Monday, 17 January 2011

"The Public Sector: Wasting Your Money So You Don't Have To"

I hinted yesterday that I might one day post on the topic of public sector slogans. That day has come. Hooray. Yes, today we shall look at one of the most overt displays of contempt for taxpayers which the public sector manages to pull off every day. The embodiment of all that is wasteful, pointless and unaccountable about so much in our public sector are the ridiculous slogans, or tag lines that accompany their titles.

Let's see what we're dealing with here by looking at some examples. From Police forces various:
"Serving our communities, protecting them from harm"; "Protecting our communities by reducing crime and antisocial behaviour"; "Keeping our communities safe and reassured". Specifically from Northumbria Police: "Total Policing". From Kent Police: "Protecting and serving the people of Kent".

Let's look outside the police, major culprits though they are, they are not alone. My local authority, South Oxford District Council: "Listening, Learning, Leading". Wandsworth Council: "The brighter borough, number one for service and value". Department for Transport: "Working to deliver a transport system which balances the needs of the economy, the environment and society."

So we have the police, various local government bodies and even central government. Now what do all of these august institutions have in common? They don't sell. Anything. And yet they advertise using our money. If you get mugged, the police who turn up will be the ones (if they bother) who have responsibility for the area you are in. You don't get to call in your preferred police force; the ones with the best crime detection rate or the prettiest police officers. If you buy a house you will pay non-negotiable tax to the council in whose district you find yourself. You can't ask the neighbouring council to collect your bins because they collect them weekly as opposed to fortnightly. Likewise, whilst you may choose the airline or train company you use, the DFT is all-encompassing. You can't opt out, they have a say over all the roads, all the railways etc.

So why on God's green earth are they trying to sell themselves? Why advertise when you have nothing to gain from it? I get why Nokia are "connecting people", why American Express suggest you should "never leave home without it". Advertising is, broadly speaking, there to increase your market share by increase in product or brand awareness in a competitive market. It's not just business that advertise though - the armed forces all have tag lines because they're competing to sign up people from the same target audience. UK political parties have them because there is a choice there. However, if you're the only option, it's either an exercise in futility (as the police/local council examples are), or part of a wider brainwashing program (Hitler or Pol Pot campaigning and advertising whilst representing the only legal parties).

So let us have an end to this expensive, pointless rubbish (not all of local government, tempted though I am - just the advertising part). Let the police have just that on their cars and letterheads. We know what they're meant to do, they're the police; if anything they aren't helping themselves with these slogans by pointing out jobs they often fail to do. Again, as with all these waste issues, when the strikes come around or complaints at budget cuts, remember where they choose to spend our money first. You can bet your bottom dollar all you will hear is "there will have to be cuts to front line services". What price the announcement "we might have to get rid of our stupid slogan, or at least stop changing it every 3 years"? Thought not...

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