Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Open Letter: Withdraw The National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Amendment) Regulations 2017

While I'm on the subject of unnecessary, damaging and costly processes in public services, may I draw your attention to -

This open letter to Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, which should be widely circulated. So I hope the more than 1,000 signatories do not mind me publishing it in full here.

It was coordinated by

Doctors of the World@DOTW_UK

Asylum Matters, @AsylumMatters

Freedom from Torture, @FreefromTorture 

National AIDS Trust, @NAT_AIDS_Trust

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association, @ILPAimmigration

Amongst others.


Sir David Nicholson, who was the chief executive of NHS England from 2011 to 2014, is among 1,000 signatories.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Forming opinion

Another circular today about a new process which involves the completion of a complex form to get basic things done. It reminded me something I wrote about 18 months ago but didn't publish here at the time.

The generic process I refer to is the type that when asking part of your organisation to do one of the jobs they exist to do, draws the response -
"We have a new process for dealing with communications with our department. In order to deal with your request we require you to complete the new process change form, so that xxx can pick up this change and so it’s clear what changes are needed."
You mean like the details I've just sent which you have copied to xxx in the email you responded with asking me to fill in your form... a form which, when you click on the supplied link, is not designed for the circumstances.

The thing about these processes is that they are completely inviolable and immune from critical scrutiny. Budgets must be managed. Accountability and transparency are sacrosanct. The new process is essential and nobody ever considers doing a cost benefit analysis of it.

We have hundreds of thousands, probably millions of these processes in education, the NHS, social services, the criminal justice system and all other public services.

The question that is never asked is how much specifically do the processes we choose to use to "manage" budgets cost? How much will it cost the organisation, in staff time and other resources, for a member of staff to fill out and submit another complex form, requesting some administrative silo engages in its routine activities? How much will it cost to have it processed, considered by the department, a decision made and returned to the form filler? Plus costs of subsequent clarifications or queries or rejections of requests etc.

When you split organisations up into departmental silos, demanding they all meet ludicrous simplistic targets with much reduced operational budgets, it leads to internecine warfare between organisational units. The first thing to be sacrificed is the 95% of activities that the department used to do that constituted services to the rest of the organisation.

Need to save 15% costs - cut 15% that involves doing something for someone else that does not count in our target metrics.

And anyone requiring any useful activity out of any of these silos, remotely resembling the services they previously provided, is obliged to fall in line with keeping their internal administration tidy and filling out their forms. There's nothing more modern and efficient than getting your 'customers' to do your administration, preferably via the internet. The real costs are offloaded by the silo, magically and invisibly distributed as economic externalities and the organisation sinks a bit more under the strain.

What are the opportunity costs of this?

Nobody asks.

Nobody considers that when you dissect a living organism into its constituent atoms, in a futile attempt to control the atoms, you kill the organism (and the organisation).

The public sector has made an art form out of choking on the gigantic invisible costs of our internal accountability bureaucracy.

 Yet quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


I'm considering designing a Permission to Request Ray Fill Your Form Out Form when dealing with all public services including the day job.

It will require lots of spurious hard to find data, on multiple incompatible systems, including data I hold exclusive access to. It will not be submittable unless all fields are completed in the appropriate number of acceptable characters, within a closed and secretly specified set. Every time an attempt is made to submit an invalidly completed form, all fields will be cleared and the bureaucrat wanting me to fill out a form will be informed, in classic patronising & disapproving management-speak that they have to start from scratch.

It will require the approval of at least 5 layers of senior management in their organisation, and at least two external referees prepared to certify the worthiness of the bureaucrat to ask me to complete a form. It will round off with a minimum of 10,000 words of small print relating to the principles of section 11 (p28-33) of General Interference with Organizations and Production of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual

Additionally, it will require the head of the applicant bureaucrat's department and the organisation's executive board to submit themselves to border control, criminal records and qualifications checks and processes, and have their names entered permanently on a 'requester that Ray fill out a form' offenders register.

Finally, it will commit the requisite bureaucrat and departmental and organisation chiefs to an irrevocable agreement that they resign their commission and never darken the organisation's door again. Also in the small print is the assurance that the request that I fill out their form will be rejected in all circumstances.

I'll soon be wandering the streets of Oxford, Quasimodo-like, chanting "The Forms! The Forms! Economic Externalities! Economic Externalities"

That Form Rings a Bell.