Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Value for your money: those who do and those who don't

John Shirley

We all like to get value for the money which disappears from our pockets. Some, it is said, know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I believe that most of us have an instinct of whether or not we are getting value for money (VFM). We know when we are being had and we don't appreciate it.

VFM may not necessarily be the same as cheapness. Cheap goods or services can turn out to be mightily expensive in the long run. A pricey restaurant will tempt you back if the fare is good enough but not so if the chef is dodgy. Or, as in my own case, if the helpings are too small. An inefficient low cost operator can turn out to be the dearest of all.

During the bubble we lost the run of ourselves and VFM went out the door. One of the few benefits from the recession is that some goods and services are again becoming more competitive. This process is vital to economic recovery. However, the change back to reality is patchy. Bad habits still remain, especially in the professions.

Farming simply did not share in the bubble so VFM has always been foremost in our make-up. It hurts to see hard earned euro being gobbled up by the greedy and the wasters.

Within farming there are those whom I regard as giving VFM and those who are not. As a body of people I regard contractors as delivering VFM. They work long hours under pressure. Their gear is expensive. They often give long credit and after all that many have gone bust. Undoubtedly contractors are some of the good guys that make Irish farming work.

A close second are the maintenance people who service the machines in the field and those who keep milking parlours functioning. They too cannot be clock-watchers or nine to five people. I'd also reserve special mention for sheep shearers. Contrast the €2 charge per head for the back breaking job of shearing a sheep with the €10 for the human haircut in terms of VFM. I won't even venture into the cost of highlights and perms!

I'd be less enthusiastic about VFM given by general plumbers, mechanics and electricians especially those on the fringe of farming. Rather than repair sick fridges/cookers/TVs/washing machines it is often better to throw them out and buy the new one.

When I see all the splendour of the modern car showrooms I think: "My bill will be inflated to pay for this."

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To be fair, small businesses have to contend with increasing overheads and red tape, especially where they have employees, and these costs must be carried.

The jury is out on vets. Certainly they give a vital service and can be called out at ungodly hours but then I see how veterinary costs are rising on the farm. I look at the cost of Caesarean sections and drugs in this country versus elsewhere on the Continent. There is little open competition between vets. A small number will quote per hour for TB/brucellosis testing. If a farmer was charged per hour it would encourage more efficient handling units and animal presentation. I should also acknowledge that Irish farmers are too slow to use their vets for consultation on disease prevention.

However, vets and others who bring services to the farm are positively saintly in terms of VFM compared to some of the professions. I refer especially to health and law. In these professions the VFM issues include inefficient structures, archaic practices, poor quality of service as well as burgeoning cost.

As G Bernard Shaw pointed out, most professions are merely conspiracies to defraud the common man. When you look closely it's hard to dispute this observation.

Take the VHI as a touchstone for the medical malaise and lack of VFM. In spite of fees jumping this year, we still see cancer and heart patients left lying on trolleys, sometimes for days.

The Medical Council was partially reformed in 2007 but the body still presides over an outdated elitist regime that artificially restricts the numbers of college places for medical students and the pathways to consultant status.

Access to consultants is only through the GPs and in this there is a definite old pals' network that can exploit vulnerable patients.

Most medics seem to be oblivious to the fact that we are in a recession although I get a smidgen of hope from the recent experience of a friend. Having been advised to undergo an abdominal ultrasound scan, my friend decided to shop around. He was quoted €220 by his hospital consultant in Kilkenny. Others quoted less but he eventually settled for €95 from a Euromedic centre in Dublin, provided he booked online. Let's have more competition like this please.

The Irish legal system must be the ultimate in consumer frustration and bad VFM. Not alone is it outrageously pricey, worse still, there is no guarantee of justice. I have seen cases where a plaintiff, with a strong moral case, was forced into a bad settlement because 'good law' was too expensive and drawn out.

The whole paraphernalia of solicitors and barristers coupled with their wigs and gowns, in my opinion, should be terminated and replaced with carefully drafted legislation which can bring precision and certainty to the business. Precedents will then be established. A computer could then analyse the rights. It mightn't be perfect but it would take out cost and delay and would it be any worse than the lottery we are living with?

An even bigger issue for us all is the lack of VFM in our national governance. This is a subject that deserves special attention. A whole volume could be written about it, but with us borrowing another €18bn again this year, you would expect that VFM in our public services would be an absolute necessity. Regrettably, while our Government has made promises about addressing the waste, the quangos and the Croke Park monster, in reality they are only scratching the surface. Otherwise we would not be facing another €19bn bill for public pay and pensions.

Before I push my blood pressure so high that I have need of the medics, or, worse still, commit a libel that drags in the lawyers, I will sign off with a positive thought on VFM.

I will think of how wholesome, safe food is such VFM. Look at how consumers are able to buy their milk for less than the price of bottled water. Now that's what I call value.

Indo Farming