A has concluded that forensic science in England and Wales is “in crisis” and “has now reached breaking point”. This matters, hugely, because it is central to the effective functioning of the criminal justice system and, hence, to the rule of law.
It’s a crisis
which has been brewing for a while. I referred to it in January 2017, but it has been in the making since its
privatization in 2012, and the introduction of market competition. The .
This is an
important story in itself, but it’s indicative of a wider and all-encompassing
crisis right across the provision of public services in the UK. Evidence of
this can be found in relation to ,
and , the , , the , the , , and .
The list could go on and on, but just in relation to the last of them we now
have to save money.
beneath the surface of any of these separate stories and you find, invariably,
funding shortages but, equally invariably, failed reorganizations and, almost
always, contracting-out to the private sector. It should not be thought that
these are separate explanations, because what would in any case be hard-pressed
services because of funding cuts are made more so by the money wasted on reorganization
and contracting out. What little money there is gets wasted.
ideological roots of what is happening lie in market-managerialism – that
strange ensemble of the ‘classic’ neo-liberalism of privatisation and its
country cousin of private sector disciplines in the public sector which morph,
bizarrely, into precisely the ‘bureaucratic red tape’ that neo-liberalism was
supposed to be averse to. As such, it has a 40 year history in the UK.
are disparate and disjointed, so that it is easy to see each story in
isolation, and because they have unfolded over a long time period it is easy to
miss their cumulative effect. But there is a cumulative effect, and it is
neatly captured by the concept of Britain being in a process of ‘undeveloping’,
which has been analysed by (SPERI).
argument is that the notion of a country as ‘developed’ mistakes a fluid
process for a static category. Development in not a uni-directional process
which, once achieved, is fixed. Rather, it is possible to ‘go back’. The SPERI
argument is that Britain, having been the first nation to develop in the modern
sense is now the first developed nation to be undeveloping – to be, if we think
of development as linear – going backwards.
of that argument, the SPERI researchers cite a range of issues not all of which
relate to the theme of public sector reorganization, although many do. Their
analysis draws attention to the myriad of ways in which daily life in Britain
seems to be getting worse, using macroeconomic indicators like productivity and
measures like food bank use and road pothole incidence. Taken together, these
make out a compelling case for their ‘undevelopment’ thesis.
compelling ideas, it’s not new, though. The great economist J.K. Galbraith made
a similar case in The Affluent Society
(1958) where he introduced the notion of private affluence co-existing with
public squalor. It’s a book that still speaks to our present situation. In a
similar way, what might be seen as the counterpart of Galbraith’s macroeconomic
analysis at the level of work, Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949), is seeing a Its
themes of insecurity and fantasy still speak – or speak anew – to the world of zero-hours
contracts and fantasies of success. on the London stage.