Strikes were traditionally the way that the down trodden worker would redress the power balance between employer and employee.  Workers would go on strike when they wanted better conditions and a safer working environment.  So you would have had miners go on strike to reduce their working day to something reasonable and to ensure that they got regular breaks. 

Now industrial action is the preserve of the trade unions and the public sector.  We see or hear about unions balloting their members on industrial action ever few months, if it’s not the teachers it’s the postmen or the fuel tanker drivers or the tube drivers.  Now its normally over them wanting a pay rise or something to do with their pensions or working hours. 

However gone are the days when unscrupulous employers sent teenage boys down the mines for 14 hours at a time to extract coal.  We have a whole raft of legislation both domestic and European that protects the rights of the work, and limits the hours they can work and regulates when they have to have rest breaks and how long they have to have off between shifts. 

So pray tell well what are they after? Well in most cases they are normally after more money or they want to work less time for the same amount of money.  Which if you think about it, it really isn’t that fair on those in the private sector.  Whose employees can’t down tools for the day because they want a few more hundred pounds in their pay packet at the end of the month or because they want to work 35 hours a week not 39. 

Now I would have a little bit of sympathy for these people going on strike if the statistics actually backed up their arguments.  Yet however the office for national statistics regularly does a comparison between public and private sector wages and every time it always shows that the wages are normally a lot better in favour of the public sector.  This time it was 7% advantage money wise working in the public sector over the private sector. 

Yet these workers keep going on strike because they think they are underpaid and want more money.  I’m sorry but who are you comparing your earnings to? You are better paid than the private sector so that really doesn’t leave anyone else to be compared to.    

Anyhow, these strikes are also never the majority of those types of workers.  Let’s take the proposed fuel driver strike.  Now out of the 2000 of them balloted, only actually 827 of them voted to strike.  So because most of the drivers didn’t really care so they didn’t bother to vote they will all lose pay for the day’s they are on strike and 800 people are effectively holding the country to ransom till they get what they want.  As we have already seen people panic buying petrol in case they do actually go on strike.  As a lot of people remember what happened last time there was a strike involving petrol. 

Those on the left seem to think that a strike is generally a good thing as it’s the working man fighting the system and their perceived injustice.  But the last big strike was over pensions and the fact the public sector didn’t want to be brought in to line with the private sector.  Which got a lot of press coverage but the general mood of the private sector was one not in support of those on strike.  A strike on petrol delivery will see little or no sympathy for those on strike as it has the possibility to produce wide scale disruption to just about anyone who uses any form of transport be that car, motor bike or bus. 

Now let’s for a second imagine what the reaction of those public sector employees would be if the private sector workers decided to down tools on a semi-regular basis.  Imagine the outcry there would be if all shop workers went on strike for a week, there would be lots of very upset teachers and nurses who couldn’t go and buy their couscous. 

Now the reason why the private sector doesn’t strike is because of a small thing called competition, if M&S workers walked out you could buy your new dress from a multitude of other places.  If Tesco’s staff had a strike you could go to ASDA.  Yet with the public sector you don’t have that the NHS has a monopoly on health care, there isn’t an alternative school you can send your children to for the day and you can’t look in the yellow pages to find an alternative job centre. 

So I think that the laws surrounding industrial action don’t have to be changed, they need to be changed to stop a minority of people holding the country to ransom.  Now this could be done in a few ways, we could introduce a minimum number of union members that have to vote in any ballot for it to be a valid one as to call a strike as a result, say 70%.  Which would stop a few militant trade unionists from pushing for strike action every other week. 

Or the one I am favouring the more I think about it would be a temporary ban on industrial action whilst the Office of National Statistics keep producing reports that say pay is better in the public sector over the private sector.  Strikes could only be balloted on if the private/public sector pay gap was more than 7.5% in favour of the private sector.  Then it may be justifiable to ask for more pay and strike if it’s not given.   

