I’ve been of the view for some time that this is a lucky, rather than competent, government. Which, if you’re an opponent of it, is a part blessing - what would be it be like if they were competent as well?
Evidence of that comes after what was a pretty decent budget in presentation terms (I hold back from any suggestion that it was a good budget in economic or political terms at this stage), in that a 1% pay rise for NHS workers has gone down so badly both with the staff concerned - not unreasonably - but with the general public too.
You could argue that, in the midst of an economic crisis, that pay restraint across the public sector is a good thing. You could suggest that it sets an example to the rest of the workforce across the private sector. Admittedly, you’d be wrong, but you could try to make the case. For, as has been proved time and time again, employers across the private sector will pay what is required to keep staff and recruit them.
If the NHS was a private business - and please don’t think that I’m suggesting that it would be a good idea - senior management would be dealing with the problems of staff shortages by offering better pay scales and various arrangements to lure people away from other career choices. In the United States, nurses get rather higher salaries, and employers have to compete to employ them.
Here, the competition within the sector isn’t as great, although it still exists, but the system encourages nurses to work agency shifts because the pay is better and, because supply of nurses is outstripped by demand, there is a high level of certainty that agency work will be available. What that means is that a chunk of money is taken out of the NHS to profit employment agencies who have an effectively captive customer base.
It is a reminder that Conservatives have a very selective affinity to the market, holding the view that the public sector is immune to it. And, if by trying to persuade NHS workers that they should appreciate applause in lieu of actual money they end up losing the nurses that they’ve promised us, it will demonstrate again that, when it comes to competence, they really can’t cut it.
But, they are lucky. A supine media, a sufficiently credulous public, a sycophantic backbench and an Official Opposition still trying to get off of its knees means that there is nobody making the case that competence matters. Where else would a Government mired in procurement scandals, which has consistently overpromised and underdelivered, and has exiled most of its talent to the backbenches and beyond be ten points or more ahead in the polls?