Monday, November 03, 2008

Running scared of the public sector

The Telegraph leader this morning has includes a plea to government to "rein in the public sector" - partly in response to the news that many public sector managers have gold plated pensions, but also in response to the looming recession. It is, of course, a good call - but one that is likely to fall on deaf ears. Labour has no intention of cutting it's voter base and the Cameroons are committed to matching Labour's spending plans.

But the Telegraph's call includes the sort of qualification which demonstrates just how scared the media world is of the public sector.

We are not arguing that private sector jobs are intrinsically more valuable than state ones.

Why are they not arguing this? It is clearly true so the Telegraph should not only be unworried about making the argument, it should be making it clear there is no argument to be won! The public sector can not exist without the private sector, but the reverse is not true - therefore private sector jobs are intrinsically more valuable than public sector ones.

The Telegraph argues that we "will always need policemen and classroom assistants", but fails to realise that there is no need, necessarily, for either of those positions to be filled from the public sector. Same with doctors, nurses, garbage men and what have you - all of which can just as easily be supplied by the private sector as from the public sector.

I actually find it pretty worrying that a supposedly Tory paper has now come to accept the myth of the gargantuan public sector so completely. Wherever there is a genuine need for something - be it police or education - the private sector will fulfil that need in the absence of a public sector.

I'm not denying that their is a need for a public sector or even that the public sector can, when doing it properly, can fulfil a need better than the private sector. The Victorians recognised that certain things are best done through the public sector which is why we had a state owned Post Office and the creation of the police force - and it was the Victorians who introduced regular rubbish collections by the local authorities in the interest of public health.

What I am denying is the assumption that this makes the public sector equally important as the private sector. It isn't. All the money for the public sector comes from the private sector. No public sector employee contributes directly to taxation - they merely hand back some of the tax taken by the government from the private sector back to the government. Without the private sector there is no money to pay them in the first place!

There is an increasing disconnect between the public sector and the private sector in this country. The public sector is increasingly indifferent to the private sector believing, as it does and as the Telegraph's comment demonstrates - that it is not only as important as the private sector, but that it also knows better than the private sector.

In a way this breaks the "contract" between the taxpayer and the state - the unwritten contract that says the government may take money from private individuals as taxation in return for providing the services that those individuals require - but when did we as individuals decide that we need legions of 5 a day coordinators, street scene directors, drug outreach workers and youth offender workers?

We didn't - the state decided this for us and takes money from us to pay for them. Just think of one of youth offender workers for example. Originally, the contract was for us to pay for a police to catch them and a criminal justice system to punish them - now we pay for those, then pay again to release them, then pay again to monitor them, then pay again to provide them with "support" so that they don't offend again (which they almost always do).

What we need is a party that will finally stand up and say the unsayable. The public sector MUST be accountable to the people who pay for it - the taxpayers, not the state - and should only provide the services we require and,in the form we require them. For example, weekly rubbish collections without any fuss about what is in our bins and properly policed streets and neighbourhoods by police foot patrols day AND night.

That party used to be the Conservative Party - does anyone really believe it still is?

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