Monday 13 September 2010

Not jobs but outcomes

The unions' campaigns against the cuts concentrate on the loss of jobs they will involve. I think this is a mistake. Of course there is a strong Keynesian case for governments providing employment when the private sector fails to do so: Keynes is alleged to have argued that, in a depression, if they can't find anything better, governments should pay some men to dig holes and other to fill them up again.

However, in today's climate this argument is not going to appeal to that self-satisfied "Middle England," the alleged target of the TUC campaign, who unfortunately will not relish paying their taxes just to find other people jobs. Indeed it is a fault of the unions, and perhaps the public services generally, that they become producer orientated, thinking that their industries and services exist for their benefit rather than the benefit of their clients, customers, passengers, or the public generally.

A more effective campaign would concentrate on the loss of outcomes implied by the cuts: insufficient probation officers means fewer errant youths redirected to the straight and narrow; an already inadequate prison education service means more re-offending; fewer staff in HMRC means more tax evasion, avoidance and uncollected tax...feel free to add your own list.

I am quite certain that somewhere in the public service there is waste and slack. It should be rooted out: so politicians have been saying ever since I became active in the 1950s, and probably well before that. Consultants would make a god start, and personally I should abolish OFSTED, which as done far more harm than good, and let its ex-staff seek work in front-line education if they think they're so good at it. (I bet most of them wouldn't.)

But staffing reductions which do not affect outcomes are probably very limited. A more effective campaign emphasis today would be not on the loss of jobs but on the fact that public expenditure is necessary for a civilised social and physical environment. To cut it clears the path to public squalor

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