Careless talk costs strikes

The government needs to change its rhetoric about public sector cuts. It should not allow Labour the space to campaign against “deep and damaging” cuts by giving any credence to the idea that public spending is being cut by 25% or some such fictional figure. There will be hotheads in the Labour movement who wish to move on from falsely vilifying Tories for seeking and liking spending cuts, to organising protests and strikes against the cuts in particular services. When public spending overall is going to continue to rise in cash terms that would be needless and stupid.

Good management does not seek confrontation with Unions or workforce. Good management understands that leadership is about persuasion, carrying your workforce with you for the changes you need to put through. It is always best to demonstrate why necessary change for the organisation you lead is in the interests of the staff as well as the customers or taxpayers. The government should say they have approved cash increases for every year of this Parliament overall but the settlement is tighter than previous years. In order to serve the public well it will require new ways of doing things and much better cost control. Management wishes to work with staff to see how this can best be delivered. Be open minded about how you do it, but single minded about doing it.

Here Mr Clegg could play an important role from his central position in the Cabinet Office, the hub of the British civil service. The Liberal Democrats have good lines of communication with public service employees and a membership base oriented towards services paid for out of tax revenue. He could make a speech setting out a vision of streamlined and more effective public service, where improvements in quality and productivity go hand in hand with better employee management. The government is putting together the ingredients of such a strategy. They include:

1. A stated intention to use staff freezes to cut the number of back office and overhead posts as people leave, avoiding compulsory redundancies whereever possible
2. A pay freeze for two years to reduce the need for service cuts, ameliorated by pay rises for the lowest paid.
3. A willingness to ask the employees how they would suggest hitting the new tigher budgets, involving staff in the evolution of their own service.
4. A preparedness to consider new models of service delivery, inviting employee buy- outs, contracting out to former staff and other solutions
5. A new rigour over purchasing costs to cut the cost of bought in items
6. Cancelllation of heavy reliance on consultants and temporary labour

These methods of cost reduction mean that the core staff of the public sector gets a much better deal than private sector staff did in many companies forced into rapid cost reductions to survive in the recession. The government can say to its staff that they will have chances of accelerated promotion in a world where little external recuritment is allowed. Their jobs will become more interesting as the role of the external consultant is rolled back. The emphasis will be on adopting new methods to ensure better quality and service delivery , making up for the msising decade when productivity stood still in many parts of the public sector.

Management should show quiet determination to get more for less. It could start by tightening up on absence from work, and by turning down many more requests for temporary labour and consultancy assistance to do tasks. Management should talk softly, seek cooperative working to drive change, but leave staff in no doubt one way or another we do have to do a lot more for less. There is no need to have strikes. Strikes are not a sign of successful machismo, but unfortunate diversions from the task of improvement. If managements end up with one they have to win it, but it’s better not to go there in the first place.


  1. Iain Gill
    June 29, 2010

    the problem with your rosy picture is that "vision of streamlined and more effective public service" in practise is often using indian nationals working for the outsourcers here on intra company transfer visas and moving so called back office work to india

    sadly ignoring this issue is going to lead to this particular bubble bursting at some point as the politicians are doing nothing about it

    1. Javelin
      June 29, 2010

      Have to agree. I have witnessed massive abuse of the visa system by …. outsourcers over the past few years. Very few graduates can get jobs because (overseas workers-ed), here on visas intended for senior execs, are taking the graduates jobs. I don't blame the multi-nationals for doing this – as it improves their profits – and graduates are not UK corporates responsiblity.

      But graduates are the UK Governments responsiblity and the UK Government should not allow corporates to hand jobs to (overseas-ed) nationals whilst UK graduates can't get jobs. I work in a bank in Canary Wharf where at least 500 graduate jobs have been taken by (overseas workers-ed|)who are here on visas. If things carry on as they are the UK University Sector will have no point at all.

  2. Onus Probandy
    June 29, 2010

    "Pubic sector cuts" eh?

