Friday, 16 October 2009

While the ministrations and machinations went on…

WHILE the ministrations and machinations over policing and justice went on, the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton touched down with much fanfare.

With the singular failure of DUP and Sinn Féin to have an agreement in place Hillary had nothing to announce or endorse, so was left to gently say, keep going, you’re all doing well…

The hints about economic investment and task forces and forums were made…but then that seems to be a regular theme when the US is involved.

This visit also saw the first live blogging of the event, Twitter updates, live coverage of the Assembly on the tele, and more comments online than for any other political event other than elections.

So, those stuck in the office were able to follow events under the catch all of ‘doing research.’ Those privileged to receive an invitation to the appearance of Hillary at City Hall were just stuck.

Yep, the schedule of the visit had been completely knocked off track by the meeting with the ministers first thing.

Now, as there was no agreement, no final cash settlement, no answers to pertinent questions, it begs the further question: what were they actually talking about?

“Was your flight okay Hillary?”
“Very fine, thank you!”
“The hotel room nice?”
“I’ve stayed there before, so yes, thank you”
“Want a coffee?”
“Yes, please – now are you boys going to play nice?”
“Yes, certainly Hillary…at least till you get on yer plane, we’ll be the very picture of statesmen!”

Health service in meltdown (again)

BED closures; ending of in-patient surgery; no hot meals for visitors…Northern Ireland’s health service was this week portrayed as being in meltdown, with swingeing cuts being the order of the day.

Health and social care services represent the biggest cost to NI plc so any percentage based cuts are bound to have a proportionately larger effect.

One can’t help but wonder whether the health service is a victim of its own success.
More patients than ever are receiving better care, the general population is living longer, long term conditions such as asthma and diabetes are receiving better services, and cancer survival rates are improving.

All of which cost more.

So while the Stormont health committee rants at unions, managers and anyone else, the directive should be to stop being so good at your jobs! Yes, all you doctors and nurses out there – you are obviously letting the side down by helping patients live longer. This is a singularly poor approach to managing the budgets.

And, as for managers and administrators, the chief executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust William McKee told the health committee this week that even if he fired everyone in administration it wouldn’t save the £93m that is needed in efficiency savings over the next three years.

Still it’s the thought that counts!

Peelers, politicians and the Treasury

IT is with a complete sense of boredom that we report on another week without agreement on the devolution of policing and justice.

With thousands of air miles clocked up, the not-so dynamic duo of First Minister Robinson and deputy First Minister McGuinness continued their shuttling back and forth between Stormont and Downing Street.

It has now become impossible to count the times that devolution of the said powers has been close…Queen’s University, Belfast are opening a Masters Degree in Maths based around the probability theory on just how many times two people can talk about the same bloody thing. This will complement their advanced probability on the Executive ever agreeing on education…

Meanwhile Robinson and McGuinness were taking the deal to their parties. The former was consulting with ‘Executive colleagues’, demanding clarification and the wonderfully titled ‘Tory-proofing’. The latter’s party colleagues have all said no problem to the cash deal and plan.

While most of the population are thoroughly bored with this, it must be a matter of vexation for the First Minister. If he holds out a wee while longer, he can present himself as a tough negotiator…albeit one who takes a very long time to negotiate!

He wants to be able to fend off TUV attacks on the devolution of policing and justice…the old unionist ‘we’re harder than you are’ argument.

But therein lies the rub. Should Sinn Féin feel that they are being given the runaround, the temptation for them will be to collapse the Assembly and hold an election coinciding with the Westminster poll.

With the unionist vote split (at least) three ways in most constituencies, McGuinness must fancy his chances of gaining the First Minister monicker and ditching the deputy tag.

Meanwhile boredom strikes even the political hacks…

Expensive MLAs

SINCE the summer it has been a consistent theme – elected members expenses. Headlines shout scandal; radio phone-in shows have callers incandescent with fury…but please remember that it was all within the rules.

Yes, the refrain that is almost consistent, from MPs through to MLAs is that the expenses they claim were approved by the ‘office’ and that they did not break any rules.

Of course, the bankers who reaped the massive bonuses weren’t breaking the rules. The super rich who use sophisticated tax avoidance schemes aren’t breaking any rules.
But, just because you can claim something doesn’t mean you should.

MLAs are, of course, elected to represent their constituents. They hear their constituents woes on an ongoing basis - mounting debt, struggling to claim benefits entitlements, not getting the public services they deserve...

And, they complete their expenses forms all within the rules.

Thankfully this is a cross-community effort. All shades of political hue are grabbing their expenses claims to the max.

In fact, one might surmise that this has the hallmark of a wonderful scheme by the Equality Commission…

Except for the fact family members don’t have to face the rigorous interviews the rest of the civil and public service must tackle, nor fill in the ‘what community…’ declaration.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority?

It would seem that the RQIA, which is charged with, among other things, encouraging improvements in the quality of of health and social care services in Northern Ireland, has a few issues with the quality of its own service delivery.

This frustrated blogger tried phoning its main number and got a "this number is currently unavailable" message.

On a second attempt, the caller was invited to leave a message on Vodafone voicemail.

Hurray, on the third attempt a real person answered the phone but the switchboard operator was unable to transfer calls. She helpfully suggested that she could email the person the caller was trying to reach. Hmmm....