The very open argument rages on in the media over the future of London Underground. The Government is determined to press ahead with PPP, supported by private finance, separating maintenance and improvement from operations in the organisation. Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley argue for bond financing and public sector control. At the same time Livingstone labels the managers of LU as "dullards" (on what evidence, I wonder?) and openly supports organised labour on the picket lines. Now the issue goes to law.
All the time, with no long- or short-term solution in sight, Londoners and visitors to the capital suffer, and one can only guess at the loss of morale in LU. It is significant that Derek Smith, its highly regarded managing director, is reported in the Financial Times (6 April) as being attracted back into the health service.
Can we only see the public and private sectors as goodies and baddies? In the 1980s, Thatcherism saw the public sector as bad and the private sector as good. What followed was the mimicking of some private-sector wares such as competitive tendering, but without the private sector's knowledge of the value of the supply chain and long-term relationships.
What followed was sacrifice on the altar of lowest price, paying later in terms of using the contract, arguments over performance and quality, and using lawyers - just like LU now - where partnership would have been a better and cheaper use of energy.
Following the well-publicised disasters in surface rail, all of a sudden we have flipped. It is now public sector good, private sector bad with the myriad contractual arrangements being blamed for the rail industry taking its eye off the ball. Probably correct. But where did that philosophy come from? It came from the worship of the contract and the separation of responsibility that the private sector, particularly in manufacturing, learned more than 10 years ago was a zero-sum game.
What is missing in much of the press rhetoric is the value of getting public and private sectors to work effectively and learn from each other in partnership. The evidence is there that it works. Sir John Egan pioneered the concept in the face of adversity with the Hea