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A Definition Thing

The government’s spending cuts could cost voluntary organisations billions of pounds, the charities’ regulator in England and Wales has warned.

Charity Commission chairwoman Dame Suzi Leather said cutting funding to charities that were providing key public services would be short sighted.

What is wrong with those two sentences? Now unless the Dictionary Fairies have been at my Websters or OED (again – the blighters!) this is a misuse of the English language.

It happens all the time in discourse relating to government. Defence cuts “cost” jobs and all that. If this country is ever going to get on an even keel we have got to start with the language. There has been much talk recently about whether or not the private sector can “take up the slack” of job cuts. Implicit in this is the idea that the private sector is the icing and not the cake, the cart and not the horse. Note that “key public services” phrase. I will bet you dollars to donuts that you own a pair of shoes. Indeed I’ll double that. I bet you own several pairs of shoes (not quite Imelda Marcos but you at least have a computer and the intersection of the set of computer owners and the set of the shoeless is a very small one) and regard shoes as vital. I recall an advert with Gloria Hunniford in which she repeated the sage advice of her mother to always have a good pair of shoes and a good bed because you’re always going to be in one or the other. Few would argue with that. Now unless you are a child (and if you are you shouldn’t be reading this anyway because I use cuss words a lot) your shoes are not only not provided by the government (there is no National Shoe Service) but are in fact taxed by the government via VAT at 17.5%.

You also have electricity from the grid (or you’re peddling like Lance Armstrong on a mountain stage) and food, probably a car, a bank account (iffy there Nick – since the bailouts…) and lots of other things that are generally considered required for modern human existence but not provided by the government. I mean even One Million Years BC Raquel Welsh had a fur bikini. These things are not fripperies. Yes, even the car. I know most people on the planet don’t have one but most people who do have some wheels don’t regard it as just useful for playing Jeremy Clarkson (Assume the voice – “It’s got 800 torques and it sets your underpants on fire”) but as a means to go to work or to the shops to buy food and floor cleaner and things. None of those of course are strictly speaking luxuries. So I buy a bag of pasta at TESCO. That’s living high on the hog ain’t it? No. It’s called not starving. Unless you’re Wayne Rooney, obviously, who needs a quarter of a million a week to keep him in the manner no one eating a pie down the Stretford End can even begin to imagine – I certainly can’t. What could he spend it on? Let’s not go there*. Anyway, the point is an awful lot of vital services to the public (note my alternative phrasing) are not provided by government. Food: no. Water: no. Power: no. Motors: no. Petrol: no. Clothes: no. Defence: sort of – badly**.

Everyone in the private sector*** serves the public one way or another. If they didn’t whatever enterprise they worked for would be short-lived. Indeed the services provided by government (or financed by government – quangos, fake charities etc) are extraordinarily limited in terms of what people actually need. Take the NHS for example. My last dental visit cost quite a lot. Check-up (sound, sound, sound, sound… missing – hardly news to me – I had that out when I was 8), scale and polish (From a hygienist with the mindset of a NAZI gym mistress) and a filling to a wisdom tooth**** and I’m on NHS rates***** yet we still regard the NHS as free at the point of delivery. But it isn’t is it? Not for teeth anyway because if it was I wouldn’t have had to stick my card in the machine – and they don’t provide anaesthesia for the VISAectomy. Anyway my dentist ain’t that flash. He only has a BMW convertible but one must wonder who the NHS subsidy for dental care really subsidises…

Fundamentally I don’t get it. What is a vital service? How has the public(ish) sector managed to lay claim to all of them in the imagination of much of the public when most of the absolute requirements of life are met by private business? Moreover how come about half the country’s GDP is spent by the government on these things. It looks like jolly bad value for money to me. Even moreover the private sector (money grubbing bastards the lot of them – even if they earn less than our tireless public servants and don’t have titanium pensions) are expected to turn a profit which is nice for them and more importantly means their enterprise is essentially self-sustaining. To return to my original point a charity that cannot make ends meet by obtaining donations willingly given from the public is not a charity. It is not sustainable and it probably isn’t because not enough people care about the decline of the Estonian fruitbat. Should they care? Maybe, maybe not. It depends but it is down to the charity to make it’s case off it’s own bat. Indeed the independence of charities is, or rather should be, their strength.

