Market-Leninism must be ditched

Observations on public services

The current imbroglio over A- level results was - in the Marxist language of yesteryear - no accident. It was the natural and inevitable consequence of the doctrine that now rules our public services: market-Leninism.

From the market is derived the notion that there is, always and everywhere, a bottom line, expressible in figures: and if not directly in money, at least in value for money. From Leninism is derived the conviction that with enough control exercised by terror, commonly known in British public administration as line management, any goal can be reached by means of planning.

When you put these two things together, the result is pure Gogol: or, to use another Russian example, Potemkin villages. The health service, the universities, the police, the schools, the prisons and all other public institutions have been turned into huge Potemkin villages whose purpose is to deceive the sovereign, or, rather, the three estates that now share sovereignty: the people, the press and the Prime Minister.

In such a situation, the object of setting standards and gathering information is to obfuscate and to render the most elementary judgements completely impossible.

For example, are academic standards rising or falling in our schools, and are our children better or worse educated than they were five, ten or 20 years ago?

The solution to this problem is easy, a mere bagatelle for any British public servant worth his salt. You move the goalposts, or change the measuring instruments, so many times that to arrive at an answer, an impossibly large number of variables has to be taken into account. If any trace of clarity should by chance remain, a few statistical "adjustments" or "corrections" should restore the pristine murk of utter confusion. As a last resort, hold some kind of public inquiry - not just one, but several, each coming to a different conclusion.

Just try deciding whether the police in your area are more or less effective than they were five years ago, or whether the health service is getting better or worse. Even the idea of trying to do so is enough to make a strong and sensible man go weak at the knees. You would have to speak to people whose one great talent is the ability to lie without telling outright untruths. This is the Queen of the Management Sciences, and every chief constable (for example) must master it. Indeed, under the prevailing dispensation, it is extremely unlikely that he - or any other highly placed official in the public administration - would be appointed without having first done so.

By comparison with this style of management, receiving brown envelopes under the table is integrity itself. In fact the imposition of professional management upon public institutions has dissolved the boundary between financial propriety and impropriety, as well as put an end to intellectual honesty and public spirit.

Only professional managers and planners could have brought into being the refurbishment-of-hospitals-before-closure syndrome that has cost the taxpayer many millions of pounds within a radius of a few miles from where I write this.

The solution is clear, although vested interests will put up a strong fight against it: decentralisation and a return to amateurism.