Friday, 7 December 2007

The public sector is getting desperate...

I am truly amazed that the government is giving the police effectively a pay cut, taking inflation into account. A profession that currently cannot go on strike.
I have a lot of sympathy for public sector workers. Particularly those who are employed to save people's lives, sometimes by putting their own lives at risk. The police, the armed services, the fire fighters, ambulance men, social workers, probation officers, nurses immediately spring to mind. Another profession I admire include the teachers, how they can put up with the abuse they get from children I will never be able to work out.
If any of these people get a pay cut, the message being sent out is that the work you are doing is not being valued; you are doing a bad job.
The problem is of course the concern that increasing public spending increases inflation. Everyone seems to be agreed on that, and if true public sector employees will never be properly rewarded for what they do.
Yet as far as the police is concerned, the saving in not backdating is only £40million. In terms of the overall national budget, a tiny amount. How can the government be so mean?
I guess the argument is that it all adds up. The squeeze on public sector pay will be across the board. If you make exceptions, like the police for example, then it won't work.
Personally I still think it is not persuasive. I listened to many silly interviews recently. On the issue of pay for the police, the government minister kept referring to what the police originally asked for, rather than what they agreed from the pay review board. I do not like interviewers interrupting, but there was certainly one needed here.
This morning I listened to a minister justifying a cut in the physics research budget of £80million by ignoring that it was happening altogether. I have some sympathy if it is true that over the years the funding had increased a lot - Today will not report on that when it happens - but all the same, how are research institutions supposed to plan ahead when the funding is so erratic?
Then I heard a senior member of the armed forces lamenting the underfunding of the military. Apparently inflation in the armed services is a whopping 7 - 8%, and of course we are overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As far as the military is concerned - for God's sake lets scrap Trident and not replace it. How on earth are we going to fund the military properly if inflation is 7%?
I dread to think about the future of the public sector. In the past when there was a funding crises, the Lib Dems said they would increase taxes. My instincts are to suggest the same again, but that would be a difficult sell at a time when so many people are in debt. We could tax the rich more - and the Lib Dem Green Tax Switch is designed to do that, but Lib Dem policy is also to tax the poor less so that the overall budget is tax neutral.
So we are looking at public sector cuts. Some cuts are worth it, such as abolishing compulsary ID cards, but I am not persuaded there are enough savings to reallocate resources to where we want them. Once the soft targets are gone, the prospects are of the kind of painful cuts in public sector pay we are now seeing.

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