Glass half full of fertiliser


Halfdone blogs  on the rising price of fertiliser apropos of which the weekly Ag Letter from farm consultants Baker & Associates arrived in our inbox today and opened with this tale about someone who sees a silver lining in the cloud of price rises:


One local farmer who has a boat with 2 x 200 HP motors on the back is philosophical about the doubling of fertiliser prices

 “Fishing has just got cheaper…. It only costs one tonne of DAP to fill the boat with gas now”


Health needs new prescription


Remember how in 1999 Labour said if we gave them a wee bit more tax they’d fix health? Well they’ve taken a lot more tax but as the ODT editorial points out our health system is still ailing.

 … after nearly a decade in which government spending on public health services has doubled (and so, too, have wage and salary costs), the system continues to fail to meet even moderate expectations.


The Clark Government’s decision in 1999 to restructure the public health system for population-based funding led to the creation of no fewer than 21 district health boards, each with their own expensive system of directors, structure and attendant camp followers from accounts systems to “communications departments”, together with the cohort of centrally located ministry officials needed to supervise functions and subject everything to regulatory scrutiny.


Given that every board has up to 11 directors, each of whom is paid a minimum of $16,000 a year, this means a nominal 200-plus people, all assumed to have the skills needed to manage their part of a $12 billion business, are overseeing the provision of public health services to just 4 million, a third of whom also have private medical insurance.


Instead of improving services Labour extensively, and expensively changed the system.


Do we need 21 health boards and 200-plus directors for 4 million people? Has anyone asked that question recently? We know that competencies at some health boards have proved inadequate and that, as a general rule, hospital expenditures (adjusted for inflation) have increased far in excess of measured outputs. Some of this imbalance must be due to such a far-flung administrative structure absorbing a hefty quotient of that doubled health funding.


In bureaucracy less is almost always more and a reduction in the number of boards sounds like the right prescription to me.


 It is certain that 21 health boards are bound to result in wasteful duplication, a point picked up in the National Party’s 2007 health policy discussion paper: “It is inefficient and inhibiting to have 21 DHBs that duplicate planning, monitoring and funding functions.


But National’s discussion paper does not talk about reducing the number of boards; it seeks efficiencies elsewhere and greater devolution to primary health care. The party’s health policy has yet to be announced so it may yet look to see if greater efficiencies can be found in hospital governance.


I suspect National is being cautious because the health is suffering from restructuring fatigue and they want the emphasis to be on services not systems.


Recently published comment by a Wellington economist suggests as few as four regional health boards could actually look after the health needs of the whole population. Four replacing 21 might be too much at one bite, but there may be good gains to be made to free up funds for more staff and surgical services by reducing, for example, the six South Island boards to two.


And while they’re doing it why not get rid of the expensive charade of electing board members. It’s Clayton’s democracy because whether or not directors are appointed or elected they’re answerable to the Minister, so let’s stop pretending otherwise.


A public health system which of necessity has to impose the rationing of its services must at least attempt to be as efficient as its private competitors which are restrained, in effect, only by the depth of their users’ pockets.


The relationship between health spending and productivity needs to be very carefully examined, because the long-term forecasts for health spending in the public sector are gloomy indeed: one study predicts the spending needed to cope with the needs of an ageing population will be double the rate of growth in the economy, even allowing for inflation.


There will never be enough money for health. But a responsible Government could do a lot more to ensure that as much as possible of what’s available is spent wisely on the front line and as little as possible spent  in backrooms and boardrooms.

More power or more carbon?


After 36 hours of nor westers the wind has swung to the south and it’s raining. I don’t know what’s happening at the hyrdo lakes which are about 50 kms further inland from here, but friends at Millers Flat report 3 inches of snow.

However, the rain means its colder and I’m having one of those what do you do if you see an endangered insect eating an endangered plant? conundrums.

Do I ignore calls to save power and use the electric heater, or forget about trying to reduce my carbon footprint and light the fire?

First world power supply


We’re just four weeks away from major power shortages unless the hydro lakes get topped up.

Auckland Regional Council deputy chairman Michael Barnett said he did not think Civil Defence was over-reacting.

“I’m thinking of an exporter … ” said Mr Barnett, who is also Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive. “Is he talking to his clients offshore today about his June-July deliveries and saying, ‘You will have to wait until I see if the village generator is working that week’? That to me is a nonsense.”

 Oh dear. We’ve had strong nor westers since yesterday morning which usually means precipitation in the mountains, but at this time of year that’s much more likely to be snow than rain.

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