Police State Britain: cops tool up

Hmmm. Armed police patrols in London’s residential areas are to become routine, for the first time. And the unit concerned apparently didn’t feel this was the sort of thing it should have told its chief (or the mayor) about.

It’s driven by a “rise in gun crime”. But this isn’t about gun crime; it’s about drug crime, drug dealers killing each other, not threatening the mainstream population. These guys aren’t getting into gun battles with the cops, or waving guns around on the High St.

And if you are in a gun battle with innocent bystanders around, what the hell use is a bloody spray’n’pray submachine gun?

So tooling up for routine patrols is just yet another example of the Met – one of Britain’s poorest-performing police forces – thinking uncritically. The force, using New Labour’s culture of dependency and authoritarianism as its excuse, is truly out of control.

It takes nine of us: the (lack of) value of a public servant

My three Big Problems with New Labour’s Britain – its nannynagging Police State, its increase in red tape, and public sector bloat – became even sharper when I ran a few numbers about just how under-delivering our public sector is.

For centuries, we who create wealth (business and taxpayers) had a deal with civil servants: work diligently for a living wage, and we’ll forget about your immense job security and gold-plated pension arrangements. New Labour broke that agreement: Britain’s public servants are now among the world’s best-paid – now earning more than an equivalent private sector role.

(Some senior civil servants are on record as thinking they should be paid as much as a FTSE-100 CEO, simply because the same number of people work for them.)

At income parity, that means it takes three private sector workers to support one public sector worker. (There are about 20m private sector workers in the UK and over six million public sector workers, an 800K increase under Blair and Brown.)

So far, just about sustainable – over three privates for one public. But let’s think about this for a second.

All of the civil servants get paid directly from the public purse – i.e. from the taxes of others. Meaning they contribute nothing to the Exchequer at all. So the ’employers contribution’ of NI taxes, for public servants, means nothing – it’s just making these people 11% more expensive. So a public servant has to be 11% more productive just to justify his job.

But there’s more. Public servants enjoy final-salary pensions – something very rare in the private sector. (And even where they exist, they’re subject to risks, like the providing company going bankrupt, that don’t exist in the public sector.) So a public sector pension, even compared to a final salary private one, is massively more advantageous – a discount factor of zero.

Now, a man retiring today spends on average a decade in retirement, and often much more. With a final salary pension, say a third of his total lifetime costs are taken up by his pension. But public sector pensions can often be passed on to spouses – and women marry younger and live longer, about 7-9 years’ difference on average. So overall his lifetime costs will be about twice as high as a private sector worker, who have to contribute to (and live within) their own pensions.

But wait. Public sector workers retire younger – often very much younger. (Why? Because they can.) 55 is common; 50 is not rare. And for certain sectors – like policemen – it’s normal to then take second jobs, again in the public sector, without forgoing the pension from the first. That effect is small but significant – let’s say 10%. A public servant now has to be 2.1 times as effective as a private sector worker to be worth the money. (Unrealistic to say the least.)

However, we’ve not yet dialed in the difference in salary it’d take to bring private sector pensions up to high public sector standards. A reasonably senior civil servant – say, someone equivalent to me but in the public sector, perhaps leading a small team and handling a local departmental budget by his late 30s or early 40s – gets a rock-solid, gilt-edged final salary pension equivalent to a pot of over £1m on the day he retires.

To get the same, I have to contribute approximately £3000 a month to much riskier private schemes from age 30 or so to have a reasonable chance of the same outcome – not far off having to earn another salary on top of my own.

To normalise this data, we’ve got to increase the civil servant’s costs again, to about 2.9 or so. A public sector worker has to be almost three times as productive as a private sector worker to add equivalent value.

On top of this we’ve got to apply a discount factor, because of the increased risk a market-based pension carries. (Bad times are not balanced out by good times in the world of corporate pensions – companies prefer to take ‘contribution holidays’ when the funds are growing strongly, without the necessity of catching up when growth slows.) Let’s say 15% or so discounted to the present day. Not far off a quarter million pounds, so we have to add that quarter mil to the public servant’s costs to be consistent. Another 10% or so on total lifetime costs. 3x.

So in Britain today, a public servant costs three times as much as a private sector one.

With taxes at a third of income, that means it takes nine private sector workers to employ just one in public sector.

And in Britain today there are a lot of public servants.

(All this, of course, is without mentioning the source of those funds. In the private sector, workers are paid from profits made; public servants are paid directly from state coffers and make no contribution in tax themselves. They’re wealth consumers, not wealth creators.)

Ridiculous.

Look in the dictionary under “unsustainable” and there’s a photo of Gordon Brown.

Get back in your cell, or I’ll hit you with my certificate

Now this was funny. A charity thinks all prison officers should have degrees. These guys are living so far from the real world it’s awesome.

I know a couple of prison officers, who work in a Cat B jail – one notch below the worst of the worst. They’re not what you’d call intellectuals – but what they ARE is the salt of the earth. Ex-army, cheerfully competent shaven-headed guys who let the stresses of dealing with the hard nuts wash over them. They’re precisely the sort of people you want in charge of prisoners.

Imagine the picture. Some snot-nosed sociology graduate thinking he can command respect out of 600 badasses by waving his degree certificate at them. Doesn’t quite work, does it?

Obviously some prisoners respond to counselling, but for psychological or OB methods to “take” there’s got to be some minimum level of understanding between trainer and trainee; you can’t talk if you’re on different planets. Without making any judgement on the causes of crime, the average reading age of a British prisoner is 7. By the time someone hits jail, the sad reality is that they’re lost. The game is to control and secure them, not surround them with bloody New Labourites filled with that most dangerous of beliefs: that We Can Make You Better.

The average reading age of a British squaddie – the profession most likely to appear on the CV of a prison officer – is 11. To make a sweeping generalisation, they’re people from the same social conditions as prisoners… who had the guts and character to make better choices in life.

I’m all for education, but make it the right kind of education. This “Howard Charity” may not be government, but it’s almost certainly funded by government, and it’s obviously picked up some of the current administration’s more dangerous traits.

New Labour drops ID cards

Not before time, Alan Johnson has signalled an end to the ID card programme. It’s a mark of just how low my expectations are of Britain’s awful government that I’m happy it’s only wasted… £2bn or so on the madcap scheme.

Three reasons why it was fundamentally flawed:

At base level, it wouldn’t have worked. Governments have no ability to make large IT projects give value; it would have cost countless billions over the billions budgeted – which, thanks to New Labour’s existing profligacy, the UK hasn’t got.

A level up, though, are the technical difficulties: sixty million people and a hundred bits of information for each. The law of large numbers states that errors in the database rise exponentially as the amount of information rises linearly – not due to bad design or physics, just the way large and complex systems tend to operate when multiple parties have access to them. Nobody’s record would have been accurate. And when databases are already taken as gospel by police and social services irrespective of whether they’re correct, the opportunities for inadvertent incrimination would’ve been huge.

At top level, though, comes the biggest issue of all: it was never an ID card scheme. New Labour cleverly positioned the debate to be about a card in your wallet. It wasn’t; it was about interconnecting multiple databases from multiple government agencies, and giving a very wide variety of civil servants access to your life they never deserved. The database would have been ripe for fishing expeditions by the cops, intimidation tactics by local governments, and – just as bad – create commercial pressures for release of data.

ID cards were a bad idea: expensive, badly planned, and impossible to implement. (All the hallmarks of New Labour.) It took a recession to get rid of them, but now they’re gone. Let’s work to keep them off the agenda forever.