Saturday, 24 April 2010

In the name of the ancient God Neptune

Russia is a major nuclear power and has long been engaged in a war with the Chechyna, This is not some internal terrorist action but war. The major power is not known for lack of commitment in enforcing discipline and did not have a lot of success. The rebels took over a school and many children died when the Russian military stormed it. There was an incident where the took hostages in a cinema and this was settled with robust but non-nuclear attack. Remember also the Cuban missile crisis where Russia had to make a humilating withdrawal. Russia has many Trident-type resources but these were neither used or even threatened.

America is another nucleur super power and not known for timidity or lack of robust and forthright action. They were soundly defeated in Vietnam. They were unable to prevent a few terrorists from destroying the WTC and seriously damaging the Pentagon. Internal strife destroyed a building and many people in Oklahoma. Here, just as in the Russian case, nuclear assetts were never considered.

Our own significant event was possibly the Underground bombings. Our Tridents and air-craft carriers were as nought in dissuading the terrorists or of any use in what followed a week later. We had a situation in Sierra Leone where troops were taken hostage. That was resolved by the use of well trained and resourced SAS-type troops. Shed loads of Tridents and armadas of ships and submarines were of no use at all.

The potential of Trident is set out in a Grauniad article. This also sets out the limits we would find on any 'independent' weapon system. We are being asked to mortgage a considerable chunk of scarce money for something we do not own. They are the reification of a fantasy: a fantasy that the United Kingdom is still a defining world power and that our enemies present an existential threat. As usual, the government is preparing for the last war,

The attitude of those who cling to the need for Trident UK is understandable. They argue from the position that we have to update and renew an existing weapons system. This precludes any going back to basics; why did we get it in the first place? It replaced an earlier missile system and, given the state of East/West relations then, I doubt if any real decision-making system was applied to it's predecessor anyway. I argue from the stand-point of 'why do anything?' I think I would have supported the Trident-type munition in the past but if it were put to me now – well, you have read this far and know my answer.

Someone will question why lookfor a saving on Trident when there are so many other areas where savings could be made. I agree. The main target for the alternatives is the NHS. As might be epected, I have a view on that also. The NHS if left unchallenged would use every penny of our GDP – and more. And want more on top of that. Where we now expect premature babies of 24 weeks at birth to survive, the mums and doctors will look to save the infant at 23 weeks. When that is achieved, they will seek even better results. Where women have for whatever reason gone childless past their fertility period, we spend much money allowing them to get with child at an advanced age. NHS and clients will want to ratchet that age upwards at even greater cost. There was an excellent fly on wall type programme from Great Ormond Street hospital for sick children. We saw kids being admitted in really desperate straits. Birth defects, illnesses and infections and all at death's door. The cameras were allowed to be present where the medical staff discussed these patients. They seemed not to consider anything as beyond solution; the most radical procedures were thought up and discussed. One would involve the child being in intensive care for a whole year. In a number of cases they had to tell the parents that the solution was more than a child could suffer or was so remote of success that it could not be supported by the medical team. They then went into the procedure of getting the child well enough to go home – not to live on but so that the parents could spend time with their offspring as it faded and died.

This examplified to me a problem with the NHS. Cost did not figure in any debate as to what might be done. The professionals did not have to establish costs and there was no one in control of the budget – if there even was a budget. That way disaster lies and that is an area where I see possible savings – after we have got rid of the managerial and administrative personnel who have swarmed in like sperm seeking a warm uterus. We have NICE that rules whether some life-prolonging or enhancing drug may be supplied so the idea of money entering into matters of, literally, life an death is not new.

In my prime I controlled a budget of just under £10 million. Some 20% was fixed charges such as rent and rates on a number of office premises. I was required to write a new budget every year starting from scratch and outline budgets were required for five years in advance. The company was engaged in engineering and we were not able to say what new work might come in during any budget pediod where office alterations were needed. Supplementary bids could be submitted for such unforeseen expenditure but I was expected to offer up savings from the approved budget. It took me two years of brain-storming with our in-house Treasurery people to learn how to do this but it worked and I was happy that I was in control of my Budget. I appreciate that the NHS budget is many millions times what I had but there are more NHS Controllers than just one beginner; what I had to learn and apply would surely work there.

In any case, what we look like needing to save is not an either or situation. We will need all the savings we can find. There is little point in increasing personal and corporate tax up front only to have it slither away at the back door.

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