Saturday, September 11, 2010

Strike Strife and Financial Stringency

So far the issue of the need to tailor UK  national financial  expenditure to fit the size of the UK national financial income has been largely a matter of talk rather than action - as a rock singer might sing "we ain't seen nothing yet."

A foretaste of things to come   this week were  some  simultaneous strikes  hitting the London Underground on Tuesday. The  underlying reason for the strikes (more to come apparently) are said to include proposed  reductions in station staff in the light of the fact that most passengers use the Oyster card system and Oyster cards can be bought at ordinary shops meaning far fewer station staff are needed now than  under the old ticket system. Apparently no compulsory redundancies are to be made so the union  is adopting the tactic  of trying to  to scaremonger the public into supporting the strikes by claiming that passenger safety is being jeopardised. This seems nonsensical given the need for the public Health and Safety Executive to be satisfied about H&S aspects as a condition of permitting the underground railway to operate at all. Anyway most passengers remained sceptical about the unions' motivations - in contrast apparently to strikes taking place at the same time in France with widespread public support.

I was nonetheless surprised to find several District Line trains apparently  running as normal  from Wimbledon on strike day but gladly took the first train out. However after a normal stopping service as far as West Brompton station, the driver warned that the only Central London underground station the train would stop at was Embankment - several stops east of my normal alighting point of Victoria. The train then proceeded at 5mph  through a swathe of eerily deserted and closed stations, including London's Victoria which even at 7am is usually  buzzing with people.  Upon leaving at Embankment station I was just begining to wonder how to retrace the few miles back westward to reach the dayjob office when I spied a Boris Bike park. Not only did I start work at my normal time but also arrived exercised and refreshed.

The more serious issues of course are those of  whether to and if so how,  most fairly to make financial stringencies to balance expenditure with income. The leftwards  Guardian newspaper comments about these weighty issues  these days  are almost as absurd as   those in the rightwards Daily Mail. The Guardian today proclaims as if it  it is revealing new news, that the brunt of the  public expenditure cuts will hit the poorest hardest. Obviously that is true as those who receive most financial benefits from the state are going to feel  hardest hit by the  losses of state income. On the other side one could say that those who pay the most taxes are paying the most for existing public expenditure - ie that the rich are bearing the brunt of paying for state expenditure.  Such arguments are equally patronising and even  counter productive.

Such politiking is divisive and unhelpful. What are needed are some objective analyses of  what income the nation has or might reasonably  expect  to have eg if taxes are raised and  how much prudently (to avoid saddling the next generation with even more hardship) might the nation borrow on top of taxation. Then having establised what sum is likely to be in the nation's financial pot, a knowledgeable  comapssionate  committee  needs to decide or at least advise upon, how best to share it out having regard to the needs to keep life  limb  and  civilised society together. All this argument about  who pays or suffers the most, is unneccessarily political  purile and off the point.

Taking health as an example,  the amount that could be spent on better and better medecines, treatments and research is almost limitless but the taxpayers would be drained dry and beyond if no limit  was placed on spending with the result that committees like the NICE committee are established to weigh potential benefits with probable cost. Medecines which are not cost effective having regard to the calls of a population of 60 million are not approved for prescription on the NHS. Obviously some decisions will be especially painful for some people but   sadly as grandmother used to say; "money doesn't grow on trees."

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