friedman didn’t actually have any data to support this contention, but added that ‘My son once called my attention to this generalisation, and it is amazing how accurate it is’ (See Friedman, M, 1977, From Galbraith to Economic Freedom, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, p57).

That simplistic assertion held sway for the next three decades and still rules our lives. His advocacy of privatisation of public provision justifies, among other things, the provision of care homes for our aging population by the likes of Southern Cross. It turned out not to be twice as efficient as any public sector provision, and it threatens to go bust leaving the state to clean up the mess.

The nub of the Southern Cross problem arises from another Friedmanism, that corporate officials had no social responsibilities other than ‘to make as much money as possible for stockholders’. In the case of Southern Cross, those stockholders were at one time the private equity firm Blackstone, headed up by ex-Lehman Brothers mergers and acquisitions specialists. Their interest in making as much money as possible led Southern Cross to the classic asset strippers’ strategy of the sale and lease back of its portfolio of care homes, realising an estimated surplus of £500m for Blackstone. It may or may not have been ‘as much money as possible’.” (https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/06/10/the-lesson-of-southern-cross/)

Big Society Public Services – the Next Government Shambles, 22nd July, 2011:
22nd July 2011: “The Open Public Services White Paper, announced on 11th July, sneaked out under cover of the Murdoch mess, looks like being the next government created shambles. Like its approach to the NHS, it betrays a breathtaking lack of nouse and understanding. The government claims its aim is to improve the quality and reduce the cost of all public services. This magical result is to be achieved by opening them up to provision by private and voluntary organisations, in competition with their existing public providers. … opening public services is likely to result in bids from the private for-profit sector, against the existing public provider. And private for-profit providers can, by definition, go bust. Health Minister, Paul Burstow says the new NHS regulator, Monitor, would ensure providers do not copy the “risky business model” of Southern Cross, the bankrupt care home provider.”( https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/07/22/big-society-public-services-the-next-government-shambles/#more-942)

Looting and Rioting – Bob Diamond Again, 15th August, 2011:
15th August 2011: “Over the past few days, the famine in East Africa, the US loss of its S&P triple A credit rating, the Murdoch disgrace, the Eurozone indebtedness and Greece’s odious debt, and even the World Championship Hen Races in Derbyshire, have all been driven from the front pages, at least in UK, by the looting and burning street riots. Consideration of their underlying causes and recommended solutions have dominated the media. Prime Minister Cameron, for example, expert in policing and broken societies, apparently wants to appoint a native from gun-toting America, to show British police how to do their job …

What is the main difference between those young people stealing mobile phones, laptops, trainers, and so on, and the likes of Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin, Bob Diamond and Stephen Schwarzman? One-time RBS CEO Fred Goodwin broke the bank with brainless debt and acquisitions and ‘shredded’ many thousands of jobs. Bob Diamond, currently CEO of Barclays Bank, has featured from time to time on this site primarily for his socially useless work and exorbitant take home pay. Stephen Schwarzman is billionaire boss of Blackstone Group, the private equity outfit that among other things, stripped the now bankrupt Southern Cross healthcare group of its main assets and made off with an estimated £500million. They differ from the looting, burning rioters in two main respects, Firstly, the scale of their looting far exceeds anything which has happened on the streets. And, secondly, what Goodwin, Diamond and Schwarzman do, has over the last thirty years been legalised, so they can do it with impunity.” (https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/08/15/looting-and-rioting-bob-diamond-again/)

Screwing care-homes still makes the easiest money, 5th September, 2015:
5th September 2015: “Taxpayers are going to have to pay for another big care home operator, throttled by tax avoiding financial predators. According to its chief financial officer, Four Seasons, which runs 450 care homes and 50 specialist care units, ‘is reviewing its finances with all options considered’. One option would be to close down, leaving the taxpayer to pick up responsibility for its 20,000 residents and patients.

Four Seasons is carrying debts of £500million on which it is paying interest of around £50million. It’s not immediately obvious how they got into so much debt nor why they should be paying interest at 10% pa when the official bank rate is 0.5%….
The tax avoiding financial predator that acquired Four Seasons was private equity Terra Firma Capital Partners, owned by Guernsey based Guy Hands. The acquisition was completed a few months after the collapse of Southern Cross had demonstrated how profitable such deals could be.

