Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Ali Dizaei, promotion, and the public sector

Readers of the works of Michael Bond may not realise this, but it is not unknown for bears go into a winter sleep state, akin to hibernation. And so it has been in recent weeks. However, I am now sort of awake, and have been rubbing my eyes with astonishment at the news that a senior London police officer has been jailed for a very serious offence.

I read with interest the Telegraph’s comment on the affair, and particularly noted the following lines:
“He repeatedly exploited the consequent tensions by becoming a serial complainer against alleged racist behaviour in the force, while fending off persistent allegations of wrong-doing himself. Curiously, this did not prevent the Iranian-born Dizaei being promoted to the rank of Commander – perhaps because the appointment was in the gift not of the Commissioner but of the Metropolitan Police Authority . . . ”
The implication is not only that Mr Dizaei managed to pull off the extraordinary feat of being promoted in the police service despite having faced persistent allegations of wrong-doing - but also that his promotion was not based on his suitability for the job, or his competence, but on political considerations. The Metropolitan Police Authority is not, after all, a body largely made up of police officers, but a body dominated by politicians and political appointees.

This struck me, because I have been reflecting on the whole business of promotions in what is usually known as the public sector, but which might more accurately be described as the state sector. What I have observed is that in the state sector, it sometimes happens that people are promoted simply because their faces fit, and the boss wants to be surrounded by a team of ‘yes-men’, while more competent and able candidates are passed over.

This happens in the private sector too, of course. But in the private sector, there is a mechanism for sorting this out. A business which persistently appoints people because their faces fit, i.e. for ‘political reasons’, will eventually find that it becomes uncompetitive, because customers and clients will go elsewhere. In other words, the business itself will suffer.

In the state sector, there is no such mechanism, because clients cannot go elsewhere. And so it is usually only the members of the public who have to deal with incompetents who will suffer. The people in charge - who make the questionable promotions and appointments - rarely do.

The obvious moral is that where possible, goods and services should be provided by the private sector, rather than the state. That is not, I suspect, always possible, and I personally don’t believe that policing should be handled by the private sector.

However it does seem to me that the promotion of Mr. Dizaei indicates two things. First, police appointments should be made by the police, rather than by politicians and political appointees. Second, the senior police officers who are in charge of police promotions should be accountable to the public, so that if promotions policy is seen to be wrong, the police officers in charge can be removed by the public. And the simplest way to achieve that is to have chief constables who are directly elected by the voters - which just happens to be Libertarian Party policy.

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