Review of the Papers, Tuesday 21 August


  • Thousands of newly qualified nurses are facing unemployment because of hospital cutbacks, with vacancies at their lowest for 10 years. New National Health Service figures have revealed how difficult it is for nurses, physiotherapists, scientists and doctors to find jobs. The highest vacancy rate was among consultants, with 1.2 per cent of jobs empty compared with 0.4 in trainee nursing. There are currently 5,000 newly qualified nurses who cannot find a job and half of the 2,413 newly qualified physiotheraists have not found permanent posts. ore than 20,000 jobs have been cut in recent years as managers struggle to bring NHS finances back into balance. Vacancy rates across the medical professions have dropped, showing the boom and bust nature of workforce planning in the health service.
  • Long ambulance journeys are putting the lives of severely ill patients at risk, according to the first research to test the government's plans to close some A&E departments. The study of more than 10,000 patients over five years found a marked increase in the chances of a patient dying with every extra kilometre travelled to a hospital in an emergency situation. The evidence comes as the Conservative leader, David Cameron, called yesterday for a moratorium on closures of emergency departments amid Tory claims that 29 district general hospitals are also at risk. Patient groups warned last night that closures would put lives at risk. The researchers examined ambulance records for life-threatening call-outs in four areas and found that 5.8% of patients who travelled less than 10km (six miles) by ambulance died, compared with 7.7% who travelled 11-20km and 8.8% who travelled more than 21km.,,2152992,00.html
  • A row has broken out within the government body that hands out more than £450 million each year to medical research over its new chairman's fitness for the job. Sir John Chisholm, who became chairman of the Medical Research Council last year, has run into stiff opposition from scientists who fear that a US-style business-orientated agenda is taking clinical research in the wrong direction. Sir John, a former chief executive of the defence company QinetiQ, was appointed by the Government last year as it seeks to reshape medical research. Ministers have placed a new emphasis on turning discoveries into therapies that can create wealth from health. While British science has always been good at winning Nobel prizes, it has been less successful at commercialising discoveries, such as those that underpin many modern cancer drugs.
  • Set responses to tackle angry homeowners who are upset that their council tax bills are about to soar have been issued to officials by the Government, The Daily Telegraph can reveal. They have been advised to beware of being swayed by emotional blackmail when confronted by householders who have had their properties revalued. The news comes after it emerged that inspectors were being trained to "snoop" on desirable properties in an attempt to revalue homes for council tax purposes. The advice is contained in a "workbook on resolving appeals", which was prepared in June by the Valuation Office Agency - the Government organisation which has to provide councils with accurate bandings for houses.
  • The Government has applied for a European grant to help the long-term recovery from last month's floods, the first time it has asked for aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The application to the European Union Solidarity Fund came as John Healey, the Minister in charge of the recovery operation, raised the estimate of damage to £2.7 billion - a figure that could rise still farther. In a letter to Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) put the cost of the floods at £3 billion and has demanded that he spend more on flood defences. Even if the grant is approved, only a proportion of the costs would be covered and it is likely to take nine to 12 months before the resources become available. Previous decisions by the Commission suggest that, if Britain's total damage bill is £2.5 billion, the funding would be between £62.5 million and £125 million.
  • More than 50,000 people have now signed The Daily Telegraph petition calling for a referendum on the controversial new EU constitution. Now Gordon Brown is being challenged to bow to popular pressure and raise the burning issue of the constitution when he meets Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in London on Wednesday. As of today, a total of 50,774 people had backed The Daily Telegraph "let the people decide" petition which calls for a national vote on the proposed Brussels blueprint.
  • A school uniform maker said yesterday it was "seriously considering" adding tracking devices to its clothes after a survey found many parents would be interested in knowing where their offspring were. Trutex would not say whether it was studying a spy in the waistband or a bug in the blazer but admitted teenagers were less keen than younger children on the "big brother" idea. The Lancashire company, which sells 1m blouses, 1.1m shirts, 250,000 pairs of trousers, 200,000 blazers, 60,000 skirts and 110,000 pieces of knitwear each year, commissioned an online survey for 809 parents and 444 children aged between nine and 16. It said 44% of the adults were worried about the safety of pre-teen children and 59% would be interested in satellite tracking systems being incorporated in schoolwear. While nearly four in 10 pupils aged 12 and under were prepared to go along with the idea, teenagers were more wary of "spying".,,2153054,00.html
  • Taxpayers are shelling out more than £40 million a year to subsidise "Mickey Mouse" degree courses such as equestrian psychology and baking technology, according to a pressure group. A rise in the number of school-leavers going to university in recent years has fuelled a huge increase in courses of "dubious academic merit", said the TaxPayers' Alliance. In a report today, it identified 401 courses which it claimed were not suitable to be taught in universities. They include a course on golf management, offering students an understanding of the game, combined with regular trips to courses such as St Andrews and Carnoustie, and baking technology, which focuses on the design and production of bread. The report also criticised a degree in equestrian psychology, which it is claimed "investigates the unique partnership between horse and rider during husbandry, training and competition".
  • A group of pensioners who campaigned for a bench next to a bus-stop have been left angry and bemused after it was built facing away from the road in case they tripped and fell. Council chiefs were worried that elderly passengers would stumble and topple over into the road in the scramble to board a bus so they installed the metal bench facing a 10-foot high hedge. A group of senior citizens living in Leek Road in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, had been fighting for the bench to be fitted for more than a year. They were overjoyed when they heard their campaign had been successful but their delight turned to despair when the bench was unveiled. Passengers waiting at the stop now have to constantly crane their necks round to make sure they see the bus coming. Officials from Stoke-on-Trent City Council made the decision because some elderly commuters were "unsteady on their feet".