Terra Firma was in the news earlier this year with demonstrations against subsidiary Annington residential homes’ proposed demolition of 142 homes on the Sweets Way estate in north London. They were accommodating families on Barnet Council’s waiting list, but Hands’ plan was to replace them with 229 houses and flats for sale on London’s booming property market.

Four Seasons is losing money at a rate of knots, £26million in the second quarter of the current year. While they blame the losses on various extraneous factors, it is clear that public funding of social care for the elderly is inadequate. But the only way it will be increased is when the mess has to be sorted at public expense when Four Seasons goes bust. That the taxpayer has to pick up the tab is a major attraction of care homes and any privatised NHS services. Once privatised, the new operators can profit by delivering sub-standard service, till they go bust and the state has to pick up the pieces.

Guy Hands explains his perspective on private equity on the Terra Firma website http://www.terrafirma.com/private-equity-investment.html:
The private equity funds we raise are used to acquire asset-backed businesses that can be transformed through fundamental change.’

This is a rather more sophisticated way of making the asset stripper’s case as succinctly expressed in The Times by Jim Slater protégé, John Bentley, forty five years ago:
‘The theory of what we are doing is to release half the cash, half the assets and half the number of people employed.’
(https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2015/09/05/screwing-care-homes-still-makes-the-easiest-money/)

There are many long standing, ethical and professional operators in the care home sector. But they appear to have been largely deserted by the state. The Southern Cross and Four Seasons examples show just what a perfect opportunity care homes present for predatory exploitation. Being asset rich and earnings poor, means they can be acquired at low cost, their assets cashed in and they can then be driven on a shoe string and if they subsequently go bust, so what! The state will have to pick up the tab.

But the problem goes much wider than just the care home sector. Four decades of ideologically driven privatising and outsourcing of public sector provision, including health services, places much of the work previously fulfilled by the NHS in private hands. Predatory, tax evading and avoiding, private equity acquirers who are not subject to public quotation or review, could then fulfill their mission by extracting value and leaving enfeebled operations to be picked up and paid for by the tax payer.

The solutions are fairly obvious and have been highlighted many times in the past. The care home pandemic lesson in particular is a relearning experience and reminder of what needs to be done. But it is unlikely to be easy to implement.

F D Roosevelt identified the basic problem over eight decades ago when he referred to organised money, which “had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as Government by organised mob.” (F D Roosevelt, announcing the Second New Deal, October, 1936.)

It remains to be seen if state responses to Covid-19 will amount to a 21st century New Deal, which as well as defeating the pandemic, will need also to  remake the real economy as well as escaping destruction by organised money.  And if planet earth is to be made fully sustainable, to do so on a permanent basis.

The Lessons of Carillion and Grenfell

Back in 1989, J K Galbraith addressed newly graduated women students of Smith College, Massachusetts. He was advocating the pursuit of simple truth and warning of the dangers posed by ‘institutional truths’. They were not truths at all, but overarching lies which had to be bought into if an individual was to survive and prosper in a particular setting.

Neoclassical economics was perhaps one of the most elaborate systems of institutional truths yet invented. Generations of dedicated economists have bought into it and then added further intricate detail of depth and breadth of institutional truth to the ideology.

The neoclassical foundation was built on simplistic assumptions of homo economicus, profit maximising business and a complete disregard for observed reality as well as for any wider context such as social and ecological systems. It also excluded any consideration of values and for the long term impacts of economic decisions. The maths simply was unable to accommodate such fundamental factors.

The generation of neoliberals associated particularly with Chicago University and in particular, Milton Friedman, added final touches to the ideology which was grasped by the Reagan and Thatcher administrations and has maintained its stranglehold on Anglo-America ever since. Those final touches include commitment to minimised flat rate taxation, minimised state involvement in the economy, minimised market regulation and the conversion of profit maximising business – which at least allowed potentially beneficial allocations of maximised profit – to shareholder value maximising which denominated everything, not just profits, as the property of shareholders.

The many institutional truths, that is lies, on which those various tenets of neoliberal economics are based have been well covered elsewhere on this website. Minimised market regulation doesn’t lead to competitive markets benefitting customers, but to markets regulated by financialised monopolists for their own benefit. Minimised government for the people by the people, doesn’t lead to freedom for the people, but to government by organised money for organised money. Minimised flat rate taxation doesn’t reduce the tax burden on the mass of people but on the rich monopolists who lead the self-perpetuating organised money establishment.
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Outsourcing: What a Waste!

