Saturday, January 17, 2009
Lord Digby Jones a former junior minister in Brown's cabinet (inducted as part of his "government of all the talents") told Parliament public administration committee about our civil service:
"Frankly the job could be done with half as many, it could be more productive, more efficient, it could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer.
"I was amazed, quite frankly, at how many people deserved the sack and yet that was the one threat that they never ever worked under, because it doesn't exist."
Since government employment has increased by 2 million people & an after inflation increase of £200 billion over the last 11 years this is a pretty thorough damnation of the government by a junior minister of that government.
It also means that, so long as the Tories make use of it, it will be impossible for Labour to trot out the old line that if the Conservatives want to cut spending that must mean firing nurses, doctors & photogenic people because no efficiency savings are possible.
Whether the Tories make use of it is a different question - they should quote it in every leaflet, press release & relevant interview. Good advertising takes on what everybody really knows to be true (like this) & repeats it even after it gets boring. Advertisers know that when people are bored by an advert it has hit home.
It also makes the 9% Growth Party's policy of 2% efficiency savings & 2% annual personnel cuts by natural wastage, while more radical than most of the other parties, look pretty anaemic. John Redwood who has called for a 20% cut over a Parliament also agrees that "Digby Jones makes me look quite moderate or feeble." Of course both of us said this before the present crunch & I for one would now call for the at least 90% abolition of some parts of government, particularly the regulatory ones.
Since Digby Jones was appointed by Labour they cannot now claim that he is immoderate & since everybody really knows he is telling the truth it will make it particularly difficult to rubbish him. The Tories should make it particularly difficult to ignore him & I hope they have the cojones to do so.
I also think that, as an experienced manager, what he said about the inability to fire people for being incompetent was important. If you can't fire a servant they aren't a servant. An example of what you get is the relationship between Hacker & Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister. You don't have to fire many people to get the point across. On the other hand an organisation doesn't have to feed many lazy incompetents before everybody realises they can safely be lazy & incompetent too.
The civil service get massive index linked pensions & early retiral which are hardly popular with the rest of us. It is obvious that we serfs do not get the guaranteed jobs for life. They are, in practice, the idle rich & privileged of today.
Any party going into the election on the basis that they would cut such privilege drastically would not only be acting in the best interests of the country but would chime with popular sentiment too.
The good news for the economy is that if we can survive with such a bloated "service" we could certainly have a successful growing economy with 2 million more productive workers & £200 million more to invest each year (I mean really invest not simply spend which is what most politicians mean by the word).