    Now I understand what the newspapers mean when they say "painful reductions"

  3. Brian Tomkinson
    June 29, 2010

    I was concerned about the possibility of public sector strikes before the election and share your concern that, with the daily rhetoric about 25% cuts and Labour jumping on any band wagon to regain popularity, the threat is growing. Isn't the problem that the coalition government is trying to show the markets that they are taking the "tough decisions" and so promote their toughness? The reality is somewhat baffling. I confess that I haven't attempted to analyse the budget figures but wonder just how with such "savage cuts" the government has a budget which in cash terms increases by £68billion or 10% over five years. How are we ever going to pay off any of the government debt?

  4. christina sarginson
    June 29, 2010

    I wish the coalition government well because I care about this country. I am really surprised at your first comment which suggests that some labour party members should not have their say about what the government is doing. Surely that would not be right after all this is a free speech society and we should all be able to give our opinion on what we think from government spending cuts to the football. You always have your say John whether your party is in or out of government and quiet rightly so.
    Whilst I do agree with some of the actions the government is taking; like asking the staff of the public sector what they think should be cut etc, I hope you are not expecting a consensus in this action. After talking to most of my friends who work in the public sector they are feeling confused about this action and will of course look after their own jobs or service. Maybe the government should ask the private sector too.

  5. Alan Jutson
    June 29, 2010

    Perhaps if we started from the position of truth it may help.

    Is the government actually cutting budgets, if so by how much.


    Is the Government allowing an increase (you suggest 10%) over the next 5 years.

    Perhaps if we can get some sense behind either of the above you may take the argument with you.

    I am somewhat confused. How can a planned 25% cut (suggested by the Government) be at the same time a cash increase, when we do not know the rate of inflation.

    1. Brian Tomkinson
      June 29, 2010

      You and I seem to be on the same wavelength but no one is answering our questions.

      1. Alan Jutson
        June 30, 2010


        It seems such an easy question to answer, indeed it should be factual.

        I guess its follow the money, and in a few years time when its all failed, and we are still in a similar amount of debt, and we are asked again to approve more cuts, then we will know.

        What I do not understand is why, if the spending is going to increase, the Tories are prepared to take all the flack for cuts and risk losing more votes in the future.

        Or if the cuts are to be made why they are increasing expenditure at all, but then not getting the feel good factor from the media. Although the media seem not to have picked up on this increase as yet.

        Either way it makes no sense. We all know we need Cuts, so get on with it and get as back on a sensible financial footing as soon as possible.

        Talk about giving out mixed messages !

  6. waramess
    June 29, 2010

    Perhaps the most important sector they wish to impress are the buyers of gilts.

    There is a lot of sovereign debt around and it is becoming more and more plentiful. Maybe the Conservatives forsee the appetite for sovereign risk starting to decline whilst expansion of sovereign debt issues continue.

    After all, if every nations idea of shrinking government is growing it in cash terms then the need to impress investors will, over time, become pre eminent.

  7. A Griffin
    June 29, 2010

    Firstly I apologize for the length of my comment.
    My goodwill has been shattered by the budget and I suspect that I am one of your bleeding stumps. If you understand my position then it may help you overcome your frustration at being unable to get your sensible and reasonable ideas across to the people that could enact them.
    It was clear that the public sector was being sofftened up for a hit prior to the budget with much venom from the press against gold plated public sector pensions and pay. As someone whose old age will be provided for by my NHS consultant husbands pension I am an interested party. I cannot support the budget pension raid which changes from the RPI measure of inflation to the usually lower CPI because I see it as a breach of trust against married couples where one party has done decades of work in good faith that pensions would rise in line with the RPI. My husband works twelve hour days making life and death decisions for NHS patients and has a high productivity in his department and never takes time off work. If our pension is now unaffordable then we should have been allowed to increase our contributions out of salary rather than be robbed when we are retired. Many older consultants and GPs worked onerous hours in the past that were simply not compatible with having a working spouse and familly. The widows and widowers will be doubly penalised. There are doctors in their fifties who have only just given up doing a one in two on call rota.
    This coalition measure is straight out of Mr Browns book and it's dishonest.
    The great ship that you want to turn around has been reformed by thirteen years of Labour rule during which much of our institutional and professional life has been weakened by the promotion of their thinking, their ideas, and their people.
    The sad truth is that the NHS is doomed without immediate repair to the undergraduate and postgraduate training of doctors and the rebuilding of academic medicine, together with freedom for staff to deliver their service in an innovative and competitive way that is free from political interference. I suspect that the free schools model might be the answer and the term 'free hospitals' does sound good but this is one disillusioned medical wife who will tell her husband to stop killing himself for the patients and to just carry on going through the motions.

