This is a really bad week for public institutions in the UK as the rotten core at the centre of government (both local and national) is laid bare.

On Monday we had the damning report into the infected blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s presented by its chair Sir Brian Langstaff.

And now we are seeing former Post Office boss Paula Vennells giving evidence into that scandal.

What these two issues have in common is that they expose the cancer that lies at the heart of so many public institutions in this country.

Put bluntly - it shows up the fact that far too many institutions are far more concerned with their own reputation and that of their bosses than they are with the rights of the public and those lower down the structure. 

The way the infected blood scandal unfolded - initial denials that there was a problem and then apparently waiting for proof that there was harm before admitting anything - was appalling. 

The victims had their lives ruined, or even ended, and yet it still took successive governments 40  years to to face up to the fact there was a massive problem.

It is human nature to look for people to blame in this situation - and it looks as if former Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke is being set up for that role.

He did himself no favours when appearing at the committee looking into this by sticking to the legalistic argument drawn up in the 1980s which looks like a very callous justification now.

But the fact is that it is the institutions and the way they have been constructed over generations that are really to blame.

Decisions like this are really down to civil servants and are far too often rubber-stamped by ministers who don't have the expertise to challenge technical aspects of what they are told.

It looks as if it was the same at the Post Office. Bosses seem to have failed to understand the intricacies and potential weaknesses of their computer system - and were far too prepared to accept the advice of their "experts" when they were told all was well.

It is this kind of culture that is all too prevalent in every level of public institution in this country - and needs to be challenged regularly.

We saw it in Suffolk earlier this year when the report into SEND education in the county was published.

The initial reaction from the county council, one of the major elements of the report, was that some areas had improved but others had not. Those in charge of the service were working to make the necessary improvements.

Actually that was putting an incredibly positive spin on a very bad report that only had one glimmer of positivity.

And to be fair the council seemed to get that reasonably quickly - with councillors resigning, a new structure being brought in and a whistle-blowing councillor reinstated promptly after initially being suspended from the Tory group for what looked like the sin of talking about the problems as she saw it.

But it did show that the initial reaction of the county was not to address the problems faced by families, it was to draw the wagons around the councillors and officials facing criticism.

As I said. It quickly accepted its mistake - but by then a considerable amount of damage had been done to its credibility.

What is needed in this country is a considerable change in mindset in organisations at every level - from parish councils to huge government departments.

That must also be in businesses from small corner shops to huge multi-billion pound corporations.

No longer should they see their first priority as protecting their reputation and that of their staff - it must be serving the public or their customers.

And we've got one heck of a long way to go before we reach that position!


The opinions expressed in this column are the personal views of Paul Geater and do not necessarily reflect views held by this newspaper, its sister publications or its owner and publisher Newsquest Media Group Ltd.