Into media coverage dominated by world events has crept something intriguing about bees. Scientists at Queensland University have used nectar-drenched markers in a tunnel to show that the insects can count up to four.

Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum, in A World Without Bees, argue that humans would not last much beyond four years if bees disappeared. No more pollination, so no plants, then no more animals, and ultimately there would be nobody to write for HSJ.

One of the later domino effects of the introduction of general management into the NHS was the idea that "units" - the former name for individual hospitals and community health services - should have their own personnel officers. From the end of the 1980s, unit personnel officers were created - devolved from health authority headquarters. Many other dominos have been knocked over since.

NHS workforce excellence

It is easier to imagine life without something that has been - such as bees and local personnel advice - than to hypothesise. However, the King's Fund has looked at how much better things will be with the creation of the national Centre of Excellence for Workforce Strategy, as recommended by the next stage review.

Sights have been set high. In A High Quality Workforce, the proposal is to create a major resource that will be known for long term horizon planning, development of workforce planning capability and access to the best data and informatics. Its ambitious remit includes intelligence gathering, an arena for new ideas and best practice and analysing labour market dynamics.

Putting aside the critical differences in what success means for various interests, when judging the products of workforce planning the new centre must be given a fair wind.

Employers want choice from oversupply, politicians want a precise match between supply and demand, and candidates want their preferred job with limited competition. This conundrum can still be wrestled with outside the remit of this new service.

Markers of success

So what could success for the centre look like? A provider of up-to-date information and a best practice service accessible to frontline managers and staffside representatives, supporting the quest for new ways of working and improved working lives would be a profound success.

It must avoid the desire to demand and consume ever more data - instead looking to reduce returns by using NHS Jobs and the electronic staff record.

It will be successful if it promotes devolution in planning and local flexibility and recognises the changing nature of the clinical business.

The new quality accounts will connect the workforce with outcomes in a business-like way.

It needs to survive the next reorganisation, too.

A cherished service will depend on how it handles the various interests in such a venture. It will need to avoid duplication with regional and employer initiatives - and work with the grain of foundation trust status. While it will wish to be inclusive of all stakeholders - it could do worse than put employers' views as first among equals.