Time to agree on priorities - Veterinary Practice
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Time to agree on priorities

MAYBE we’ve got it wrong. For years, we’ve held that it is native intelligence, related to the size of the brain, which differentiates man from other animals but I’ve come round to questioning that explanation.

For me, the factor which most aptly sets us apart from the rest of creation is the uniquely human logic that rules are made for anyone else but ourselves.

Today’s paper suggests that when, after Easter, the rail service is disrupted, millions are planning to take advantage of the chaos and stay at home, extending the Easter holiday by a day.

The pedant in me asks which of these millions have been interviewed to confirm their intentions but, as The Daily Telegraph believes that only 10% of these thirty million commuters will struggle in to work, one must concede that as a piece of market research it would be a tad ambitious to sample the rest.

It would seem that people are planning to adopt the same logic which applied to their “snow days” earlier this year which was, apparently, OK with employers the length and breadth of the country.

Huge amount

Research showed that when six million people couldn’t quite make it to work during the snow, the economy took a hit of £1.2 billion and, as each Bank Holiday deprives the economy of £6 billion, we can all calculate that a rail strike day will, if 90% of commuters go for the easy option, cost us all a huge amount.

It could just be me but aren’t we all in the cart because of a load of greedy bankers who needed to be bailed out when the entertaining sport of gambling with someone else’s money (yours and mine) got a bit out of hand?

The UK Government’s recent bailout of struggling financial giants Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB looks set to add between £1 trillion and
£1.5 trillion to the national debt and, more shocking still, this massive intervention represents the equivalent of between 70% and 100% of Britain’s GDP (gross domestic product).

All this paints a lamentable picture of the UK’s economy with public sector net debt already at a record high of £703.4 billion, or 47.8% of GDP, in January. So far this financial year Government borrowing has totalled £67.2 billion, a figure that’s almost three times higher than the £23.1 billion recorded at the same time last year.

As this will be reflected in higher taxes, more public sector cutbacks and significantly higher unemployment, one might have thought that people would be able to join up the dots but, sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

What is clear is that the rail network is an absolutely vital part of the UK economy, enabling thirty million commuters1 to get to work in what should be an active contract between employers and employees and which should also be an essential component in the generation of GDP.

Thirty million people is very nearly half of the 63.5 million2 people resident in the UK so it’s a very significant number.

If we add to this some degree of projection for these figures, we can expect the UK population to increase by 4.3 million by 2018. This increase is equivalent to an average annual rate of growth of 0.7%.


If past trends continue, the population will continue to grow, reaching 72 million by 2033.3 This is due to natural increase (more births than deaths) and because it is assumed there will be more immigrants than emigrants with a net inward flow of migrants.

That’s comforting because, in common with other European countries, the UK has an ageing population. The proportion of people aged 65 and over is projected to increase from 16% in 2008 to 23% by 2033. This is an inevitable consequence of the age structure of the population alive today, in particular the ageing of the large numbers of people born after the Second World War and during the 1960s’ baby boom.

As one of these “baby boomers”, I have some concerns about who will pay for all of us wrinklies in years to come, assuming that we can conjure up an adequate GDP with such a decimated manufacturing base.

Fag packet approach

National Statistics on-line suggests that around 72% of people in the UK are of working age so, if we discount unemployment of around 5%, we should have around 43 million people in work. So, by my calculation, albeit by a fag packet approach, almost 77% of those working get there by train.

This begs a number of questions such as why doesn’t our government recognise the importance of this, like so many other European countries do, and why doesn’t it move heaven and earth to ensure that this essential component in the national machine works seamlessly?

Perhaps we cannot expect the government to join up the dots either or are there just too many calls on the national purse to be able to fund everything? If that’s the case, isn’t it time we agreed some real priorities for
what we can and cannot fund centrally?

After all, the premise by which we pay taxes is for the central funding of key services.

Of course, every individual and every deserving cause has its own differing concept of priority but, given the fact that every man, woman and child in the UK will need to meet an additional, swingeing tax burden until 2025 just to offset the current level of borrowing, isn’t it time that we took some collective responsibility for the state of the nation?

Or is it simply somebody else’s problem until the wheels come off? The problem for us is that if and when the wheels do come off, it will have a very real effect on veterinary practice and the ability of our client base to fund our expectations for what practice should be able to offer them.

  1. The Daily Telegraph 29th March 2010.
  2. Office of National Statistics, March 2010.
  3. Ibidem.

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