And here endeth the lesson.

Sorry, I did go on some.

*I was a reasonable right-back in my day and will play for a half-time orange and couple of pints with the lads afterwards. Leeds University 5 a side Maths postgrad 4th team. That’s me. I’m not saying I’m any good but if Sir Alex gets me a Jaffa and stands his round after the 90 is up then I’m a lot cheaper. Yes, 4th team. We were bloody awful. The first team were brilliant but they had four Romanians and three were called Radu. They had like left feet and everything. I asked one of the Radus if it was a common name in Romania. He said, “not really”. I doubt I can take this story any further.

**I’m sure you have heard after the farrago of the defence cuts which raised a rather Zen philosophical point – is it really an aircraft carrier if it isn’t carrying aircraft we have the grounding of (the beautifully named in the circs) HMS Astute. According to the BBC this possibly happened because they were using out of date charts. My wife has a 2005 AA road atlas in her 1.0L Vauxhall Corsa. Who are we to complain? Oh yeah, the ones not driving a billion quids worth of nuclear submarine into the Isle of Skye. They should have gone to Halfords and bought a TomTom. Or SpecSavers or something. An aside. Did you know that the UK smoking ban applies to submarines (they are a “workplace”) including the Vanguard-class SSBNs. This is because second-hand smoke is injurious to health. In the context of something with 16 MIRVed Trident missiles that is a sick joke. Moreover do we really want an XO on-board who is choking for a gasper and has the launch keys – “Get me 20 Marlboro or goodbye Moscow”.

***I mean the real private sector not the “third way” private sector. If anyone knows of anything useful Crapita have ever done please let me know.

**** At the age of 37 (Is this turning into the ballad of Lucy Jordan? -Ed) I’m still getting them through which says something.

***** The local dentist only took me on initially as a private patient. This meant things cost slightly more. After a year or so without any major work – any work, thank God – needing I was converted to NHS. Now this meant that the government paid half (roughly) but it didn’t halve my bills. They were just slightly less. Three good science A-Levels, a tatty white coat and a Gerber multitool… I could do that!

7 Comments

  1. Roue le Jour says:

    Part of the reason, I think, is that government never cuts things in order to reduce taxes. In fact there seems to be an unspoken assumption on the part of government that the correct level of taxation is the maximum the economy will bear, and that taxes will never be reduced. Rearranged, possibly, but not reduced.

    If the government did cut things and return the money, then I think voters might have more appetite for cuts. However, as it stands at the moment, cuts cost an identifiable someone something, but seem to benefit no-one.

  2. RAB says:

    To HELL for Leather!

    Dame Suzi warned that a cut in the amount of money going to children’s services could mean more young people from deprived backgrounds ending up in police stations and the criminal justice system, presenting the taxpayer with an even bigger bill.

    Yes it’s frightening how low the standards have become for intake into the police, isn’t it?

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    “Now this meant that the government paid half (roughly) but it didn’t halve my bills.”

    That’s what I’ve always suspected. I’ve had a non-NHS dentist for getting on 20 years (despite being on actual benefits for part of that), and frankly, my bills ain’t too bad. £30 twice a year isn’t going to break the bank, and the filling I had last time only bumped it up to £80-odd. I mean, what’s that? A couple of Xbox games? Hmm… F1 2010 or the toothache… that’s a poser, right enough.

    I just ignore the hygenist. Completely, I mean: I don’t go. £35 for ten minutes’ teeth brushing? There’s a racket if ever I saw one…

  4. NickM says:

    Sam,
    It ain’t the cost. It’s the fact my one has been known to reduce grown men to tears. Not me but I have had nightmares. She is terrifying. If they did what I pay to have done to me to AQ suspects Shami Chakrabati would be rightly doing her ends. It’s just the little things like, “You know you’ll have dentures by the time you are 40″. I mean me Gran had false teeth but that doesn’t happen any more? I mean my gnashers didn’t look great but I was not trying to win the X-Factor. The last time (only the second time) I had a filling the dentist got broke-back mountain with me. “Oh, you’ve done very well”. Yeah, so have you. You’re not the one shelling out dosh and BMWs don’t buy themselves. Trust me (I might have said but wasn’t really in a position to say anything) injections, drills don’t hold any fear for me. Bev downstairs wielding the sonic pick and tutting is something else mind. I’d rather arm-wrestle Jabba the Hutt than see her. The last time anyone was put through as much torture in a basement that happened in Austria. It’s the tutting that does it. The receptionist swears blind she has seen strong men leave Bev in floods of tears. Tears I tells ya!

