Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A race to the bottom

I see that everyone is licking their lips that there will now only be one examining board when Gove manages to get back to O-levels. Or something.

And inevitably, there has been criticism of "the market". One particularly hurtful phrase was "there has been a race to the bottom". "The free market has failed us yet again."

I did wonder how competition could lead to this, surely any competition is good, right?

Well, yes it is, but it really does matter who the customer is.

Why, if competition is so good, are the train companies so expensive and so utterly useless? Why, if competition is so good, are examination boards in a race to the bottom? Why is the NHS generally such an unpleasant, bureaucratic experience when you're sick?

In all the cases above, you are not the customer. You are the stock in trade.

Train companies are effectively granted a monopoly over a line, so there is no real competition. Their objective is maximise revenue from a government-decreed monopoly.

Examination boards are there to make the government look good, to make education look successful, to tick government boxes. If we were the customers, they wouldn't be interested in any of those things, they'd be trading on their brand like Oxford or Cambridge, they'd have no interest whatsoever in being in a race to the bottom, because nobody would want to take their exams.

And of course, in the saintly (monopoly) NHS, the patient is the last thing on the mind of those who are in charge, who have to juggle arbitrary government funding with the infinite demand that comes with a "free" service. I suspect that the Lansley reforms (if they ever get enacted, of course!) will lead to a similar disaster where trusts compete with each other for government money by fucking over the long-suffering taxpayer and patient.

Competition only helps the customer. In none of these cases are we the customer, we're just the people who pay for stuff.

There's a big difference between the two.


Anonymous said...

I'm never impressed what someone from HMRC comes on the radio and refers to people like me as customers. If I were a customer, I'd go somewhere else!

SadButMadLad said...

For education the customer should be the end user of the product. The product being students therefore the enduser is either universities or employers. If employers and univeristies learn which exam board provides the most intelligent (for their task) student, then that should be feed back to the exam board. Either directly with some organisation surveying the employers or indirectly with students who get the wrong exam ending up not getting their ideal job. Exam boards should also be monitoring what happens to their students and should be publishing the fact that their students do well. This will also allow for lower standard exams for those who are more brawns than brains. Society still needs builders and cleaners as much as it needs the scientists. But we shouldn't demand that all education is equal, everyone is different.

Jill said...

Also, won't there still be competition? Aren't they just changing the "customer"? Boards will compete to get a national contract for X years, instead of competing for individual business from individual schools?

jm said...

In my drunken post lunch stupor I can't remember the quote or who said it.

I do remember it was aimed at Facebook and Google.

It was along the lines that if your not paying for it directly, you're not the customer, you're the product.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I'm never impressed what someone from HMRC comes on the radio and refers to people like me as customers. If I were a customer, I'd go somewhere else!

I'd glass the fucking shopkeeper!

ReefKnot said...

You are not their customer. Their bosses are their customers. This is why it all goes wrong.