Monday 4 February 2013

Search and Rescue, Privatisation and the Big Society

The operations of the Search and Rescue services are probably more complex than the government realises.

A few years ago someone claimed in parliament that people who got themselves stranded on mountains or became adrift at sea should jolly well be sent a bill to cover the costs of rescuing them. A military person responded that the search and rescue teams had to practise anyway, and operating in real situations was more effective training than taking part in staged situations.  So market forces weren't necessarily appropriate in this area.

Equally, the Search and Rescue services rely a great deal on volunteers: the Mountain Rescue teams in popular hiking and climbing areas, the Lifeboat services around the coast.  There used to be volunteer fire brigades and ambulance crews: maybe there still are. Volunteering for the public good, physical and metal challenges,along with a bit of fun and companionship, is an important part of what Cameron now chooses to call  the"Big Society" but I can't see volunteers being quite so keen to give their help free to businesses that are trying to make a profit out of them.

If new equipment has to be bought  (the replacement of the ageing Sea King helicopters seem to be the major cost pending) there is little point in transferring the immediate cost from the public to the private purse, and then lumbering future generations with paying through the nose for the service thereafter.  And how long before some bright management guru decides to introduce payment by results or whacking bonuses?  Even A-level students can see the bizarre possibilities that would arise if firemen were paid according to the number of fires they put out.

This is yet another area where the government is advised to leave well alone, rather than damage an effective public service for ideological reasons (or the private profits of its mates.)

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