The Brexit Bus and the Japanese Boat Race

Whenever I see pictures of the Brexit bus promising more funds for the NHS  I am reminded of the speech below which was given in Parliament, by the late Tony Benn on 22 November 1995.

There was a boat race between the NHS and a Japanese crew. Both sides tried hard to do well, but the Japanese won by a mile. The NHS was very discouraged and set up a consultancy. The consultancy came to the conclusion that the Japanese had eight people rowing and one steering, whereas the NHS had eight people steering and one rowing. The NHS appointed people to look at the problem and decided to reorganise the structure of the team so that there were three steering managers, three assistant steering managers and a director of steering services, and an incentive was offered to the rower to row harder. When the NHS lost a second race, it laid off the rower for poor performance and sold the boat. It gave the money it got from selling the boat to provide higher than average pay awards for the director of steering services.

Twenty-three years later this approach remains prevalent in the 49 Government departments and the 391 other public bodies and agencies. They create middle-management posts whilst cutting front-line services then fool the voter into believing that money is the cure for their inefficiency.

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