From the TUC

Reality dawns on the Government

13 Sep 2010, by Guest in Economics, Politics

Andrew Rawnsley has a great piece in yesterday’s Observer  about how ministers are just becoming aware of the massive political risks associated with their cuts programme.  But it was the passage below that struck me as the most interesting – ministers suddenly realising that all the think-tank talk of excessive waste in the public sector and in quangoes was hyped-up propaganda and that public sector workers are actually decent people with kids to care for and mortgages to pay.  Who would’ve guessed it?

In the pre-election period, members of David Cameron’s senior team would privately argue that the state had become so bloated under Labour that they would find plenty of fat to cut before they hit bone. They believed quite a lot of the deficit could be mopped up through “efficiency savings”.Now they know better. It is one of the easiest cries in opposition to shout: “Cull the quangos.” That is proving hard to do even for such reflexive quango-cullers as Tories. One Conservative minister says: “At first glance, you think: that can go. Then you take another look and you find that a lot of these organisations exist for a purpose.”

Some ministers say they are finding examples of wasteful spending that can be terminated without much impact on the public. Others have gone looking for relatively pain-free savings and come back empty handed. One minister says: “I keep thinking that if I dig deep enough I will find something, but to be honest there isn’t all that much.”

Then there is the human factor. Labour tribalists won’t believe this, and the Treasury axemen won’t like it, but it is quite rare to find a minister, Conservative or Lib Dem, who relishes firing people. They are already having to confront the personal cost of cuts when making decisions about their own civil servants. One Tory minister says: “We all attacked ‘faceless bureaucrats’ when we were in opposition. They aren’t faceless anymore. They are people working in the department and they are nice people. They are people with children, people with mortgages to pay.”

5 Responses to Reality dawns on the Government

  1. Georges
    Sep 13th 2010, 4:06 pm


    Could this:

    They aren’t faceless anymore. They are people working in the department and they are nice people. They are people with children, people with mortgages to pay.

    Be equally applied to the soaked taxpayer who can bleed no more cash:

    They aren’t faceless anymore. They are people working in the private sector and they are nice people. They are people with children, people with mortgages to pay, people being bled dry to ensure reality never intrudes the halls of government.

    There are two sides to this coin: the nice government worker consuming taxes and the nice private sector who pays the bill for both.

    Are non-governmental children and mortgages of less importance?


  2. Is opinion turning on the cuts? | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Sep 14th 2010, 12:20 pm

    […] as Adam notes, at least some ministers are now beginning to worry about the backlash from the cuts they will […]

  3. Sarah
    Sep 14th 2010, 8:26 pm

    One of the things I find irritating about the above sentiment is that it seems to assume that those nasty public sector workers aren’t also taxpayers. Often with strong belief in public service rather than profit, so keen to make sure the work they do offers good value to the country to make it a better place. Cuts were taking place all over for the past ten years, it just wasn’t shouted about. People choose where to apply for jobs- private sector often offers greater rewards in good times. Public sector should offer best practice terms and conditions and follow employment law, to act as role model for others they expect to follow regulations. Yet public sector workers blamed for visciousness of some private sector practices. Blame the bosses, not the workers. It’s not you against them.

  4. Vince Lammas
    Sep 15th 2010, 2:19 am

    I also read Andrew Rawnslwy’s article and was similarly struck by the description of the Coalition partners’ realisation that most public expenditure takes place with real purpose and outcomes.
    There are improvements and savings to be made and my article at today suggests how a decentralising government might make inroads while building on thinking and work delivered from across all the political parties.

  5. pete carruthers
    Sep 15th 2010, 1:19 pm

    Why do we keep lumping all public sector workers together?
    The vast majority of ‘public sector workers’ do a good job – but, there are also a lot of people on the public payroll that we could do without.
    The biggest single difference between public and private workers is that in private industry you ‘shed’ workers either because if you don’t you will go bust, or because for whatever reason they can no longer do the job.
    This does not happen in my experience of the public sector, people are ‘redeployed’ often to somewhere that doesn’t need them, where they continue to be paid for contributing very little.
    I am not a subscriber to the views of GE who have, or at least had, a policy of sacking 10% of their workforce each year, but there is dead wood in most public sector departments and nobody has the bottle to tackle it.