Creativity not confrontation

Ministers would be wise to tone down the rhetoric of massive cuts. They need to mobilise, energise and reform the public services. Labour made clear in their marathon moan in the Commons yesterday into the early hours of this morning that they are out to talk the economy down, highlight alleged huge cuts in jobs and services and campaign with the Unions against sensible change. The government needs to be smart and careful in its choice of words to bring about the improvements in quality and performance needed.

This morning I am talking to the wider share ownership movement. We need to encourage new types of public service, where former state employees take on running their own public service. We need to offer participation in Third sector solutions to public service problems, and to use more companies to help deliver what we need.

The British debate is dogged by such a narrow definition of public service. To Labour a public service has to have state employees delivering a service free to users at the point of use through monopoly provision. Public monopoly can so often stifle innovation and give us the high costs of monopoly rather than the economies of scale. To me the provision of the daily bread, milk and newspaper is as much a public service as the local library or refuse collection. We need in each case to ask how can the public service be best delivered, where state money is involved, and find that right combination of companies, charities and direct employment which delivers the best answer. Often the popular feature of current public sector provision is being free at the point of use, which the government is pledged to keep, more than the method of delivery.

There are good people in state employment who would like the opportunity to run their own school, organise their own bit of public service, seek to do things better than they have been allowed to do under the top down state directed model of the last government. Labour last night showed in the debate they have learned nothing about to how to modernise and improve public service, still seeing it in a narrow partisan and ideological way. The one thing they are good at is running a strongly worded opposition to all change that might benefit us with better and better value public service.


  1. oldrightie
    July 7, 2010

    labours' naked ambition for power at any price, (cost) is all they care about. We have had 13 years to watch that in action. my only surprise is that anyone supports this clique of losers and their union paymasters.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    July 7, 2010

    The coalition government could also help us all by scrapping Labour's plan to switch to digital radio. I read today that they are blindly continuing down this road ignoring the massive waste and additional costs to the public for no benefit to the majority.

    1. Mark
      July 7, 2010

      The cost is largely going to be to the balance of payments. Most radios are imported. I would guess there are at least 100 million sets between car and domestic radios. Digital sets are also more energy hungry, so not only is there the waste to landfill, but also a higher energy bill and more imports to power them. We also have to pay for the re-equipping of broadcast facilities.

      1. Alan Jutson
        July 7, 2010


        Also had reports that those who have gone digital (radio) already are not pleased with the performance, and have gone back to listening with their old equipment still connected to the existing system

        1. Mark
          July 8, 2010

          My fear is that transmitter powers will be reduced to worsen the signal progressively as a means of encouraging the switchover. Some MP needs to establish a baseline and keep an eye on this. It reminds me of the trick that Mercury Communications played with fax transmissions some years ago, where they detected fax signals and degraded the line with noise to slow transmission and increase call revenue.

          We also need to remember that our radios will not be compatible with broadcasts elsewhere in the world.

          1. Alan Jutson
            July 8, 2010


            So thats why My Fax transmissions at the time took longer when I was with Mercury for a short period many years ago.

            You make a very good point about continuation of signal strength.

            What a waste of 100 million (at least) perfectly good radio's, how green is this policy.

            Most new cars still factory fitted with non digital systems.

    2. forthurst
      July 7, 2010

      The present DAB transmission is based on the obsolete MPEG-1 Layer II codec. The government needs to ban the sale of radios committed to this standard in favour of those which can accept firmware upgrade so that a change to DAB+ or some other compression decoder will not involve yet further outlay.

  3. waramess
    July 7, 2010

    "There are good people in state employment who would like the opportunity to run their own school"…….

    This used to be called privatisation. Why, suddenly, has the idea of privatisation become such a feared word?

    There is no reason why we should not allow good people in either state or other employment to invest their own capital and take over services currently run by the state, and if the state wish to provide some or all parts of this service free then they should be free to purchase the service.

    If on the other hand the idea is for the tax payer to put up all or part of the investment necessary then this is simply a sign of a supposed right wing party pandering to the left.

    No matter who is the customer, if the service is worth running then it should be run so that it produces a return to the providors of the risk capital.

