Britain, what’s wrong?

Most parents might find (I know that we often do!) morning routine tricky at times; getting ready for work, waking up children, making sure that there is enough food in the fridge for breakfast and lunch. If anyone has kids in two or three different schools, “morning madness” becomes even more challenging or “interesting”.

We are the first full week in with our two eldest daughters and unfortunately, their school bus, which picks up children from different parts of Welwyn Hatfield, broke down twice in literally a couple of days. Yep, it does happen, I understand. However, after paying £825 (!) for one annual bus pass and almost £300 for an autumn term ticket (with a small discount), I would expect much better, much better service provision.

Both of these school-bus incidents made me think. First of all, in most European countries, children’s school journeys are subsidised by Local Authorities. I find it staggering that we talk so much about the impact of climate change and the environment in the UK and yet, a number of families simply have no choice but to drive as all the other ways to commute are far too expensive.

Moreover, after coming back from my summer holidays, it felt at times like returning not to a G7 or G20 economy but to a country that is literally falling apart. Yes, I know; the grass is always greener on the other side and all global or European economies are also struggling in one way or another. However, many families in the UK are not “living but surviving” as one of my friends told me recently. The inflation, cost of living crisis, filling up petrol or mortgages are still affecting millions of families. It must be extremely difficult for many people, not only on lower incomes but also those, who until recently, lived relatively comfortable lives.

Furthermore; where is the accountability, integrity and honesty that were promised by Mr Sunak? What happened with 40 new hospitals? Has the stop the boat slogan been implemented? I don’t think that any of us would last a week in any job after performing so badly and/or after a complete lack of competence to address some of these key pledges.

There are almost 8 million (!) people on the NHS waiting list. Yes, the NHS, “national treasure”, often described as the white elephant in the room, needs deep reforms and it can’t and won’t continue as it stands. However, it is just NOT good enough that people need to wait in ambulances to get any treatment. Even today, the Prime Minister admitted that he will not be able to meet the target of reducing waiting times, which he set out in his speech when he took office. Did he apologise? Of course not. He blamed the industrial actions.

What is happening, even if in a small proportion of schools, is a farce. Buildings are crumbling, a number of schools had to close down for a period of time. We have under-staffed prisons, and the social care system is on its knees. Every public service is striking. If I was to use medical terminology, it is even too late for Britain to go to an A&E Department. A major operation is needed now. Maybe a different team is needed to manage this crisis?

As always, what annoys me the most is the lack of respect for the public, dishonesty and the constant shift of responsibilities; will it ever change? I would have liked politicians to put their hands up and say; I made a mistake or I don’t think that we made the right decision (Brexit) or I apologise for my language or behaviour (recent interview with the Educational Secretary).

Clearly, the national elections are round the corner. Do I think that any of the other parties have a “magic wand”? Of course not. What’s even more worrying is the fact that whoever will form the next government, will inherit a country with complete lack of direction, poor political leadership, no plans and ambition to inspire its people, communities and businesses to enable much needed “human and economic growth”. Although I am an optimist by nature, I am also starting to lose hope. After 18 years in Britain, I did wonder over the summer; is it time to leave this island?


* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • Steve Trevethan 15th Sep '23 - 5:44pm

    Please do not go! We need you!

    104 – number of schools closed with crumbling concrete
    £104m – annual expenditure on patching up crumbling parliament buildings

    £419m – operating loss of Royal Mail last year
    £447m – dividends paid to R M shareholders
    0 – number of postcodes. In which R M hit delivery targets this year

    50 – schools to be rebuilt/refurbished each year as announced by P M as chancellor
    440 years – time needed to refurbish all U K schools

    Might it help if the B B C news and it’s subsids were more incisive and objective, perhaps getting near to the standards of “Private Eye”, as quoted from above?

  • Steve Trevethan 15th Sep '23 - 5:51pm

    P S
    200,000 – estimated number of passengers hit by N ational Air Traffic Service meltdown of I T
    £1,399,000 – total pay, with bonuses, of NATS boss

  • Ruth Bright 15th Sep '23 - 6:50pm

    Surely a distinction should be drawn between a hopeless government and the social fabric of the country. The social fabric is not crumbling and this country is remarkably cohesive and certainly a kinder place than it was 100 years ago when my Dad was born.

