Why don't we heed the warnings - and change? - Veterinary Practice
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Why don’t we heed the warnings – and change?

in which a guest columnist takes
the temperature of the profession –
and the world around

AS a small boy, I was always taught to hold doors open for ladies and a myriad of other actions which would indicate the quality of my upbringing, in an age where an overt display of consideration for others was not only expected but required. That, of course, was a very long time ago and so much has changed since then. Consideration for others seems to be left to professional agencies now, preferably ones where a modest donation can salve the collective conscience. Intriguingly, while some ladies of a more mature disposition still appreciate the door being held open for them, so many either don’t notice or simply steam through regardless. Many of a younger generation actively dislike the gesture and appear to miss the point completely; it isn’t about equality, it is about consideration. Clearly, a lot has changed. Perhaps the rot set in much further back. When, after the First World War, the class system dissolved in the nascent realisation that one could no longer expect those who had served and given their lives in the trenches, alongside the ruling class, to be disdainfully returned to the Downton Abbey existence of masters and servants, things began to change.

Retail explosion

Then, after the Second World War, rationing and the slow escape from privation served to unify the nation in a sense of collective opportunism which was, in turn, fuelled by the instant communication of film and radio, then television which showed us all what wonders we could have if only we could afford it. Hey presto, in the 1950s, along came credit cards and, in a retail explosion, the modern-day consumer was born. The rest is history but none of us would be where we are now without the US style of credit provision that not only made new cars, kitchens and foreign holidays possible but set the pattern for boom and bust on a truly continental scale. Not only have we, as individuals, been offered an endless vista of easy
credit but our respective governments have followed our lead. In just the same way that our families cannot exist at the level many of us choose, without borrowing to fund the excess, neither can our governments and, if one looks behind the hype and bombast of Brussels, the introduction of a secondary and apparently unifying layer of government should have signalled from the outset that this was barely affordable for the wealthy nations let alone those who watched enviously from the sidelines. There is a certain irony in that those who brought the miracle expansion about have themselves created the disaster which has now brought it low. Rather like Brussels, the management of the banks have long believed their own PR and rapidly lost sight of the kind of financial probity which required accountability and the need for one senior person to check a junior person’s
work. In a tsunami of concerns about equality and the rights of individuals, our 21st century culture has become obsessed with certain issues and blinded
about others.

Little cohesion

All this is symptomatic of change in an environment where there is little
cohesion. Rightly or wrongly, a political or social dictatorship ensures that everyone sees things the same way but where democracy and the forces of equality provide a loose backdrop for each nation to join the dots in their own way, the only way that people can all co-exist is if all are sufficiently
successful not to notice or care about the cracks in the wall. When success
is revealed to be little more than smoke and mirrors and when the credit tap is turned off, disaster comes about remarkably rapidly. As I write this, Europe is wrangling about who can or will come to the rescue of Italy which, following on the sequential bail-out of Ireland, Portugal and Greece, looks as if it may be next in line. Until recently, Italy was the world’s fifth largest economy and reality tells us that there is not enough cash sloshing around to carry on like this. If we think about it, what do Denmark and Greece have in common other than their currency? The same could be said for any two nations in the European Community whether they be Italy and Ireland, Spain and Estonia or Poland and Luxembourg.

Steeped in tradition

Many of us could concede that the concept was right at the time if the necessary measures of financial probity applied to both the individual governments and the overarching European Union itself but few, if any, of us spent much time looking at the controls put in place by the banks. Europe is part of the First World and every participating nation has a culture of its own that is steeped in tradition and establishment. For those of us who grew up in the world of establishment, its reliability, dependability and strength was legendary and could safely be taken for granted but, in the latter day case of the banks and their complicit relationship with governments, establishment simply provided a platform for daylight robbery hidden behind a veil of respectability which fooled us all. Clearly a great deal has changed. The real issue is that we need to find both a short-term solution and a long-term plan for our current disaster and, like all team games, we have to stick it out until the final whistle even if the Greek national sport is tax evasion and even if life for women in Berlusconi’s Italy has taken a retrograde step by 10 years or more. In the same boat There is some comfort in the fact that much of the rest of the world is in the same boat, notably the US, and progressively both Russia and China are having difficulties, but at some stage China will want its money back and perhaps sooner than we think. For me, there are strong parallels in this story with the way in which small animal veterinary practice has evolved. The business case that half the population will have pets which they must care for with our help is looking creaky. Pet owners have found many other ways to care for their pets with minimal help from us but we plough on regardless, building bigger and flashier businesses without very much commitment to actively engaging with the pet owner. We’re really good at passive engagement; we wait here all day, open all hours, for the pets to come flocking in. The Pfizer Performance Index (once FDI) tells us that not only are they not doing that, the attrition in footfall continues in a steady downward curve as it has done for almost 20 years, but we don’t heed the warnings and we don’t make plans to deal with what’s coming. Maybe we don’t think it could happen to a vet? After all, we’re part of the establishment, aren’t we?

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