The “efficiency” that dare not speak its name

With Gordon shakily back in the saddle, the big political row of the week is over the old hark-back to public spending cuts. “Cuts” is a word all sides avoid like a plague, so nobody knows what the hell they’re really talking about, as columnist Matthew Parris observes. Nevertheless, David Smith of the Times manfully tries to sort out the Labour sheep from the Conservative goats. The recession may be coming slowly to an end reports Smith, and the Conservatives are planning for recovery. This is not necessarily good news for public sector dependent areas like Northern Ireland where the Tory low opinions of public sector performance augurs swingeing “efficiency” cuts. Do we like “efficiency” better than “cuts” and do we believe they mean no reduction in “frontline” spending? Like hell we do. The election of a Conservative government next year would mean an emergency budget to bring in cuts a year earlier than Labour. It’s an interesting case and one that may be creating strains within Labour too. . David Cameron’s attack on Brown last week was blunted by Brown seizing on shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley’s blurted-out admission that the Tory pledge to continue increasing the health budget would mean cuts of 10% in other budgets. In a second article ( tucked away in a box after the Mandelson piece), Smith repeats the general views that Labour’s assessment of the state of the public finances in reality differs little from the Tories.

But a real choice exists between the two parties. Both parties will cut spending, but the Tories will seek bigger reductions, partly through efficiency savings. Labour might deliver slightly smaller spending cuts but will, instead, have to put taxes up more. It is a choice, although not necessarily an appealing one.

  • Reader

    Does Labour think there is a load of fat in the system? If there is, isn’t that already their fault? If there isn’t, how can they *not* cut front line services if they make cuts?
    So the next election will be fought on the question – “is there a lot of waste in the public sector?”

  • Driftwood

    Northern Ireland’s Quangocracy will hopefully be first against the wall. I personally volunteer for the firing party against that useless fart Monica McWilliams.

  • Bill

    And can I place the NICCY and Patricia Lewsley on the ‘efficiency list’ please?

    While I know we need a large and strong Public Sector, I hope that we see and end to all the commissions. Waste of time, waste of money. Let the people speak – and campaign – for themselves.

  • fin

    the Tories have also announced an end to testing school kids at age 11, what is UCUNF’s MEP’s policy on the testing of schoolkids at age 11?

  • Has the Womens Coalition really gone or have its members just mutated into quangocrats?

  • Driftwood

    The Tories have suggested removing the (non-selective) and useless SATS tests. There will still be academic selection in England and NI.
    Stop fishing for small fry.

    Nevin, The WC may have been complete failures in the political arena (like Alliance) but useless numpties make compliant bureaucrats, they simply follow the money. And the ‘post conflict’ moneygoround has been very fruitful for them.

  • aquifer

    Nothing to beat the public service. Jobs for life, increments for breathing, family friendly hours, and a copper bottomed index linked pension.

    The private sector offers short term contracts, or insists you offer services as a self employed subcontractor with no employment rights at all. If your health breaks your family can be out of a home if it stays together, a holiday is a real achievement and a decent pension close to a miracle.

    The trouble with ‘cuts’ is that they tend to reduce the outputs that administrators administer, while leaving the upper salariat in post. Administering the cuts needs managing too, and offered a redundancy package, it will often be the competent that head for the door.

    A big cost is secrecy and spin. Investigating replies to MLA questions is only needed when stuff is not in the public domain to start off with.

    We need to start measuring public sector outputs and publishing these on the web.

  • fin

    mmmh Driftwood you seem to be mellowing in your attitudes towards education ministers, or just been selective

  • Glencoppagagh

    “frontline” spending all too often means putting more money into the pockets of doctors, nurses, teachers and policemen as opposed to the much maligned administrators.
    “Frontline services” could be preserved, in NI at least, by cutting the real incomes of the grotesquely overpaid “professionals”.

  • Driftwood

    Glad you’ve realised that the only Education policies (and minister) that matter- throughout the UK- are the Westminster ones.
    Whatever happens at the Trumpton assembly is of no consequence to anyone.
    Ed Balls dictates education policy in NI until (thankfully) Michael Gove takes over in Autumn or next Spring. By which time the wee pretendy education clerk here (currently a special needs pupil from the Irish Republic) will have gone back to cookery classes (speciality-Irish stew).

  • 0b101010

    The NICS is absolutely stuffed to the brim with dead weight. You could chop it in half, let alone decimate it, and end up with a more efficient operation that would produce the same amount of services to a higher quality — provided they had the ability to tell half they should keep.

  • 0b101010

    (^ I meant dead “wood” not “weight”. It’s one of those days.)