This is just to say, excellent post you (bfg) did at Tim W's. I have put a slimmed down version thereof on my own humble blog.

Thanks Mark. I'm only 6ft, but I rather like being referred to as the BFG - might change my handle. Wink

That's a very useful reference to employment statistics on your blog. It tells us a number of things:

  • Between summer 1999 and winter 2005/6, 1.5m jobs were added to the economy. That included 1.6m jobs in "Public admin, education and health" (PAEH). In other words, the number of jobs in the rest of the economy actually declined in the period, while the PAEH sector grew like topsy. I hesitate to say that the productive part of the economy has been shrinking at the expense of the unproductive part, because teachers, doctors and nurses are no less intrinsically productive than laywers or accountants, but one could say that the part of the economy that produces profits and saleable goods on which taxes are paid has been shrinking at the expense of the part of the economy that is tax-funded and free at the point of use. This is obviously unsustainable.
  • Mind you, Major wasn't much better. The big break from the past occurred between Spring 1991 and Spring 1992, when the proportion of the workforce employed in PAEH jumped from around the 21% mark that it had occupied during the Thatcher years to around the 24% level, from where it has crept upwards under Labour. A clear indication that public-service employment is being used to disguise economic woes, as the obvious trigger suggested by those dates is White Wednesday.
  • The jump in public-sector employment under Major is mirrored by an abrupt drop in manufacturing employment. Thatcher is often blamed for the decline in manufacturing. The proportion of the workforce employed in that sector was indeed going down steadily under her, but the absolute numbers barely declined at all (by fewer than 12,000 jobs, or less than 0.2% of the total in the sector). The declining proportion simply reflected the fact that total employment was increasing strongly, largely through the creation of jobs in the service sector. The real decline began under Major, with over a million jobs being lost between Spring 1991 and Spring 1994, which looks like a load of businesses giving up the fight after the economic shocks of the previous couple of years. But it stabilized at this lower level for the rest of the Major years (for which much of the credit should go to Ken Clarke - one of the best Chancellors of the twentieth century, to whom Tony and Gordon owe a great deal of thanks). Under Labour, there has been a renewal of decline, with another 1.2 million manufacturing jobs having been lost by Winter 2005/6.
  • The dependence on PAEH jobs to disguise decline can be contrasted with the Thatcher years. Between Spring 1984 and Spring 1990, two and three-quarter million jobs were created, of which 650 thousand were in the PAEH sector. This also gives the lie to the suggestion that public services were starved of funds - 650,000 new jobs in the public sector is not insignificant, but it is more proportionate to the growth of the overall economy than the employment changes under Major and Blair.
  • We need to be a bit careful ascribing the increase of 1.7 million jobs in the PAEH sector under Blair purely to the quangocracy or the public sector. The spreadsheet gives figures for the public sector as a whole. There is a discrepancy of about 1.2 million between the number of new jobs in the PAEH sector and the number of new jobs in the public sector, i.e. PAEH was growing much faster than the public sector as a whole. A number of factors may be at play. It is possible that cuts in other parts of the public sector were balancing against new jobs in the PAEH sector, but it's hard to think where these other parts and cuts might have been. More likely causes include (a) the outsourcing of services in the PAEH sector (e.g. cleaning in hospitals), so they no longer count officially as public sector, though they remain part of the Greater Bureaucracy, and (b) an increase in private health and education provision. You probably don't want to be attacking the latter, and the former (if it is things like cleaning and catering) isn't generally dispensible.

All the same, the generality of your comment on your site is still true in the broadest sense. Whatever the proportion of employment in the private and public sectors and the specific numbers in the quangos, the overall levels are up dramatically, which means we ought either to expect significantly improved levels of service, or to be able to find quite a bit of flesh to cut. I doubt, for the reasons above, that it will be anywhere near 1.7 million jobs that can be cut. Perhaps 500,000 - the increase in the number of public-sector jobs - would be closer, though even there, a significant number of those jobs will be new doctors, nurses and teachers. But as increasing private provision should be balanced by decreasing public provision, that 500,000 disguises a larger increase in public-sector flabbiness, so the potential savings would be greater than just the difference between that increase and the increase in the number of front-line employees. As a very round and rough stab in the dark, how do you fancy calling it around £25bn that could be saved?

Of course, the net saving will be less if most of the 500,000 go on the dole. The benefit to society will depend on how many of them are usefully employable in the private sector, and the number of those that choose to take private-sector jobs. The incentives under our tax and benefits system will be crucial in determining whether public-sector job cuts turn into a burden on society in the form of increased unemployment, or a benefit to society in the form of converting unproductive work into productive work.

Hey Mark, I see you're a flat-taxer, with sympathies for the Basic Income idea. Me too. Good on yer. Your site's going in our blogroll.