Or there could be punitive measures attached to strike action, so if the teachers went on strike and 10,000 parents had to take the day of work as a result of it then the unions had to cover at least 50% of the lost wages of the parents.  Or when the tube drivers go on strike and it costs London hundreds of millions, some businesses could claim back some if not all of the money that they lost as a result of it; to give some protection to small and medium business.  

As, for the issues that most of these strikes are called for they should be resolved through negotiation, as if the threat of strike action was removed from the table or made something the unions couldn’t guarantee they would get.  The negotiations over pay, conditions and pensions would be a lot more productive.   

So to sum up, we need to change the laws concerning strikes to level the playing field, that is currently stacked against everyone but the trade unions. 
At work I deal with a wide and varied range of things, one of them came up as a result of several clients contacting us with the same problem regarding accessing medical treatment.  So out of curiosity my boss decided we would do a Freedom of Information Request to all the PCT’s in England to look if this was a National issue or a Local one.

Anyhow this blog isn’t about the FOI request but some snippets of information that turned up as a result of this.  The information regards two specialist operations, where in the UK there are only 2 surgeons’ providing both types of operation. 

Now we actually got the costs of these operations, something which we hadn’t asked for.  Now you would think that these operations are being carried out in the same place with the same surgeons regardless of where you live in the UK would cost the different PCT’s the same amount.  However this is not the case, the cost of one of the operations varied from £42,000 for some PCT’s all the way up to £65,000 for another PCT. 

Now this variance makes the mind boggle; a £23,000 difference for just having a different post code is extortionate.  Maybe if it was a few thousand differences you could understand it but this size of difference is just wrong.  Where is this £23,000 going, does the costs of hiring an operation theatre change if someone’s from Manchester or Bristol? Do people from different areas have tougher skin and require more expensive instruments.  Or is it a case that the administrative costs of different areas account for this huge disparity?  Which is more likely.  If that is the case then you may well be living in an PCT area where they are funnelling money in to administrative staff rather than treating you.

The second operation was seemingly better managed price wise and the variance between the PCT’s was a few thousand pounds, ranging from £14,000 to £15,500.  However for this operation we found out something rather alarming.  Three years ago this operation only cost the NHS £10,000 but in the subsequent years rose year on year to be £14,000.  A 40% increase in cost in just 3 years, now surely the resources used in this operation have not increased by 40% in price. 

We know that the cost of the doctors and nurses hasn’t gone up in that time as there is a public sector pay freeze, and surely for any operation that has to be the big cost of the operation.  We can accept that the likes of heating and lighting prices have gone up, but have they really gone up by the tune of £4000 per patient in 3 years? I highly doubt that.  So where has this extra £4000 gone?

Both are examples of obvious NHS waste where the money that is supposed to go in to treating people to make them better is being syphoned off in to administrative people who are filling up half of the total number of jobs that exist in the NHS.  Is some admin person going to make your ingrowing toe nails go away?

Then there was yesterday’s story in the Telegraph about the NHS paying £20,000 to find a doctor to cover one week’s work, and another paying £14,000 to cover a gynaecologist for 4 days.  The list in the Telegraph was huge listing more and more waste by the NHS. 

There are thousands of people who want to save the NHS just the way it is, because reforming it would be bad and if the reforms come in all the Hospitals will explode.  The NHS in its current form shouldn’t be saved it’s an inefficient organisation, trying to melt an ice berg with a match would be more efficient than the NHS is in its current form. 

So people you should be embracing the change to the NHS, cutting out this waste and mismanagement brought in by 13 years of Labour ineptitude.  If you want your NHS still hear and still free in 40 years’ time embrace the changes and lets trim the fat off the NHS. 
Every time I watch one of these police programs on the telly I always get the feeling that the police are a little frustrated with the criminal justice system.  They do their bit and arrest the suspect and put them before the courts, yet the courts always seem to be very lenient when it comes to sentencing.  

