There is something inevitable in the march of government to control every element of our lives. Those who know me, know I am hardly an anarchist. Yet I feel great distress when I see Parliament, the beating heart of our liberal democracy, “cracking down” as I see it written in the papers, on freedom. Today it was reported in The Times that doctors, those evil ne’er do wells who scrounge on society to gain knowledge and experience so that, despicably, they might cure the sick and save lives, and thereby, cynically destroy the pensions of those who would have survived anyway, will be forced to enter into contractual obligations to work in the NHS for some time after qualifying. This used to be called servitude, I fear.
Let us completely forget that these same people, whose typical earnings working for the NHS might double those of a London tube driver as they reach the top of their profession, are the highest performing academics in the land, who must give up at least seven years of their lives to impoverished study to reach their heady status. Let us also forget that these folk may indeed have just a little more value to society than, well most politicians, lawyers and accountants. Let us cast from our minds that doctors use their knowledge to heal us and our children. Oh… And let us also ignore the fact that the NHS is a monopoly employer, the only choice in the UK for a Junior Doctor to work, even now. In doing this, we wage a righteous war on those who have the effrontery to consider that hard work, intelligence and achievement, along with helping society and humanity should ever be rewarded. But what has this got to do with business?
Doctors may be one of the most noble professions, but they are not alone in suffering ever greater interference from government. Some would say that doctors of course are generally employed by government, so of course government should interfere. But government insists on knowing best in almost every area of work now. And as I seamlessly twist this topic to that of the business world, when we see yet another set of accounting standards imposed on businesses that could not care less about accounting standards, that those standards may be set by our professional bodies but they are in compliance with government requirements.
When something goes wrong in medicine, business or law, no person is ever heard to cry out that, unfortunate as it is, human beings make mistakes, get things wrong or are sometimes down right evil. We merely hear baying for greater and better regulation. Sometimes regulations are very valid, but it is amazing how many rules can be created and replaced in a single professional lifetime.
Doctors already flee the profession because excessive weight and force is used by regulators when dealing with medical failures – I am told that no heart surgeon, for example, expects to go through his career without being suspended for investigation.
If this sounds distant from your business, remember how once you filled in a tax return and an inspector reviewed it and assessed your tax. Now, you have to assess your own tax and if you get it wrong, or it is late HMRC charges you a penalty. Next you will have an electronic tax account which will be pre-populated with information from your bank account and employer even though you thought that this was private information. You will have to log in and correct it or get assessed for more than is due. This means that HMRC can employ fewer people – because taxpayers do the work. Government lasts for five years and therefore makes short term decisions, whereas people and businesses need stability and certainty to help them make their choices.
Gradually, as we have all become servants of the State without ever seeing it coming, as medicine helps us live longer, we are being forced to make decisions focused only on the immediate and short term. I don’t blame the politicians for this one. But we were warned long ago, weren’t we? Yes Minister….