Americans' verdict on 'crumbling' Britain
by MICHAEL SEAMARK, Daily Mail
American commentators have delivered another devastating verdict on the state of Britain.
Under the front-page headline 'Outclassed: Why UK schools fail, hospitals suffer', the Wall Street Journal highlights illiteracy, the crumbling Health Service and the struggling public transport system.
The attack comes only weeks after America's most authoritative business magazine, Forbes, charged New Labour with stifling enterprise under a mountain of bureaucracy.
The Wall Street Journal's Europe edition declared on Friday: 'Four years ago, the telegenic Mr Blair came to power and proclaimed the birth of a sleek, modern Cool Britannia.
'And to many tourists, Britain does seem rejuvenated. London is crammed with trendy shops and cafes; new landmarks like the London Eye ferris wheel and the Tate Modern art museum dazzle visitors.
'What most tourists don't notice, though, is that the public services on which the country depends for its long-term economic health are in a state of decay.'
While acknowledging Britain's economic success, the US business bible says: 'Its health care system appears to be on life support'.
It is equally critical of the education system. 'In the land of Shakespeare and Waugh, one in five adults is functionally illiterate,' says the article's author Marc Champion, quoting statistics that he says put 'Britain's literary levels near the bottom of the class among developed nations'.
The paper also singles out Britain's railway system, highlighting last October's fatal Hatfield train crash 'when a train toppled off a broken rail and the investigation turned up gross failures of track maintenance'. Since privatisation, 'marketing has improved; punctuality and safety have suffered,' it concludes.
Delays are spotlighted and longsuffering commuters are interviewed. London's Underground is characterised as a system 'where antique escalators remain out of service for weeks and trains often splutter to a long halt between stations'.
The Wall Street Journal says Britain has failed to decide whether it wants to be a European-style welfare state, with the Government ensuring high-quality social services for all, or a US-style bastion of capitalism, with lower taxes and services left largely to local authorities or private enterprise.
The healthcare system comes in for particular condemnation. 'Hardly a day goes by without a fresh story on the shortages, sloppy management and collapsing morale within the National Health Service,' says the article.
But the paper saves its harshest judgment for Britain's education system.
'It's the decline in education standards that poses the worst threat to the UK,' says Mr Champion, who quotes a 1999 study that 'one in five British adults can't count their change'.
He reports the brain-drain away from Britain's universities to the US and Europe by academics to sometimes double their salaries because government funding 'can't give them enough money to compete globally'.
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