    1. Alan Jutson
      June 29, 2010

      Perhaps I am incorrect in my thoughts, but I understood all Public Sector Pensions were being honoured in their entirety for the service gained (paid for) so far. So what is the problem. Most of us who have private pensions (SELF EMPLOYED) have to pay 100% of the contributions ourselves and the goalposts have moved many times over the years, including a tax raid by Mr Brown.

      The NHS Pension is a very, very generous Pension indeed, with the NHS Contribution the equivalent of more than 14% of a persons salary, all being completely funded by the Tax payer. I also understand that some Specialist positions within the NHS get added years that require no contribution at all.

      Should anyone wish to make additional Pension Contributions to their NHS Pension then that is possible under the existing rules, although you will not find any private plan as good as the NHS for the money.


      1. Alan Jutson
        June 29, 2010


        Please thank you husband for his Service in the past, but we do not simply want Doctors going through the motions, that is not acceptable at all. Most Doctors earn a good salary, and some suppliment this with Private Practice.

        Yes the NHS is in a mess, yes it does need reform with some long term planning, how we can have an over supply of newly qualified Doctors with no positions for them to fill a couple of years ago, and now have a shortage is poor planning.

    2. simon
      June 29, 2010

      After 7 years at medical school and a career trying to help everyone else through their problems it's not a great way to be treated .

      Pension schemes other than a money purchase schemes do carry an implicit risk of default unfortunately .

      The same is true for everyone who is expecting a state pension in 20 years time .

      One generation cannot be under any obligation to honour the unfunded element of pensions liabilities taken on by the previous generation .

      The real blame should lie with previous governments (Tory and Labour) which made your husband and millions of others promises on behalf of future generations which they will now not be able to keep .

      A money purchase scheme with market rate annuities is fairer for everyone because it is fully funded but of course carries a different set of risks .

      I hope the reduction doesn't spoil your retirement .

    3. JimF
      June 29, 2010

      Presumably your husband could have opted out of the NHS scheme and contributed to a money-purchase scheme. He could then have taken his chances like the rest of us, where sharesand hence my pension fell 3% today alone.
      For some reason these opt-outs were regarded as mis-selling, and some Labour minister was put in charge of making sure folk were compensated for making their own judgement as soon as money-purchase didn't look so good. Maybe there will now be a compensation scheme for public sector workers who wrongly judged that the Government might keep its promises, and for the Breach of Contract in my mistakenly contributing to a Government insurance scheme which promised to pay out at 65, when that is now 66 or later?

  8. Derek Buxton
    June 29, 2010

    "Use Clegg because of his contacts in the public sector", yes, that makes sense…of a kind. Clegg and his party are the problem, they stuff their councils with jobsworths whilst the services deterorate and enjoy the "cabinet" system that keeps everything secret. This is the party that reduces road width and sharpens corners which causes congestion but don'r repair the potholes. Our council, of his ilk, has just demolished a sound council building and are rebuilding it even bigger. So, yes this makes sense, like learning from criminals how to commit crime. And that litany doesn't even touch on the truly awful, non nuclear Huhne. What is the point of that man???

  9. Mark
    June 29, 2010

    I note that Sir Hugh Orde has retracted his threat to resign. Instead, he has adopted bleeding stump mode. Perhaps someone should belatedly accept his resignation offer, and find someone who understands what is required instead?

