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Fiddling while Rome burns

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39 Victoria Street,London SW1“Humphrey.”“Yes, Minister?”“You seem to be concerned that the 2014 Care Act is not part of everyone’s holiday reading. Is that why you have issued a ‘List of changes made to the Care Act guidance’?”“Well, we like to keep up to date, Minister.”“Isn’t 2014 a bit passé?”“Study guides are still being produced for Virgil’s Aeneid. Great works of fiction, I mean great literature needs to be re-interpreted as times change.”“I think we would rather know, Humphrey, what the Care Act was supposed to achieve and whether it did so.”“Indeed. In 2016 we produced no less than 12 ‘Factsheets’ which review the Act.”“Yes, but none of them address what the Act was supposed to achieve nor whether anything changed.”“We only have to specify, Minister, what should happen and leave it

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39 Victoria Street,

London SW1

“Humphrey.”

“Yes, Minister?”

“You seem to be concerned that the 2014 Care Act is not part of everyone’s holiday reading. Is that why you have issued a ‘List of changes made to the Care Act guidance’?”

“Well, we like to keep up to date, Minister.”

“Isn’t 2014 a bit passé?”

“Study guides are still being produced for Virgil’s Aeneid. Great works of fiction, I mean great literature needs to be re-interpreted as times change.”

“I think we would rather know, Humphrey, what the Care Act was supposed to achieve and whether it did so.”

“Indeed. In 2016 we produced no less than 12 ‘Factsheets’ which review the Act.”

“Yes, but none of them address what the Act was supposed to achieve nor whether anything changed.”

“We only have to specify, Minister, what should happen and leave it to local authorities to make sure it does.”

“Have we ever actually enforced the Care Act?”

“As we are not responsible for local authorities; the Ministry of Housing is, we have no records on that. We do know that eight councils in the last year applied a moratorium on the Care Act due to workforce shortages and the pandemic.”

“Does that mean all local authorities could claim a moratorium, given the nationwide carers shortfall?”

“Very possibly, Minister.”

“So our response to that is not to do anything substantial but just to fiddle about with our guidance on how to interpret an Act which, so far as we know, has proved completely useless?”

“I know it will not accompany you to the beach, Minister, but August is a good month for tidying things up. And the 2016 Factsheets are also helpful guides as to desired outcomes.”

“One example of something that we should address, Humphrey, came up on the Today programme on Monday. Apparently, those staff members in care homes in November still refusing Covid vaccination must be sacked but if the same people are working in NHS hospitals, they can carry on infecting all and sundry. The irony is that care home deaths are now rare whereas hospitals are dangerous places to be.”

“Minister, really! Care home workers are not employees of ours, so we can set the rules. NHS staff, however, are our employees and the unions would object if we made jabs a condition of employment.”

“A ridiculous argument, Humphrey, but let’s look at the actual changes you have made to the Care Act guidance.”

“The new paragraph 2.60 is exactly the same as the one it replaces, except the words are in slightly different order. Paragraph 6.71 has been split into two separate paragraphs 6.71 and 6.72. Paragraph 6.121 is also basically unchanged except it is now eight sub-paragraphs of outcome criteria for eligibility, rather than 16.”

“Humphrey, is fiddling about like that really useful?”

“Meat and drink to professional civil servants.”

“Paragraph 6.128 has moved from ‘Outcomes’ ‘Wellbeing’ and paragraph 8.34 now distinguishes ‘short term’ from ‘temporary’ residents of care homes. That is an important distinction.”

“Your staff must have been working long hours to achieve these results, Humphrey.”

“Indeed we have – and during August too, when the Foreign Office was spread across the Mediterranean.”

“Should I also be impressed by making the maximum interest rate payable on deferred payment agreements more specific?  Paragraph 9.64 sets it at 0.15% above the market gilts rate. Rather superciliously, it spells out the arithmetic: ‘for example, gilt rate 1% plus 0.15% equals a maximum interest rate of 1.15%’”

“Thank you, Minister.  We thought that even an other-worldly judge should be able to grasp that.”

“Humphrey, I was rather puzzled by the new para 18.5 which is identical to the old one.  It has the same 147 words in the same order.”

“After considerable thought, consultation and analysis, Minister, we felt that the original could not be improved. Surely we deserve credit for that.”

“Well, I had to read it several times before I realised how clever it was.”

“’Chapter 19 has been updated to include our position on where people live, following the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Cornwall Council v Secretary of State for Health and Others (Cornwall).’”

“Humphrey, really! That tells us nothing. How do we decide where people live and how has that changed?”

“We have not yet actually reached a conclusion on that matter, Minister. We had to leave ourselves with work to do.”

“The last chapter certainly gives the flavour of all this. The only change is replacing 2016 by 2020 as the date from which the guidance applies and it makes no difference anyway.”

“I hope I do not detect a note of dissatisfaction, Minister. That could be construed as bullying.”

“What you are detecting, Humphrey, is astonishment that our department can be wasting time on this drivel, when we should be sorting out the chaos in our whole adult social care system. We have too few carers, and they are not paid or recognised enough. The population is growing and the numbers of young and old needing care are growing even faster. No one has sorted out how the costs of caring for the elderly should be split between the taxpayer and those being cared for, or between central and local government. A substantial rise in homelessness is predicted, boosted by the inflow of refugees, and yet, so far as I know, we have no plans to address that either. No doubt you will tell me that that is the Ministry of Housing’s job. But when I get volunteered onto the Today programme by Number 10, I’m going to have to explain why we are fiddling around with the wording of our Care Act guidance when we should be addressing the big issues.”

”I am sure you will do that very well, Minister.”

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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