Bob Kerslake is a former head of the UK civil service. Uniquely, he arrived in that job following a long career in local authorities. His stellar rise as a UK public service administrator in both local authorities and central government is unparalleled. Until last week, in addition to serving as a crossbench peer, he was chair of the Kings Hospital Trust in London. He resigned from that role saying that his Trust, and more widely the NHS in England, could not operate properly on the levels of funding presently provided by the UK government.
The inevitable hatchet-job immediately mounted by the government was shocking because it sought to undermine the administrative skills of a person it had itself relied upon to run the entire civil service. But in its desperation, the people the UK government relied upon to mount the attack are themselves so spectacularly tainted by personal greed and incompetence that they served only to underline how the present UK government seeks to replace the values of public service and public sector delivery with those of self-enrichment and mindless private sector profit.
Kerslake resigned on 10 December, citing Health underfunding and the unrealistic expectations of England’s Health regulator, NHS Improvement, that hospitals like Kings can manage at current funding levels. The following day, NHS Improvement put Kings into ‘special measures’ and strongly implied that Kerslake had resigned due to his own incompetence. Kerslake was said to have been asked by the new chair of NHS Improvement to consider his position only 2 days before his resignation.
And who is the new chair of NHS Improvement, appointed just weeks ago? Why, it’s Baroness Dido Harding, a Tory peer famous for both her administrative incompetence at Talk Talk and her final year’s salary there – just short of an astonishing £7M. Well-known, too, for relying personally on private healthcare while in charge of NHS standards. She is supported fellow non-executive director Dame Glynis Breakwell. Name familiar? It should be, for her own vast salary and administrative incompetence have over the last weeks and months been at the centre of the biggest crisis to hit the UK higher education sector.
So there it is. A former head of the civil service resigns to flag underfunding in the NHS, and the UK government’s response is to have him rubbished by two of the greediest and most incompetent administrators in England, one of whom is actually a Tory politician. Enough said, really.
Except perhaps this. NHS Improvement has upon its board two Labour peers. Since it is quite obvious that the House of Lords is exercising what is surely unconstitutional power here as both a legislature and the dominant force in this public regulator, both Labour peers – Lord’s Darzi and Carter – should resign in support of Bob Kerslake’s bravery immediately. If they do not, they will be complicit in the UK government’s terrible underfunding of the NHS and also in the political facade which is the body upon which they sit.