  10. English Pensioner
    June 29, 2010

    Frequently it is the personnel management in the Civil Service which is responsible for gross over-staffing, as of course it enhances their own status.
    My daughter works in an office which had 12 people, and someone decided to reduce them to eight. The boss got the huff and managed to take early retirement as did one of the others.My daughter is now temporarily in charge and realised that most of the work was being generated by the boss with meetings, demands for written progress reports, statistics, etc.
    My daughter makes a point of starting any meeting no earlier than 11am, (so no coffee and biscuits), and by twelve everyone is keen to go to lunch so rapid decisions are made. There are now two long term absentees from the section, one on maternity leave and the other with stress, and my daughter still says that she is under worked.
    The person with stress claims my daughter was responsible, but as she said, all I asked was that he turned up on time and put in the hours he was being paid for!. Personnel Department reaction:Go easy on him, we don't want to cause him any health problems. No support, no backing, no suggestion of getting medical advice.
    And if one persons manages to get away with it, why shouldn't the rest do the same?

  11. Demetrius
    June 29, 2010

    "Back office" and "overhead" may not be the same. Some back office work is critical. It is arguable that the relegation of back office and promotion of salesmen and dealers in the banks is what waa a major cause of their problems. The issue is sorting out the necessary functionaries from all the others. The serious problem is that too many local authorities cannot tell one for the other.

  12. HJBbradders
    June 29, 2010

    I am afraid that you need to spell this one out for me, Mr Redwood. If there is a planned increase of some 10% in government spending over the next 5years, why Oh why, is there this incessant talk about a 25% reduction, often referred to as Tory "slash-and-burn" policies. Where on earth is the Tories' publicity machine?

    A tangential matter. Can anyone explain to me why a policeman needs to retire at the tender age of 50? If one includes early retirement due to ill health, that figure becomes about 49 years.I can see that maybe a 55year-old cannot be chasing hooligans around an estate, but why cannot they be required to take a behind-the-scene administrative or clerical job, thus freeing up more front-line officers and permitting a reduction in the employment of civilian, clerical staff?

    1. simon
      June 29, 2010

      We shouldn't be talking about retirement ages .

      Police and everyone else should be contributing to money purchase schemes and free to retire whenever they have a big enough pensions pot to buy an annuity from the market which will support their lifestyle .

      Changes to retirement age are stop gap solutions . The only fair solution is for everyone to fully fund their own secondary pension .

    2. Alan Jutson
      June 29, 2010

      Exactly, on both points.

  13. Ross J Warren
    June 29, 2010

    As is so often the case John is on the money. Its a great shame that over the last few days our front bench has repeatedly attempted to talk up its measures to a fever pitch. One would think, as an example that the sick will be expected to do hard labour, and every government department is to be cut by 25%. Its just smoke and mirrors as applied by the right.. I

  14. Steve Tierney
    June 29, 2010

    The sort of cuts which are coming are going to lead to battles with the unions. Yes, we can seek to avoid them through good management and fair handling for resources – but they are coming nonetheless.

  15. Ex Liverpool Rioter
    June 29, 2010

    The Party of Law & Order !


    1. Ross J Warren
      June 30, 2010

      The Party of pragmatism in the face of difficult choices.

  16. StrongholdBarricades
    June 30, 2010

    Surely we wouldn't have any job losses if we made all public sector posts job shares.

    It would automatically mean that double the number would have work, albeit part time, and thus able to take up the other available part time opportunities that will drive forward our faltering economy.

    At a stroke it would reduce national insurance cost, without affecting any front line hours, and possibly reduce JSA. Though I'm not convinced that it would actually reduce the overall benefits/tax credits situation.

    It would also have an effect upon "final salary" pensions and massively increase the pool of resources for effective change

    As growth in the real economy then pulls out, through natural wastage the part time positions could be reabsorbed to make full time ones. It would also mean, that just like the private sector the answer has been innovative to protect the number of jobs and try to keep people in work.

  17. Peter
    June 30, 2010

    7. Make the public sector work harder – get some decent management in ro drive productivity up.

    If my recent (short) spell dealing with the DWP and Jobcentre plus is anything to go by, they do not have y of urgency. If I drifted around like that in either of my two jobs, I would be disciplined at least and possibly sacked.

  18. Neil Craig
    June 30, 2010

    Lets hope the quangoists & H&S inspectors all go on strike & we can fire the lot instantly.

  19. Kevin Peat
    June 30, 2010

    It is the Government's job to ensure that chiefs don't get petty and punish the public by cutting essential roles like police officers, street cleaners, nurses. There are plenty of non-jobs which can be culled first.

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