Brexit and Covid storm clouds have moved on – but Britain just doesn’t work anymore | Simon Jenkins

Jried going to GP surgery lately? Or a bank? Or the customer services of almost anything? Take a flight? Good luck. Waiting for a train? Keep calm, cross your fingers. Patience is a virtue – and, right now, an absolute necessity.

The government is going through a vale of tears, and for once it is not entirely the Prime Minister’s fault.

The Jubilee holiday period saw UK airports crumble into chaos. Thousands of flights canceled and tens of thousands of holidays destroyed, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at a loss for what to do. We hear daily that the NHS is in distress. It has “lost” 25,000 beds and 14 million patients are facing delayed surgery, 300,000 for cardiac treatment.

A third of GPs say they plan to leave the NHS within the next four years, citing bureaucracy and demoralisation. In terms of crime, the inability of the police to investigate burglaries has doubled and rape prosecution dropped by 70%. In the last quarter of 2021, 96 criminal trials were aborted for lack of a judge, compared to only four a year earlier. Education in London has reduced 41% of state school parents to feeling they have to buy tutoring for their children.

The simplest tasks seem beyond the state. It doesn’t take weeks but months to get a passport, a dental appointment or a room in a nursing home. A second-class letter can take three weeks to arrive. Crossing the Channel means a four-hour queue at Dover. Britain, post-pandemic, has taken on the aura of a poorly governed and underdeveloped country. Under Margaret Thatcher, believe it or not, her public sector reforms were admired and emulated by governments around the world.

We know that the bad news always outweighs the good, but the scale of public sector performance failure has become a daily dirge. The government blames everything on the pandemic. He accuses the airlines of poor planning, and in turn is accused of bureaucratic controls over recruitment and cumbersome, mindless security. The truth is that a traumatized labor market plagues the public and private sectors. In 2020, there were said to be four people chasing every job. The latest YouGov poll counts just one person per job – and in foster and care homes, one if you’re lucky.

While private companies can at least raise prices to balance supply and demand, such flexibility does not exist in the public sector. Frontline medics are suffering from acute overwork while the NHS has failed to recruit 6,000 more and is desperate for foreigners discouraged by Brexit. Some have 2,500 patients each and half of them would consider going private. The number of patients turning to private doctors has tripled under Covid. Meanwhile, hospital beds are blocked by 160,000 vacancies in care homes, their workforces also stifled by Brexit.

Each service failure affects another. Police complain that they cannot handle petty crime as they have to act as a safety net for social and mental health cases. In the courts, there is a chronic shortage of criminal lawyers due to a cash-limited legal aid budget, leaving 2,500 members of the Criminal Bar Association in a now dire situation. work to rule. The archaic jury system is apt to burst.

The problem is not just money. More entrenched is Whitehall’s inability to manage years of often botched privatization. It’s amazing that half of England’s children’s homes are now in offshore hands private equity operators, taking advantage of their ability to sting local councils with high fees. This allowed them to export 20% profit margins out of the country and invite talk of a windfall tax. Privatization may have virtues, but a vice is that contracts make it difficult for officials to impose day-to-day control. The humiliating delay in processing Ukrainian visas to Britain was said to be because they had been privatized.

A deeper truth is more meaningful. The pandemic has clearly caused many people to holistically review the satisfaction they derive from their work. To some extent, this applies to almost everyone I know. Some opt for the hybrid work week. Others question the balance between work and family, stress and well-being, income and lifestyle. Furloughs and layoffs have led to an explosion of promiscuous job changes. The kitchens of the hotel, laborious, were emptied. Freelancing has found favor against fixed employment. Far from staying longer in employment – ​​as the over 50s did after the 2008 crisis – a million of them did not return to work after confinement.

That can’t be entirely a bad thing. A national fight for self-revaluation is a silver lining on the storm clouds of Covid and Brexit. There is no shortage of work. A decade ago, experts predicted a job slump due to robotics and digitalization. They couldn’t have been more wrong. But a massive realignment is underway.

A question demands attention. The British are going to have to pay more for their public services, even if spending peaks in peacetime at 40% of GDP. There is a clear shift towards private sector supply, but it badly needs better regulation. That the care sector is funding tax scams abroad is shocking. Defining the boundary between public service and private service once ruled the left-right divide in British politics. Less today; but policing this border has become a complex and critical task of government.

As if he cares, Boris Johnson last week increased the staff of Checkers and firm the flow of graduate recruitment to Whitehall. Each PM has its priorities.

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Edward L. Robinett