Monday, March 23, 2009

The public sector needs telling - no kidding!

There's an advert doing the rounds on ITV right now - as with a lot of adverts I can not tell you what it is advertising or for which company (not because it is illegal - I genuinely can not remember) - during which the narrator refers to kids as "drains on resources".

As anyone who has kids will tell you this is a largely accurate description of children. Yes, we love them to bits and we wouldn't want to be without them, but they cost an awful lot of money. Most parents are openly honest about this both to themselves and to their own children, but for some reason we're less likely to be so honest about public sector employees.

To be honest, I don't love public sector employees to bits. If the truth be told they are often pompous, officious jobsworths with an over-inflated self-importance which, more and more these days, is often linked to the most sanctimonious self-righteousness. While we're being truthful, the other fact of the matter is that I, like many other people, could quite easily do without the vast majority of public services which are not actually there to serve the public at all - just niche groups.

And yet, for some reason, when it comes to the massive cost of public sector employees we're supposed to treat these people with kid gloves which we don't even reserve for our own children. In The Telegraph today, Janet Daley reminds us of how the Tories are currently trying to perform a high wire balancing act as they juggle tax revenue with public sector costs and the prospect of having to form the next government.

While Cameron, Osborne and Hague are only too willing to be "straight and honest" with the private individual and private enterprise, they increasingly fudge the issues relating to the single area which, whoever does form the next government is really and truly going to have to get to grips with; public sector spending. The reason for this, as Daley points out, is the worry that if they are "straight and honest" with the public sector then the public sector will behave like children and throw a major tantrum.

Even the usually reliable Daley falls into the trap - calling public sector employees "taxpayers". They aren't taxpayers - they are tax recylcers. The government takes a big fat lump of money from the pockets of private sector employees and businesses then hands it to public sector employees and "businesses" - and they give a small proportion of it back to the government. For the vast majority of public sector employees, the chances are that they will get every bit of what they pay in tax back with their pension - and then some. And who picks up the tab for all this - the private sector.

The Tories are only too happy to be straight and honest with those of us in the private sector. We're the ones bearing the brunt of unemployment, we're the ones whose pay is falling (average earnings in the public sector are now higher than in the private sector) and we're the ones whose hard-earned pensions are being plundered to pay for the pensions of those in the public sector.

We treat the public sector more softly than we treat children. Telling them what a great job they do, how they are so invaluable to society and so on - boosting their esteem in the same way the "all must have prizes" education system does to badly behaved children.

The truth is that the public sector is a massive drain on resources. They aren't using the money well, they mostly aren't doing a great job - most are crap at whatever job they do (and which the private sector could do a lot better, for less) and they mostly are insulated from the economic reality which those of us in the private sector face.

Some one, at some time is going to have to say enough is enough and start getting tough with the public sector. It doesn't need pruning - it needs cutting down, the roots dug out and replanting.


TheFatBigot said...

I'm with you all the way here, Mr Stan, but I wonder whether it can be sold to a sufficient number of the electorate.

Say now that you will cull the public sector of all but the really necessary jobs and you risk losing so many votes from those people that you can't be elected and, therefore, you can't do it.

Perhaps the only practical option is for Mr Cameron to get in on a platform of making such changes as can be afforded and then say that the books show things to be so bad that radical steps must be taken. At the start of a five-year term it would be possible to make some of the structural changes that are needed, but even then there is only so much he could do.

It's a long haul because, as we have both said many times, the whole balance at present is manifestly unsustainable yet the State machine is massive and can only be turned slowly.

The greatest tragedy is that the problem is exposed most starkly by the current troubles which are attributed in the public mind to the private sector. While the State is acting as nanny to the bust banks it is the saviour. To argue that it is also the single greatest handicap to recovery is a difficult argument to sell.

Stan said...

Yes, I know it's difficult, but I get fed up with the Tory party claiming they are going to be "straight and honest" when they patently can't be. The trouble for the private sector is that we don't throw the toys out of the pram like the public sector do. When our pensions are cut, jobs lost or pockets picked for more cash to fund the public sector we don't go on strike, hold demonstrations or picket government buildings. We don't do anything. We just bend over the barrel as we're told. The big corps in the private sector have some leverage as they can threaten to move elsewhere, but the vast majority os small businesses, self-employed and private sector employees are impotent. That is the very reason why the Tory party existed - to protect and champion the cause of the individual. They were our voice - our only representation. They've abandoned us so we should abandon them.