Big Society: Cassandra speaks
Another advantage (sort of) of getting older is the more accurate predictions you find you can make about bright new initiatives brought in by some bright new government. That's why the elderly can seem a bit smug or grumpy -- they really have seen a lot of this before, and they know all about chickens coming home to roost.
There have been a couple of examples of this over the last few days. First there was the headmaster who was supposed to be earning more than the Prime Minister. This, I should say, is a dreadful new calibrator because it always assumes that the PM is earning some £140k, when in fact he earns than in addition to his basic MP's pay, making over £200k altogether. (Besides, over the years, the PM's pay has clearly been kept artificially low partly to enable successive governments to criticise examples of high pay they don't like on the catchy grounds that this unworthy person is "earning more than the Prime Minister".)
Anyway this particular headmaster did appear (if you counted his backpay) to be earning more than the PM. I have no idea whether he is worth it. But fast-backward a few years and us oldies will recall how we being told that we should reward high flying school heads with the market rate for the job, that we should be able to pay "super heads" what they were worth. So a little "scandal" like this is almost inevitably the result.
It could happen in Universities too. We used to have a fixed "age-related" pay scale, with no "market supplements" or personally negotiated pay. Basically you could tell what a University teacher earned if you knew how old they were, and all full professors got paid the same. Then we were told that this was not rewarding talent or high fliers... and it was forcing our best home grown talent across the Atlantic. So now things are much more fluid, and a vast pay-scale for professors, which we can bid to ascend. It's only a matter of time before some newspaper finds a Professor of Sanskrit earning more than the PM (well not quite...)
And then there was the Observer's scoop about the rough discipline (to put in mildly) in privately run young offenders institutions. Another bright idea (it would be so much cheaper, and anyway competition will force the quality of penal institutions up...) going down the predictable path.
So it isn't hard to see what will happen with all these Big Society initiatives.
It's all very well to have the bright idea of the locals running their own bus route... bringing everyone together in a marvellous community scheme. And it will all be launched in front of the local press, with a load of happy kids boarding a brightly painted yellow bus, and a few tv cameras if they are lucky. So far so good. The trouble is that running a bus route is a professional job, not for a group of local enthusiasts. How many bets that five years down the line, either the enthusiasm has run out and there is no more bus route, or there has been a terrible crash and it is discovered that the nicely painted yellow bus wasn't quite as nice mechanically, or one of the organisers has his finger in the till, or one of the drivers has a conviction for doing bad things with kids.... We can all fill in the blanks here.
The same will be true Michael Gove's Academies or the pipe dream of some version of Charter Schools. Here you can go to the USA if you want to see what happens. One minute there is the good news that they have raised children's test scores in the Bronx by some phenomenal amount, the next there are banner headlines about the salaries of the school managers and the compulsory de-unionisation of the teachers (and no one is quite so sure that the test results really were that marvellous).
The point is there was good reason why "the state" took control of schools and transport in the first place. There are some things that in the end, whatever its deficiencies, the state does better and fairer and safer than competitive private enterprise.