Saturday, 26 January 2013

Of sock puppets and empty spaces

One New Year’s Resolution I quickly broke was to get serious about this blog and manage at least a weekly update.
Well, “get serious” might be the wrong term, as one of the few things I’m serious about is not taking anything or anyone (including myself) too seriously, but apologies anyway for an inexcusable break in not-so-serious service.
Another resolution was to disturb ‘business as usual’ for local sock puppets and fake charities.
For those who haven’t explored such arguments, ‘sock puppets’ (see for the definitive study) are ‘independent’ agencies which take government money and, quite coincidentally, produce reports and campaigns which validate policies the government had always intended to carry out anyway. Take, for example, the ‘independent’ survey into end-of-life care carried out last year by the employee of one major recipient of government funds which neglected to gather ‘evidence’ from any agency which was not, and which would not benefit from continuing the current mess.
‘Fake charities’ are an older and wider variant on this, and are typically registered charities taking at least half of their income from government. What they have in common is both totally depend on government to perpetuate their existence, and both would collapse if there was genuine public scrutiny or audit of their policies, methodology or performance.
So it was interesting to see this publicity on a government website (see ) for an 'independent' charity offering (in theory) services the government is paid to provide. Because, oddly enough, I  remember when that space was going to be a quiet room for non-Christian visitors to the local hospital.
When the hospital opened, devotees of the Zombie Carpenter made sure there was a lavish hospital chapel, on the dubious basis that troubled patients and relatives needed a quiet space to pray. Interests representing the other 95% of the population quickly pointed out that, actually, most religiously minded staff are Muslim or Hindu and couldn’t even do their devotions there, while any non-religious troubled person would just vomit in a room decked in naff Christian art.
The cheap compromise was a broom cupboard near the entrance with the legend ‘quiet room’ hand-written in blue biro on an envelope blu-tacked to the door. Then a business consultant employed at great expense by the hospital (and coincidentally romantically involved with a leading civil servant, now retired and and a hobby vicar) suggested giving this ‘under-used’ facility over to Macmillans.
Quite why  the much larger, better appointed but equally empty hospital chapel wasn’t offered instead I never quite understood. Obviously, all those experts on cushy government contracts (with their little clickers to count visitor numbers and calculators to calculate ‘cost effectiveness’) never did the analysis.
Perhaps they were just late for church elsewhere. Or perhaps we just need another set of consultants to calculate if the first lot are a cost effective use of public money

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