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EasyJet Councils – pushing inequality

9:26 am - August 29th 2009

by Carl Packman    

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The Guardian newspaper yesterday carried a story of the Tory borough Barnet pushing the EasyJet business model

As such, the council will provide a basic no-frills service, a reduced-sized bin or for those who require adult social care in Barnet “budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer”. EasyCouncil it shall be called.

Seems modest enough, but to me there remains a major alternative to the revolutionary approach by Barnet. Namely, the idea of sensible public service spending can be achieved by a reallocation of funding rather than the EasyCouncil way.

Reallocation for the local government allows for a renegotiation of necessities; say if it is vital to employ 24 hour wardens in care homes this should be prioritised over building a new welcome centre in the local natural park.

An example: a local school may not need as much funding one year due to the proportionally fewer students requiring special education needs, but the school is obliged to spend their funding in order to secure that amount for next year when they predict they will need as much funding with the proportionally higher amount of children who have special education needs. Year-by-year reallocation based upon necessity can bypass this problem.

Services should be subsidised for the reason that a system based on ability to pay marginalises those who deserve certain services – like 24 hour wardens in care homes – but are unable to pay for it. Just imagine the outrage if an idealistic young MEP had called for this type of service in the department of health. All hell would break loose.

To focus on EasyJet, the option to pay a charge in order to be first on the plane seems quite frivolous, and though it puts the option to the passenger – of whether you feel the need to put up some money to jump the queue – it doesn’t solve the problem of whether its necessary to put up that money in order to be first on the plane.

The analogy is clear, if its necessary for someone to get on first, perhaps they can’t stand up for long periods of time, but they cannot afford the cost, whereas someone who is just jumping the queue for they see it as their affordable right to, then the system has legitimised inequality.

It may not seem quite as important for the simple matter of a plane journey, but applied to the services that one might receive, for an affordable service that caters for everyone, following the guidelines of necessity and reallocation appropriately, that doesn’t have to appeal to this business model that cuts back on services to legitimise an able to pay model, it is rather important.

When the system of public services is structured upon the ability to pay and not a system of privileging necessities in order to balance budgets, then we are in trouble.

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About the author
Carl is a regular contributor. He is a policy and research analyst and he blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Equality ,Local Government ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Mike Killingworth

Well, of course, the first point is that EasyJet has lots of competition, both from airlines and railways. Councils are monopolies. I suspect that the comparison has more to do with Cllr Freer’s self-promotion (“Hi Dave! I’d make a really really good junior minister!”) than anything else.

Barnet is preparing itself for 3% (real term) grant cuts for at least five years. Even before cutting Council tax that means that, by the end of the period, they will have £7 to spend for every £8 they have to-day. This seems like a realistic estimate of the financial pain that all Councils will have to go through.

To focus on the specific question of residential wardens, what I suspect Barnet want (but do not yet have the legislative freedom to provide, though I may well be wrong on this) is the ability to provide a range of services in sheltered housing schemes, to provide wardens to the (probably relatively few) residents whose mental and emotional health would be at risk otherwise (because of their isolation, lack of family etc) funded from personal care budgets and to provide a charged-for service to others who want but do not need it. If this is so, I suspect that not a few Labour and Lib Dem councils would want to do the same thing.

What worries me (well it would, I’m a Council tenant) is that Tory “freedom” for Councils will mean an end to ring-fencing the Housing Revenue Account and milking Council tenants to pay for General Fund services.

I don’t know what Carl’s last paragraph is trying to say – our public services have always been a mixture of universal free provision and various forms of charging. And this seems to sit quite well even with lefties – where, for example, was the campaign over the last ten years for universal free dentistry or prescriptions?

Good stuff…so it begins.

The ultimate betrayal of the Babyboomers…the gluttonous pigs in the economic pipe-line. Retiring around now, nest well feathered…thinking about how they might one day need a bit of looking after…What these these egalitarian paragons, these progressive 68ers come up with…”I’m alright Jack…I’ve done Ok and, frankly, if you haven’t made sufficient provision,you can just bloody well sit there in your own piss all day. It’s not my problem, I bet you didn’t even buy any BT shares you feckless twat!”

I wouldn’t mind an EasyJet council so much — but a RyanAir council would be terrible.

The original post is true, but almost trivially so. Yes, money should be allocated where it is needed most. The hard part is figuring out where that is. It’s easy enough to say “well maybe the schools could have a bit less this year”, but that would have to be pushed through against the strongest imaginable objections from the schools themselves.

It’s a point worth bearing in mind though: whenever we say we “don’t have the money” to do something seemingly very important, it’s worth wondering how it is we manage to continue paying for seemingly much less important things at the same time. This should tell us that the problem isn’t the principle of spending money on the right things (which almost everyone would sign up to) but the practical difficulties of achieving it.

The Tory approach seems to be, to an extent, to give control of the budget to the people receiving the services. For example the choice between cleaners or respite carers. On the face of it, this seems sensible enough. The problem is that the budget given over to this is very small to begin with – the vast, overwhelming majority of spending is still at the discretion of largely unaccountable bodies and can’t be redirected easily, even if it’s not really doing anyone any good.

Perhaps Barnet council are going for the idea that if you tax people less then you give them more money to do things they would normally require public services for.

Gosh, how dare someone try to lower the tax burden on their voters.

I don’t see how a system that allows people to pay extra to queue jump neccesarily “legitimises inequality”.

Different people have different income levels and (arguably more importantly) different priorities. To use your easy jet analogy:

Person A may have an average income but considers queueing to get on a plane intolerable (maybe he has kids, maybe he’s nervous of flying, maybe he’s a smoker, maybe he just dislikes queuing) and might therefore make a financial sacrifice elsewhere (doing without duty free, staying in a cheaper hotel, whatever) to avoid it.

Person B might be a millionaire, easily able to afford to queue jump, but isn’t bothered by waiting in line so won’t pay to avoid the queue.

Who is benefiting from “inequality” ?

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