Leaders: Osborne left praying for an economic miracle | NHS care should begin at home
SOMETIMES only a good Scots word is equal to the task, and the word that comes to mind when considering George Osborne at the moment is “thrawn”.
The Tory Chancellor appears determined to stick to his Plan A in defiance of the weight of opinion and evidence that concludes his strategy is not only wrongheaded, but it is also damaging the economy it is designed to rescue.
Yesterday that tottering pile of evidence was added to in a manner that surely should have prompted a twitch of hesitation in 11 Downing Street. New numbers on Britain’s public borrowing showed the UK had to seek an extra £600 million last month. This came as a surprise, as July is usually a month that places no great demands on the public purse (in the same month last year, for example, there was a surplus of almost £3 billion). The Treasury put the blame on poor corporation tax returns.
What makes this evidence more damning than the recent testimony of Nobel laureates or the litany of worsening indicators on youth unemployment, investment and growth is that this indictor is the ultimate litmus test of the success or failure of Osborne’s strategy. The government’s entire focus from day one in power was to reduce government debt. That was almost its rationale for power. It was to be the key policy on which the administration would be judged. And now, duly judged on this measure, Osborne is plainly failing to make an impact.
If Osborne cannot point to borrowing as a sign of success, what can he possibly hold up as justification for continuing with the policy he adopted more than two years ago? Are the credit rating agencies really so twitchy about Britain’s debt that any straying from the austerity path would invoke their wrath? Or are the financial institutions with a stake in Britain’s future prosperity not just as likely to be expressing nervousness about our poor prospects for growth?
Even the Treasury’s explanation for last month’s unexpected new borrowing should have set some alarms bells ringing in government. Poor corporation tax returns are a sign that businesses aren’t selling and the public isn’t buying. Key aspects of the Osborne plan – notably the untested theory that a surge in private sector business would compensate for the cash sucked out of the economy through cuts in public sector spending – have simply not materialised, and show no sign of doing so.
Yesterday, a Treasury spokesman said: “The government remains committed to the credible plan we have set out to deal with Britain’s debts.” There are two problems with this sentence. First, the plan is no longer credible; and second, it isn’t dealing with Britain’s debts, as last month’s numbers clearly indicate. The Chancellor is bereft of answers and – increasingly – of respect. His entire strategy now seems to be to sit tight and wait for a miracle. This is no way to govern a country.
NHS care should begin at home
ONE of the most commented-upon moments in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics was when scores of hospital beds on wheels were shunted together so that, when seen from above, they spelled out the initials “NHS”.
At the time, it was assumed this was a simple tribute to one of the Britain’s most iconic and much-loved institutions. Now – after it was revealed yesterday that the National Health Service in England is to market itself abroad as an international healthcare provider – perhaps we should instead regard that moment as an inspired piece of corporate advertising.
When did the NHS become a brand? Is there no aspect of our lives left untouched by corporatisation? Here in Scotland we have resisted the kind of private sector involvement in the NHS that in England is regarded as commonplace. To many Scots, the arguments about financial efficiency and clinical specialisation count for nothing – people are simply uncomfortable with the idea of a private company providing their operations or medical care.
It is understandable in the current economic climate that civil servants in Whitehall will want to explore every avenue as they try to make every penny count, as public sector cuts bite deep. But is figuring out how best to provide healthcare in the Middle East and China really the most effective use of NHS bureaucrats? Or should they be concentrating on the core task of looking after the sick and injured in hospitals at home, and in the community, where there is plenty of scope for improvement?
The question that needs to be asked of this scheme is not “how much money can it make?” but rather “how can it help the British NHS deliver better care?”
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