  5. RAB says:

    My front Crown snapped off on the flight home from Crete recently, as I was attempting to eat a bagette that to all intents and purposes was made of unsustainable hardwood.

    I was left looking like Alfred E Neuman for a few days there.

    I kept the crown (lucky not to swallow it really, or lose it on the floor) but didn’t recon my dentist could do much with it. I thought I was looking at a bridge or a plate, but dang me, my dentist managed to get it back in for me.

    The trouble with my dentist is that she is chatty. She doesn’t just get on with the dreadful deeds and lets you get the hell out of there, she rattles on about everything under the sun.

    This time we were discussing Cornish Wreckers (she is fond of visiting a place called Mullion that was big in the trade apparently). I say discussing, but what the hell can I do with a mouth full of metal impliments and Novocaine? “AGh tha, v instigin!…”

    Drives me nuts it does! I mean your Barber now, can rattle on about “did you see the match last night sir?” and a decent discourse can ensue, but with a dentist?

    Dentistry has always been the forgotten black hole in the NHS.

    The NHS is supposed to be free at the point of delivery isn’t it? But of course it’s not, and never has been. You pay upfront as Nick has already said.

    My parents generation had the worst treatment you can possibly imagine under the fledgling NHS Dentistry.

    No mucking about! have ‘em all out! was the fashion of the day. They couldn’t be bothered to fill ‘em just extract ‘em en masse.

    My mum and dad had the lot extracted for minor ills like an abcess or a bit of gum disease. “So much easier are dentures Sir/Madam. No more worries, no more fees, and they are just like the real thing!”

    Are they Fuck!

    Yes they really were toothless in the face of Socialism back then.

  6. NickM says:

    Or perhaps not RAB…

    I have a theory. It’s very simple. Communism/Socialism has a tendency to do some things very well. Let me explain. Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall I was having lunch in a Czech transport caf. To say it was bad is to not use the word appalling. But the Orange Juice with it was gorgeous. My point is that for all the many flaws of the system they sometimes got things very right. Now, obviously, getting it wrong 99.5% of the time doesn’t make the 5% of the time the got it very right worthwhile but…

    My understanding is that dentistry in the former Sov satellites knocks the butchery we have here into a cocked trilby. The NHS tried to get dentists in from the Baltic states but they all left citing the “medieval” stuff they had to work with. My wife was taught Czech at university by a Czech woman who always scheduled her dental trips for when she was visiting the rellies back in Prague and would rather amputate her own leg with a bread knife than see a British dentist. Poland is full of dentists. My sister-in-law (who lives there) had her teeth whitened for a remarkably affordable sum. And yes, by a proper dentist – not one of the cowboys you get here.

    The UK is almost uniquely bad at the toothly arts. I didn’t have a check for over three years because my previous dentist just dropped me off her list. They had changed the way the NHS pays and I was not an asset to the practise. Can you imagine this anywhere else?

    The way the NHS pays is mental. They have three rates with nothing in between. Does that make sense? That’s like me charging x for “have you tried turning it off and on again”, y for going into BIOS and z (which is beaucoup) if a screwdriver is deployed. It is something like 20 quid, 50 quid or 400 quid as if there was no conceivable dental procedure between 50 and 400.

    And yes RAB is right on dentures. In certain areas of the country they were given as wedding presents on a no more worries basis. In the ’50s it was not uncommon to have false teeth for your 21st birthday. Thanks Dad, I kinda wanted a transistor radio but…

  7. Paul Marks says:

    Interesting comments – on all sorts of things.

    As for the post – yes the English language is being twisted.

    “To take your freedom, the goverment must first pervert the language”.

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