The Northern Ireland Consumer deserves choice as to who provides their public services

As we settle into the new year, there has been plenty of posts written about how the political landscape is likely to change in 2016 both north and south, which parties are forecast to do well and which ones could potentially suffer at the ballot box as well as the rise and fall of various political personalities in 2016.

Little however has been written about the policies required to transform Northern Ireland from the economic basket case it currently is into an economy comparable to our ROI, Scottish, Welsh and English neighbours. I have commented previously on the changes required to kick start the private sector, however with a reduction in the block grant looming, attention now needs to be given as to how our public services can be delivered better and more efficiently and the resizing of our bloated public sector.

A recent report published just before the Christmas break by the office of National Statistics very interesting reading as it gives us a good snapshot of the current state a key public service, MOT provision. This report is relevant as like many of our local government agencies, it is a monopoly service which offers the citizens of Northern Ireland no choice as to its provision. Like any monopoly, history, experience and common sense tells us that when there is no competition, these Government agencies have little or no incentive to actually provide or even attempt to provide improvements or efficiencies to the way their services are is delivered to the consumer.

The statistic which stood out for me in this report was the large number of vehicles (7,200) which failed to attend pre-booked MOT tests during July to September 2015. This statistic is relevant is an example of a centralised public service which is a monopoly which dictates to the consumer where and when the service will be delivered and is not delivered with the interests of the consumer in mind as anyone who has turned up late for an MOT late will have experienced first-hand the frustration of dealing with an inflexible Government Agency.

The rest of the UK has however moved on and delivered great efficiencies and improvements in the delivery of many public services. MOT’s for example which were once delivered in the same way as they currently are here are now provided in hundreds of approved MOT centres up and down the country all private sector businesses which compete against each other on price, service provision, location all in the knowledge there is a strong regulatory regime in place to ensure the service is delivered to the standards required by Central Government.

This is also the same for many other public services across the UK such as public transport, construction, building control, tourism  etc. all decentralised government services which ensures healthy competition in the particular sector and a higher level of competence which in turn drives down the cost to the consumer, improves choice and service delivery which in turn generates efficiencies in central and local government.

We all know the Northern Ireland public service needs to be drastically reduced in size and made to become more efficient, but we are seeing little evidence on the ground of real efficiencies and improvements in public service delivery.  Instead of our politicians being champions of consumer choice and policies which ensures that taxpayers money is prudently spent, we are seeing even more consolidation and centralisation of public services and in turn even more waste and inefficiency. One only has to observe our government agencies funding and delivering projects which the private sector is better placed to provide such as the construction of conference centres, sports stadia, offices and infrastructure to realise many of these central and local government agencies are simply put, out of control and not up to the job.

With the 2016 elections looming, I would hope to see our politicians starting to have a this much needed debate as to the public services central and local government are best placed to provide such as the NHS and education provision and the services that can be delivered better by the private sector as the current government structures we have are from bygone times and a urgent refresh is required.

  • Brian O’Neill

    While I sympathetic to the idea of breaking up public services I think the MOT system generally works well.

    You can book it online, you can change your appointment online. It only costs £30, and most importantly you trust the inspectors to be impartial and do a good inspection.

    If it is outsourced to independent garages how do I know they are not going to tell me I need a ton of repairs just so they can drum up some business?

    I am more than happy to know I am not driving around in a death trap. I see no demand from the public to change the system.

  • Ernekid

    You’d think that the experience that the UK has had over past 30 years with its public services would have debunked the old canard that Privatisation = Effeciency.

    Privatising a service doesn’t necessarily make it more efficient it just introduces different forms of inefficiencies. A good example is privatised Rail in Britain. Instead of providing a decent service to passengers , train operators care more about returning profits to shareholders which has led to outrageously inflated ticket prices. Privatisation can also lead to Artificially introducing competition into a naturally monopolistic market. Which is hardly the measure of good Effeciency. Privatisation also leads to a lack of accountability as essential services can be pawned off to unaccountable mega corporations that have a tendency to exploit staff and customers. Just look at how G4S has run roughshod over people as essential services have been outsourced.

  • Dan

    When I first read that 7200, I assumed that was for people just not turning up on the appointed day, and my reaction was tough, their own fault, and thought perhaps that sort of system should be introduced to NHS appointments too.

    But, is a large percentage of the figure for those who arrive a little late for whatever reason and are refused by inflexible test centres?

  • Eugene McConville

    Yes most GB MOTs are delivered by “private sector businesses” but there’s still a few Public Sector providers such as Camden Council. Over 35 years I’ve never owned a car which didn’t need an annual MOT and I’d never managed to pass without some work required. That is until I started using the Council a couple of years ago. Funny that.

  • scepticacademic

    “the policies required to transform Northern Ireland from the economic basket case it currently is into an economy comparable to our ROI, Scottish, Welsh and English neighbours” – the Welsh economy is a similar basket case on a range of economic indicators, the Scottish economy outside of Edinburgh and Aberdeen (N Sea oil contraction underway) is not much better.

  • scepticacademic

    “other public services across the UK such as public transport, … ensures healthy competition … and a higher level of competence which in turn drives down the cost to the consumer, improves choice and service delivery” – What like the railways and bus services? Ha! Bus services in most northern English conurbations got worse, less integrated and more expensive after privatisation. As for the railways… :-O

  • El_Commi

    “common sense tells us that when there is no competition, these Government agencies have little or no incentive to actually provide..”

