Spending cutbacks are upon us. There is a debate as to the extent to what the level of the reduction in public spending should be, but reduced it will be. The question then is how do we best safeguard front-line services in heath, social care and other vital areas and still achieve a meaningful decrease in the deficit. The answer must be by cutting waste and bureaucracy, but how precisely is this to be done? Here are a few suggestions:
- Reduce the gap between public and private sector pay bill: The largest percentage of costs in the public sector is in wages. To be sure a significant number of public sector employees earn a pittance, but huge differentials have built up in a large number of areas between public, private and voluntary sector pay levels. For instance the difference in pay between middle-level managers in the public and voluntary sectors for comparable posts can be as high as £10,000. A level playing field is required both to attract good recruits into other sectors and put a cap on the public sector pay bill.
- Legislation: The cumulative effects of multiple items of legislation, particularly in relation to health and safety, equalities and diversity and employment have to be seriously assessed and discussed in order to strike a balance between protection and the imposition of a stifling regulatory regime. Measures to safeguard against highly improbable occurrences or to police conduct in the workplace against every perceived offence, to take two prominent examples, places an onerous burden on organisations, especially in the public sector, as well as raising costs and inhibiting creativity and initiative.
- Regulation should be appropriate and specifically targeted at ensuring services are being delivered to standard and not striving to ensure the public sector in areas such as health, education and social care are enforcing wider social aims and norms or unnecessarily intruding into people’s lives.
- There should be an immediate reduction of Quangos and national inspection bodies to that which is strictly necessary in order to avoid duplication, overzealous and unrealistic regulation and reduce costs. A rigorous audit should be carried out on each and every one of these creatures which have come to dominate public life.
- Government must learn to resist the temptation to succumb to the Regulatory Spiral whereby media, legal and political pressure surrounding an external event such as an accident or scandal prompts governments to pass more legislation and create further bureaucratic, regulatory and inspection agencies, again at considerable expense to the public purse.
- Over the past 30 years there has been an increasing tendency for governments, both Labour and Conservative, to attempt to achieve grand totalising solutions in social policy and people’s lifestyles which are unrealisable, but which divert resources, time and effort and add to public expense. In Scotland, three such policies: ending homelessness, eradicating prostitution and reducing problem drinking to zero are being pursued as part of national or local government policy: all three, noble as they are, are unattainable and unrealistic. Similar examples can be cited in other areas in the UK. Such unworkable aims, which place considerable stress on organisations and are ultimately wasteful, must be repudiated and services directed to what is achievable.
This list is not exhaustive by any means and there is no pretence here that these measures will by themselves reduce borrowing without having to incur cuts in front-line services. But they will make a dent in it and, perhaps more importantly, will break an almost institutionalised habit of setting up new regulatory bodies and resorting to legislation to progress any item of policy.
- Where at all, don’t create new legislation, use existing laws
- Don’t create further inspection or regulatory agencies, use existing bodies where possible