The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

In Defence Of The Public Sector

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 21, 2010 @ 17:19

My favourite picture of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Over the next few years we’re going to hear more about the “unproductive” part of our economy. We will hear endlessly about how it is pain-free to eliminate jobs from the public sector because they’re not “real” jobs anyway. Indeed, a tortured logic might even argue that rather than the government paying someone a certain amount of cash per year as a salary, they could pay them far less in benefits.

It’s not an argument I’ve ever heard, in truth. I thought it up now. In pure cash terms, its logic is probably unbeatable. I should have been an economist.

But the real point of today’s rant is to fight back against this concept that private sector jobs are the only ones that are productive. The private sector raises the taxes that pay for all those public sector fripperies that we spend over £600bn a year on.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes the private sector exists in glorious isolation. Free, untrammelled, providing the state with a glorious worry and risk-free treasure trove of cash to squander on the poor and feckless.

The private sector cannot provide reasonable and affordable healthcare for the masses. America proves that. Without health, there is no economy. If workers die young, or from preventable illnesses, then the private sector has no one to do its dirty work in the first place. Healthcare requires a huge range of healthcare professionals, from the humble social workers providing care in the community, to the consultant cardiologist earning a six figure salary.

The private sector cannot provide a decent basic level of education. Without education in the first place, none of those doctors and nurses will exist. In that sense, education is more important than all of them. That means we need teachers, teaching assistants and other educational welfare providers. That all needs paying for. Those workers don’t just arrive at the doors of private sector firms magically able to read, write and have a multitude of other skills ready to go.

Then there is order. Who provides it? Certainly not Securicor. We need a network of people to execute and judge the law. Oh, and then make attempts to rehabilitate the offenders, no matter how badly that system works at the moment. Without order, there is no society. Without society, there is no economy.

I could go on. Who built the railways? Who built the roads? Who rescued the entire banking sector from collapse when the private sector had fucked the whole thing up?

But there is one bit underpinning all this. The bit that everyone thinks we can just slash and burn without any impact.

The bureaucrats.

Teachers don’t organise themselves. Healthcare professionals don’t. After all, we want the professionals on the “front line” (we’ll hear that one a lot too) to be actually doing the thing they’ve been trained and want to do. We don’t want doctors having to co-ordinate shift patterns between themselves. We don’t want nurses to have to worry about when the order for vaccines should be placed, and from which provider it should come from to reduce the costs involved. We don’t want teachers having to manage a database of names and attendance records to monitor whether the children that are supposed to be in education are actually there.

The civil service is the glue that binds all of the necessary functions together. Someone has to do the administration. Someone has to organise the lot. Someone has to co-ordinate the parts that overlap and interact. Someone needs to try and do the “joined-up government” that we all wish for.

That’s not to deny that there aren’t efficiencies that could be made. Of course there are. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. My head gets filled with anecdotes on a daily basis from the civil servants I know about the waste and mismanagement.

But let’s not assume that the simple answer to saving money is simply to get rid of the people in the back office. We need to be way more clever than that.

Because if we’re not, those very same “front-line services” that the coalition government love so much are going to take one hell of a beating, intentionally or otherwise.

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One Response to “In Defence Of The Public Sector”

  1. Peter Reynolds said

    TrustEd to defend the indefensible eh?

    Actually that’s just me being a Tory reactionary, there is much truth in what you say.

    I have some experience of the NHS. There is a continual outcry to get rid of managers yet most of the problems that people have with the NHS can only be solved by better management.

    You are right, “Someone has to organise the lot.”

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