Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sharon Shoesmith, David Nicholson, BBC Execs: rewarding failure is now endemic

Rewarding failure is something we’re getting very good at in this country. At the height of the crash in 2008 eye-watering bonuses paid to discredited bank bosses symbolised all that was wrong with extreme laissez faire capitalism. We bailed out the banks, and in turn they thanked us by bailing out their own. To the sum of millions.

Recent years the spotlight has shone on the public sector and on the failings of those at the top. Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of Haringey children’s services, who oversaw the department at the time of the Baby P scandal, has walked away with compensation believed to be around £600,000. Compensation that is for what she saw as her unfair dismissal. She was reportedly after a cool £1million.
Of course she didn’t actually kill one year-old Peter Connelly, but time after time people working under her spectacularly failed even to administer the most basic duties of care. They were there to protect vulnerable children, report any warning signs, and they didn’t. Miss Shoesmith was their boss. Rather than resign with good grace and a heartfelt apology, she felt hard done by. Scapegoated. As head, everyone was answerable to her. She clearly believed she was answerable to nobody.

Sir David Nicholson, the man at the top when the Mid Staffs hospital scandal occurred. For two years he led the strategic healthy authority that oversaw Stafford hospital. A hospital where up to 1,200 people needlessly died after appalling standards of care. Neglect doesn’t even begin to describe how some of the patients were treated. His reward? He’s gone on to become chief executive of NHS England with a salary (including bonuses) just shy of £300,000. When he leaves next March he’ll do so with a £2million pension pot.
George Entwistle, BBC DG for all of 54 days, resigned last November following a disastrous Newsnight report which led to former Tory Treasurer Lord McApline being wrongly accused of child abuse, with the latter’s name and reputation kicked in the dirt for weeks after. Entwistle quit £450,000 richer, on a full year’s salary, rather than the six months he should have got.

It seems that for those in charge taking responsibility no longer applies in any literal sense, but up to a point. When things get hard, all sense of authority conveniently withers away as those at the top make their excuses. As long as they walk away, handsomely remunerated, resigning isn’t really such a big deal anymore.
HS2: Labour are playing games with the government. And enjoying it.

Labour must be enjoying themselves with this HS2 lark. In government they were the brains behind it. In opposition they’ve been for it, sort of for it, wary of it, and now both for or against it depending on which Shadow Cabinet member you speak to. We’re told Ed Miliband is still behind it, but Ed Balls has done everything except pull the plug on Labour’s backing.
As David Cameron admitted, this monster of a project can only succeed with cross-party support. With every caveat imposed by the opposition, the likelihood of it ever getting built gets smaller by the speech.

Labour are well aware that they don’t want to be seen to be anti-business or anti-growth, but they shouldn’t worry. HS2 takes a beating from business leaders on a monthly basis. Opposing it makes economic and business sense.
My feeling is that Miliband is waiting for a moment when he senses the government may be vulnerable, and then be ready to pounce. Shortly after their drubbing at next year’s European elections might do the trick.

It’s indicative of the mess of HS2 that Labour can no longer give it their unconditional backing. And hardly surprising. The last thing they want is this untamed beast waiting for them should they find themselves in government in 18 months’ time.
Energy Prices: Labour still have the best answer

Realistic or not, likely to ever be enacted or not, Labour’s energy price freeze still reverberates around Westminster. The government’s response so far has consisted of telling people to switch suppliers. To who? Now we know they’re all as bad as each other. And expressing its disappointment at the big sixes’ outrageous price hikes. The environment’s now getting it in the neck. Green levies singled out.
Fortunately for Labour, a whopping 80% of the public back their energy stance - who on earth in the poll opposed lower energy bills? Unfortunately for Labour, only 41% think Ed Miliband would carry it through if he became PM. I wouldn’t worry too much though, Ed. The public have long stopped trusting pledges made by any party leader.

This post first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Wednesday 30th October 2013

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