You get the impression that the police know roughly who committed the relevant crimes in a set area but finding the concrete evidence is always an issue.  This is illustrated when the police do catch someone for something like burglary and they are put on trial and duly convicted; its then at that point that the burglar asks for other crimes to be taken in to consideration when passing sentence, which the judge does and they normally get a few more months in prison as a result. 

However the way I see things is we have the Law there as a deterrent to stop people committing crime with a punishment attached to it.  Now I think for the average person the risk of being sent to prison for something is not one that they want to take, as within the majority of society there is still a stigma attached to having been to prison.   

However for some people that stigma doesn’t apparently matter as there are a fair few people out there with a string of criminal convictions, which is illustrated by the UK’s re-offending rate.  Now there will be some people who will argue that people re-offend because prison doesn’t work and that these people are a perfect example as to why we shouldn’t keep sending people back to prison. 

However I think I have to disagree with that argument, I think they re-offend because prison fails to tackle the underlying issues of these people.  Prison is supposed to be about re-habilitating people who have done wrong so that when they are released they can be valued members of society.  If we are not going to tackle Mr Jones drug problem while he is in prison then when he comes out he’s only going to commit more crime to fund his drug addiction. 

This is where sentencing comes in to play, if Mr Jones has a drug problem then sending him to prison for a few weeks from burglary is not going to fix Mr Jones, his drug problem or reduce his likelihood to reoffend. 

Judges normally have a large amount of freedom when it comes to sentencing, as in most cases the guidelines published are nowhere near the maximum penalty they could hand out. Now if we made it mandatory that anyone with a drug or alcohol problem as part of their sentence had to go through rehabilitation, then we would reduce the likelihood that they would re-offend upon release.  Now obviously this wouldn’t be a cheap thing to do, and in a time of economic austerity some people would think it to be hard to justify the funding of such a program.  But I think there are ways around the funding issues, however we currently have 88,000 prisoners who are not really doing a lot.  If we were to utilise these people in making something or producing things they could actually generate a revenue stream that could be used to fund proper rehabilitation. 

So instead of sending Mr Jones to prison for 26 weeks, who then on release goes straight back to a life of crime to fund his drug problem, we would send him to prison to properly rehabilitate him so when he comes out he’s a productive member of society.  Now yes it would mean sending him to prison for longer, having him get clean from drugs and having him and the other prisoners work but in the long term it should reduce crime and the amount of money we spend catching people, prosecuting them and subsequently locking them up.  Prison should be about rehabilitation and punishment then it should work to the benefit of society. 
There has been a fair bit of talk of late of major constitutional reform of the House of Lords.  Now we all know why Tony Blair did what he did to the Lords, it was to remove what was a permanent Conservative majority from the Lords so he could pass laws a bit easier. 

However the current plans I find a little unsettling.  As it is at the moment the Lords is there to provide a series of balance and checks to the government, and it works.  The Lord’s knows it’s not the senior house and it knows that sovereignty lies with the House of Commons. Also the Lord’s also has another wonderful property that only exists in there; in that there are a lot of specialist’s who sit as peers such as Doctors, Lawyers, Nurses ect…

If we move to an elected House of Lords I fear all this will be lost, and we will be faced with a second version of the House of Commons.  We will be in a situation where both houses have a mandate from the people and could well argue over which chamber has the stronger mandate.  Which then moves away from government working for the good of the people while they sort out some constitutional argument. 

It will also bring in just more party politics to the legislative process, although they say that by having one fifteen year term the people can stay somewhat partisan with regards to political views, I don’t see that happening.  What I see if you have an elected second chamber is it getting used as a possible training ground for MP’s.  If that happens then we will see very strict adherence to party policy. 

I am not saying we don’t need to do something with the Lords, as we are rapidly increasing the size of it every year.  However I do think that we need to keep the process and systems that we have in place.  Instead of having peers allowed to sit in the Lords for life, why not limit the time they can sit in the Lords to 15 years, that way we keep the system that works and address the growth issue.