  • Ruth is right to point out that some parts of the social fabric are intact, and improving. But in 2016 we had the start of a ‘blame the foreigners’ mood in politics – first the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, and now more generally ‘invaders’ like the boat people. Foreigners are part of the cause of our economic decline, because so many countries have overtaken us in manufacturing and technology. We need a government which stops pandering to the utterly pointless belief that because we once had an empire, the Brits must be superior beings, and faces up to reality.
    Telling people we are no longer a rich enough nation to have everything we want is not a vote-winner, but we can focus on the present government having failed to promote economic growth while it has been implementing a disastrous Brexit, which involved sacking most of the competent ministers, handing the role of running the country to a bureaucrat (Cummings), then a politics-free narcissist (Johnson), and then a more or less brainless pair of dogmatic idiots.

  • For decades all parties have fostered the illusion that we can have Scandinavian level public services with American levels of taxation – well you can’t! There needs to be a sensible conversation with voters about what level of services they want and what they are prepared to pay for. Without that the gap between over promising and under achieving will widen, and this will be very dangerous as it will open the door to right wing populists.
    They already have their niche media in GB News and Talk TV, not to mention the more established Daily Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch media. We have seen what has happened in Hungary, Poland, Israel and the USA.
    In 1992 Ashdown was ridiculed by the established media for his promise to fund a broken education system with an income tax rise, we need to have the courage to tell it like it is again.

  • @Andy ….Pre 2016 wasn’t exactly utopia Andy ….Being in the EU didn’t make one iota of a difference in many people’s lives – this was reflected in dismal EU election turnouts as people couldn’t see or feel any benefits..
    Crap when in & crap now … Ultimately we can afford whatever we want … Brexit or not ..

  • Peter Martin 16th Sep '23 - 4:31pm

    Naturally EU supporters will tend to put as much blame as possible on our decision to leave the EU but if they’d like to Google {gdp per capita uk} they will see that something went very wrong in 2007/2008 and has been very wrong since.

    Replace the UK by Germany, France, Spain in the Google search and we see that most EU countries, with the possible exception of Germany, haven’t done any better than us. However given the bad news coming out of Germany at the moment maybe its is going to be only a matter of time before their economy takes a dip too.

    If everything were to be decided on economic well being then we might be better to apply to become the 51st state of the USA. Their GDP per capita graph looks pretty good even though the 2008 GFC crash did originate there. Thankfully it isn’t going to be!

  • Martin Gray, thanks for your response. It’s cheering to hear that ultimately we can afford anything we want, assuming I understood you correctly. Does that mean we can afford to pay doctors and nurses the equivalent of what they were paid ten years ago, and stop them emigrating ?
    As it happens I was in Bristol Eye Hospital two days ago, and my anaesthetist told me the big problem isn’t pay, its low morale. So soon after we all did our weekly cheer for the NHS? Yes, apparently.

  • Martin Gray 16th Sep '23 - 7:43pm

    @Andy ….People have been emigrating for a higher renumeration for a considerable time – health professionals are no different ..People around here have to survive on a damn sight less than a Doctor’s salary – I can assure you . 2016 was meaningless to them , perpetual struggle Brexit or no Brexit ..

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Sep '23 - 8:18pm

    “People have been emigrating for a higher renumeration for a considerable time – health professionals are no different”
    Indeed – but it seems to me that the tories regard such ‘market forces’ as appropriate in the private sector and anything but appropriate in the public sector.

  • David Garlick 16th Sep '23 - 9:32pm

    Sadly the fabric of the country whilst not broken down is declining. The local community and social groups are not thriving. When us old folk say that we need to step back from running them, there is no one to take up the reins. The Charity Commission does not help as it is antiquated and obstructive in its approach rather than supportive and constructive. Enforced ‘legal advice’ costs many thousands of pounds and takes a year or two to be cleared. It effectively adds nothing to the organisation in question but the boxes are ticked. Very sad situation especially as some of these communiy groups will be vital as Climate change progresses

  • Steve Trêvethan 17th Sep '23 - 8:27am

    If you were to go to Sonning Common, near Reading, you would be in a most encouraging place!

    The “Smile and Hello” index is so high that you feel so much encouraged and enjoying of social life that your personal life becomes warmer too.

    If you feel low,
    Sonning Common is the place to go!

  • School buses – From what I used to pay, that £825 Pa is the subsidised price.
    But more importantly we need to ask why school buses are such a big thing these days (compared to pre 1980).

    The problem stems from a 1980s idea to create larger schools and relocate them on the outskirts of towns in new developments and selling the old site (and playing fields) off for redevelopment… Obviously, in true Tory fashion the cost of providing the transport has over the years been shifted from the local authority to the school and then onto the service users ie. Parents.

    If we are serious about a low carbon future, we will need to revisit decisions such as these, particularly as the number of children in schools (year group figures) today should be significantly less than the number (in the same year group) during the baby boom.

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