    I’d rather rely on some reliable evidence than common sense thanks. I wa. Reading just this week, that recent evidence has shown privatisation does little to improve efficiency and usually results in poorer services overall..

  • Reader

    I avoid the risk of arriving a little late by arriving a little early instead. And since there is normally a short queue of cars anyway, if someone arrived a *little* late it probably wouldn’t even be noticed.
    But we do have a slack and unpunctual culture here. One useful nudge would be for public bodies to enforce punctuality with the knock on effect of improving the culture of workers and business people.

  • Cosmo

    Dear Patrick, please correct the typos/spelling/grammatical mistakes in headline etc.

  • chrisjones2

    Try booking an appointment in NI. Typical wait times are 6 to 8 weeks

    Outside London MOT is about £20 and can be done at very low notice – sometimes drive in / drive out

  • chrisjones2

    “instead of providing a decent service to passengers , train operators care more about returning profits to shareholders which has led to outrageously inflated ticket prices”

    Thats complete nonsense. The reason fares have gone up is the reduction in Government subsidy and the charges from the Nationalised bit for maintaining the network,

    “Privatisation also leads to a lack of accountability”

    Again tripe. On trains on many routes you the purchaser make a choice. Which company? Which service? Which price? Thats the ultimate accountability

    “Just look at how G4S has run roughshod over people ”

    What are you talking about? That doesn’t seem to relate to anything else

  • chrisjones2

    Yep. Clearly the council were much less focused on enforcing the rules – probably because they didn’t risk losing their licence to conduct tests if they failed to spot faults

    Also at the moment a typical car MOT in London costs £40 – about £8 more than here and 2x the prices in places like Manchester. Camden Council charge £55!!!!!!

  • Eugene McConville

    Well Chris, not too sure what you mean re focus, all I can say is the extra £15 is well worth it for me.

    “…after being quoted £700 for MOT repairs from his local dealer, he took it to his council test centre where it passed
    without any need for repairs.

    He then reported the dealer to his local Trading
    Standards department, which had it re-tested; it passed with no need for
    repairs. So he wrote to the dealer requesting his test fee be returned
    for “non-compliance with the Road Traffic Act”, and got a refund.”

  • notimetoshine

    Not too sure about this. Private sector does not automatically mean good service. In NI, adult domiciliary care provided by the private sector is a disaster and care homes ,well, need I say more.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Before we jump to this extreme how about just reigning in some of the government perks that SOME gov depts have?

    E.g. a close relative of mine works in a temporary capacity in a gov agency and is frequently telling me about X falling out with Y and both of them taking time off for ‘stress’ as a result of the altercation.
    Every one has bad patches in life but utilising benefits such these like a tap is not healthy for society.

    Furthermore as they contribute to inefficiency they merely strengthen the privatisation argument.

    An American businessman once upon a time fired annually the bottom 10% performers in his company.

    A tad cold but could ‘keep the fear up’.

    Then again, my Da once suggested that we….

  • chrisjones2

    Use an MOT Only Centre -they have no incentive to cheat. Caveat emptor

    I have had the same experience with a “free brake test”

  • chrisjones2

    Its a tiny figure – around 3% of tests

  • AndyB

    Which company: Local monopoly meaning that only a tiny number of customers have any choice as to which bus or train to catch to reach their destination.

    Which service: depends on whether there’s enough money to be made in offering a variety of times greater than absolutely required under the minimum service specification.

    Which price: full fare, unless you are able to pre-book, which only applies to long distance journeys (or, if you have the luxury of travelling off-peak, a fare more in line with what we pay on NIR for peak services!)

  • AndyB

    You can get appointments in NI a lot quicker than 6-8 weeks. My experience, for September appointments, is that they initially release appointments on the basis of having the minimum staffing levels management are willing to tolerate, and closer to the time as it becomes clear how few staff want to take leave on a particular day, more appointments are released. The trick is to check the website at about 9am, as by then more appointments may be released – and they will not all be taken by lunchtime. Being willing to travel also helps, as in the last few years I have had the test in Ards, Lisburn, Mallusk, and even Ballymena.

    I think that the insistence on good timekeeping is based on not making people who turn up on time for their appointment wait for previous latecomers. That said, if eight vehicles are booked for 4pm at a particular site, some won’t be seen until 4.05pm by the time that the first cars to arrive have had the lights and exhaust checks done.

    I’m glad though to hear that there are still garages that don’t tear the proverbial out of the MOT as @leftofcentre:disqus mentions – what he reports is the exact reputation that the private MOT centres in GB have.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That’s the private sector for your Chris……

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I, we own the MOT centres, the rail & bus company, the docks, and all the future revenue streams thereof – not you, not the government. They are the common property of us all and built up over the generations by investments from the public purse.

    We may decide to outsource the management to third parties for a fixed term but they’re not for sale to private, profit-seeking companies or individuals; or at least I hope so.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘An American businessman once upon a time fired annually the bottom 10% performers in his company.’

    That’s the existing policy at Goldman Sachs, I believe, although I’m not sure if it’s 10%

  • Old Mortality

    I’m not sure the DVTA is the best target. The system in GB has an inherent conflict of interest where the tester has an economic incentive for the vehicle to fail unless the owner is tough-minded enough to take it elsewhere for the failings to be rectified.