I used to like John Prescott. He was a trade unionist, one of the few labour front benches with proper working class credentials, a bruiser who gave a succession of Tory ministers a hard time. Then Labour returned to power and we gradually saw a different Prescott, a man who frequently seemed out of his depth, a bully, a man who looked to blame others for his failings.
He was at it again this week, blaming the fiasco of Fire Service Regional Control Centres on ‘bloody civil servants’, on one in particular who, as he is still a civil servant, cannot publicly defend himself. It was a disgraceful and cowardly performance.
He was wrong. He was the minister responsible and, therefore, accountable to parliament. It was the government of which he was a member that devised the policy of regionalisation. This was part of a wider policy of so-called modernisation which held that bigger is better. In the case of Fire Service Control Centres, where local knowledge is crucial, it should be clear that this is not necessarily the case. The taxpayer is still paying for an empty building in Wolverhampton while West Midlands Fire moved to a new Headquarters in 2008 which had no provision for a control room.
The bigger is better mania has survived Prescott. Since 1st April , for example, Scotland has had a single national police force. Further change for the Fire Service is on the horizon. Yet it should be clear by now that these reorganisations, which make public bodies ever more remote from the people who use their services , cause more problem than they solve and giver rise to unexpected costs that can substantially offset the intended savings.
I haven’t even mentioned the insane Pathfinder scheme which Prescott forced through and which led to thousands and thousands of perfectly sound terraced houses in Northern England being demolished supposedly to ‘regenerate the local housing market.’
But that’s for another time. Prescott was a poor minister, one for whom I would counsel a long period of humble silence.