Occasionally I have read stuff which seems so timely and apposite to work on which I am then engaged, that I’ve been motivated to provide an aide memoire of the text. This posting provides such a review of one 2015 text; it is not a summary and includes some personal interpretation; it is more a personal aide memoire of the opening chapter.

The book starts off with two rivetingly relevant-to-today quotes, one from 1936, the other from 1885.

Reading Review: What a waste: outsourcing and how it goes wrong, Bowman et al, 2015, Manchester University Press

Chapter 1 Outsourcing: organised money and disabled government

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs.  We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as Government by organised mob.”  F D Roosevelt, announcing the Second New Deal, October, 1936.

“The common rights of ownership have disappeared. Some of them have been sold; some of them have been given away by people who had no right to dispose of them; some of them have been lost through apathy and ignorance; some have been stolen by fraud; and some have been acquired by violence.  Private ownership has taken the place of these communal rights, and this system has become so interwoven with our habits and usages, it has been sanctioned by law and protected by custom, that it might be very difficult and perhaps impossible to reverse it.  But then, I ask, what ransom will property pay for the security which it enjoys?” Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham Town Hall speech, January, 1885.

1.1 Introduction: The text addresses new problems created by outsourcing public services to private contractors. It considers the gap between efficiency rhetoric and delivery reality and between public service and the outsourcers’ profit maximising and tax manipulation.

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Saving the NHS

What does it mean that the NHS is in deficit to the tune of £930m? It’s not a business trying to make a profit for its shareholders – the deficit doesn’t refer to losses. The forecast is that the deficit will be as much as £2.8bn by the end of the financial year next April. But that’s the difference between the actual costs of delivering NHS services, still mostly free at the point of delivery, and the budgeted costs agreed by the Health Secretary for the financial year. It looks like the Health Secretary got the figures badly wrong.

The budget figures are set and NHS Trusts have to work out how such targets can be met. Clearly a major component of costs relate to staff: doctors, nurses and other staff. The only way the budgeted figures could be achieved is to reduce numbers employed. So those cuts are made as a result of the annual budget process. The shadow health secretary quoted a figure of 6,000 nursing posts, for example, as being cut during the last parliament.
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Corbyn-led coalition government

The dominant political, financial and media establishment seems close to resolving the outstanding Labour leadership problem to its satisfaction. There will be no serious challenge from Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper, or, of course, Liz Kendal. Nor would there have been from Mary Creagh who pulled out of the leadership race, blaming Miliband’s lack of business friendliness as the reason Labour lost the election. The only difficulty might lie with Jeremy Corbyn, should he achieve the necessary nominations to stand for the leadership.

Corbyn could be dangerous to the established Tory/ New Labour Westminster consensus simply because he does not go along with it. His candidacy would challenge that Osborne-Cameron clique in a way the other candidates would fear to tread.
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The Royal Mail Rip-off Continues

Estimates vary of the extent to which taxpayers were ripped off when the Royal Mail was privatised. Experts quote nice round figures like a billion pounds, or two and a half billion. Precision is impossible, but clearly the taxpayer’s loss was pretty enormous. It was a cock-up. Or maybe it was intended.

For three decades, UK governments have acted as liquidators of state assets. By raising cash, these disposals have enabled the administrators to continue in government till the next election, beyond which no politician needs, apparently, to concern themselves. It looks like pretty standard bankruptcy practice.
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Hope and the Green Party

We are experiencing an explosion of inequality to levels not seen since the darkest days of the nineteenth century, inequality, not just of wealth but, as George Monbiot suggested (The Guardian, 2nd April 2013), also of ‘decency, honesty and kindness’. His analysis is that the 99% have the virtues, while the 1% have the vices, and the money. It may seem a bit simplistic, but there’s a whole lot of truth in it.

So why does the largely decent majority put up with it? Well, first of all, the media barons, such as Murdoch and Rothermere are still calling the shots. And the corporates continue to invest billions lobbying to pervert true democracy, driving political momentum from the socially minded left of centre to a predatory finance dominated right. The 1% still rule, nurtured by 13 years of New Labour largely driven by the mindless free market ideology. But there is still hope that common sense will prevail over dogmatic belief and practical experience over blind theory. Monbiot suggests that a spark of that hope lies in the Green Party.
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