Tom Richmond: Forget about happiness, let’s have competence

EVIDENTLY, David Cameron wants every new policy to pass a so-called “happiness” test to measure its impact on the general wellbeing of families across the country.

I disagree. What the Prime Minister should ensure is that every pronouncement passes a series of competency criteria to ensure that the decision in question will improve services.

If this approach had been in place, Ministers would not have been forced into a humiliating retreat over the forestry sell-off.

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The coalition would not have buckled under public pressure to reinstate funding for school sports that it had proposed to cut, even though the 2012 Olympics is supposed to be encouraging young people to take up physical exercise.

And it would not be mired in confusion over its NHS reforms – and the controversial plans to pass unprecedented levels of financial responsibility to GPs who will commission local services in future.

This, after all, is the policy that did not feature prominently in either of the Tory or Lib Dem manifestoes at last year’s election. It is also the strategy – the brainchild of Andrew Lansley, the uninspiring Health Secretary – that was scrutinised, line by line, by two Cabinet ministers (Oliver Letwin for the Tories and Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander for the Lib Dems) to ensure it would work in practice.

Now, after the public’s anger became clear at the Lib Dem spring conference in Sheffield, the coalition is, again, to review these NHS reforms before they are implemented.

Lansley is unrepentant. The NHS will not be able to meet the demands of people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma unless it changes, he says, as he warned of a 252 per cent increase in the number of over-65s with one or more such conditions by 2050.

That might be so. But these changes should not be part of a “happiness” test – it is, after all, the Government’s duty to take tough and unpopular decisions where necessary.

It is, however, the responsibility of the Government to provide a general level of competence and ensure that taxpayers receive value for money at all times as a result of any reforms. This is, therefore, the test that Cameron should apply to future policy before he is forced into even more U-turns that could, frankly, have been avoided if Ministers, and their many advisors, had thought through the consequences of their decisions.

As for my happiness, I’d like to be optimistic that Cameron will observe the competency test. Somehow, I don’t think that it will happen.

NICK Clegg has just about managed to brush aside his party’s abysmal sixth place showing in the recent Barnsley Central by-election.

He might be less fortunate on May 5 when a by-election is held in Leicester South after the sitting Labour MP, Sir Peter Soulsby, stood down so he can attempt to become the city’s first elected mayor. The Lib Dems have form here. They won a by-election in 2004, at the height of Tony Blair’s unpopularity over Iraq, when Parmjit Singh Gill was the successful candidate until he lost the seat to Sousby a year later.

Nothing less than a second-place finish will suffice.

DID you spot Ed Miliband’s charm offensive with his Shadow Chancellor, and fellow Yorkshire MP, ahead of Labour launching an economic growth strategy? The Labour leader said that Ed Balls brought “a sense of obvious expertise to the job, and I’m working very closely with him”. If this “obvious expertise” is right, why did Miliband appoint Alan Johnson to the Shadow Chancellorship before the Hull MP had to stand down for personal reasons?

It is a judgment question that has still to be adequately answered

THE most nauseating interview of this week saws Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, trying to defend the impossible – the “compassion” of his country’s legal system in consenting to the premature release of the Lockerbie bomber who was convicted of the greatest act of mass murder ever committed on these shores. Contrast this with the lack of “compassion” shown to retired Yorkshire nurse Molly Godley who, 13 years on from the death of her son, Ian, in an arson attack in Kilmarnock, is still waiting to find out why murder charges against two youths were dropped before they came to charge – and why the case was never formally opened.

Isn’t she deserving of compassion – or have I missed something?

LIKE transport, there is a southern bias towards sport. While the Government is committed to working towards an upgrade of Twickenham Station before the rugby union World Cup in 2015, it continues to obfuscate – I notice – over the £1m shortfall afflicting rugby league’s equivalent tournament in 2013.

They can’t even agree whether it is a matter for the Department of Business or the Department of Culture that is nominally in charge of sport. It does not inspire confidence.

THE fact that London’s Olympic clock stopped, on the day tickets went on sale 500 days in advance of the 2012 Games, gives further credence to my long-held view about the political consequences of this sporting spectacular.

If the Games pass smoothly, the sun shines and GB competitors lead a gold rush, the “feelgood” factor will deliver an economic upturn and Tory election victory in 2015. If they are, however, a damp squib, with security scares, bad weather and poor home performances, expect the coalition to be blamed – even though it was Labour who committed Britain to this venture back in 2005.