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No one is in charge

Posted by Richard Sunday, March 18, 2012

The chattering classes in conference - but who is in charge?

Front page of The Sunday Telegraph offers a prolonged lament about the effects of the EU's working time directive, recording the huge amounts spent on temporary staff to fill the gaps created by the rules. Hospitals, we are told, spent more than £2 billion on temporary clinical staff in the two years since the rules came in, a sum which could have paid the wages of 48,000 nurses or 33,000 junior doctors over the period.

In response to this obscene waste, a spokesman for the Department of Health is cited, saying that trusts should always seek to negotiate the best value prices for locums. He adds that the government understood there were "real concerns" over the impact of the directive, and had begun EU negotiations to revise it.

Earlier, we published an item which has Charles Moore complaining in The Daily Telegraph that the "civil servants are the masters now".  But these "masters" apparently can't even affect a situation where billions of pounds are wasted on absurd and unnecessary rules, and must go trotting over to Brussels to ask permission to make changes.

It is evidence such as that which clearly indicates that, in vital aspects of our administration, the British civil service is most definitely not in charge. Similarly, it can hardly be Jeremy Heywood who is running the country, as Quentin Letts asserts. Had he such power, he would doubtless wave a magic wand and bring the absurdity to an end.

When it comes to the effects of the working time directive, however, doubtless the Brussels eurocrats did not intend to impose such a burden on the NHS. But, as it stands, they too are powerless to make changes – without going through due process, which will take years, if indeed it happens.

In the meantime, while money flows down the drain and taxpayers get steadily poorer, we have the unedifying prospect of legions of legislators and officials doing nothing but tell us their hands are tied.

Not for nothing did I once remark that the most prevalent activity, even on a European scale, was group bondage. But we should also recall a fascinating interview with Lord Salisbury recorded in July 2009. Then he said: "The parliamentary muscle is atrophying and we now have a vast, complicated, self-referential bureaucracy".

Whitehall, said Salisbury, is "mired in treacle". A clear line of authority from officials to ministers has been lost and must be restored. And, of Cameron trying to implement his own agenda, he declared: "He will go into Whitehall and pull the levers and find that nothing works. I don’t think he realises how Whitehall has become so broken".

Yet still we get the ineffable lightweights like Charles Moore, his ponderous prose mistaken for gravitas, completely failing to understand the malaise which afflicts modern government.

Thus, to spell it out yet again, as I did in December 2008, no one is in overall charge – there is no one to get a grip and sort the problems out. Everything is compartmentalised and detached, everyone doing their own little bit, without reference to their impact on other areas.

That, in a very real sense, I wrote, is the general paradigm. It was not always like that. But with power and responsibilities split, and spread between national and international bodies, no one person or entity – like the British government – has any longer the wherewithal to resolve even pressing issues.

And so the money pours down the drain and governance falls apart in front of our very eyes, while the MSM laments, without even beginning to understand what is happening. In pointing this out for the umpteenth time, though, I sometimes wonder what it is going to take to acquaint our chattering classes (pictured above) with reality.

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