    Let it be for the left to delude themselves that a "not for profit" company delivers a service without the need for risk capital.

  4. Simon
    July 7, 2010

    This is one Public Servant who agrees with your approach Mr Redwood and is very much looking forward to the next few years.

    It feels like an outbreak of common sense, no longer able to simply throw money at a problem we now need to use our imagination, be creative, try things out, be brave enough to challenge orthodoxy!

    And of course much of what we do we could do much more cheaply without anyone having to suffer in any way, neither us workers nor those who use our services. There are spectacular levels of waste!

    One of the keys to unlocking better services for less money is of course the Internet and WWW and not just public services but working more efficiently with private suppliers and between Government departments and Agencies, the trouble is too many at the top simply do not understand what a web site is and how it differs from an older style internal system. I am not sure how we change this but in my job it has been and remains very frustrating!

  5. Norman
    July 7, 2010

    'Free' public services – where is this utopia of which the Left speak? I quite fancy some of that rather than my taxes ratcheting higher and higher every year.

  6. Javelin
    July 7, 2010

    I remember watching the end of the film Brazil (by Gillingham) where the main character walks to freedom (irrelevant that it wasn't true) but that feeling of being free is what drives us. the weight of the State from our shoulders. For some it means fear nit being spoon fed by nanny for free. The feeling of a better life made by us for us, not given to us by taking from others.

    Freedom in the future is about responsibility to create a better world not the right to have the state tell us what that world is.

  7. StrongholdBarricades
    July 7, 2010

    Very sensible comments John.

    I look forward to the departmental meetings where the Unions are invited to actually make their proposals to the challenges presented by the deficits.

    If they want input then they must come up with sensible suggestions to retain jobs and knowledge, but not at the expense of the public purse. Presented with the budgets, just like in the commercial world, I'm sure that they will communicate a message to their members about the requirement for creativity

  8. George Rowley
    July 7, 2010

    I agree we need to change perspectives on what is meant by public service. My worry is that we change perspectives on what is required to be delivered. There are a lot of vulnerable people relying on "public services", for me what counts is the quality of the service delivered and not the legal status of who delivers it.

    However if not controlled appropriately I fear we may lose the quality.

  9. Irene
    July 7, 2010

    They have apposed everything so far – I wonder how on earth they were going to halve the deficit in 4 years?

  10. christina sarginson
    July 7, 2010

    This sounds really great John but I dont know the people who are looking forward to running their own school etc, I know a lot of people who work in the public sector and most of them are frozen with fear at losing their jobs. To start your own business you need to take risks and many of them dont want to do that particularly in this climate.

  11. quangocrat
    July 7, 2010

    Current govt doesn't seem to realise that talking down the economy, means that confidence is heading downwards too. And they have talked it down a lot.

    There is no constructive strategy, policy, not even a scrap of compassion evident from the govt about people who will lose their public sector job or their granny who will lost their care. Instead, public servants feel they are being victimised and smeared unjustly. They did not start the recession.

    The thing is, from the public sector point of view, everyone is fearing for their job, even though 1 in 6 or 1 in 7 may lose their job, everyone's in fear, stopped spending. And this will affect tens of millions of households. Not a very smart way for the government to act. Serious drag on consumer confidence, stoking up resentment and prospect of massive industrial action.

    1. Small Government fan
      July 8, 2010

      Welcome to the real world! Sadly, the private sector has to oive with that day to day . The inescapable fact is that we have too much government, bureacracy and people doing I am afraid to say not worthwhile, non-profit generating jobs. In act ine could say with th estructural deficit as high as 60-70% that the public sector directly and indirectly has been very much part of the problem as the previous government had been living beyond their means with huge off- balance sheet liabilities fof most of this decade. So your assumption that public servants did not cause the recession is not quite right.

      1. quangocrat
        July 11, 2010

        Oh I live in the real world, but as a professional economist see the damage of the way the cuts are being done. The cuts could be made in a much less damaging way. The UK, like all other advanced economies, still needs a public sector, public services, and the infrastructure that the market will not provide, but needs to be successful and productive.

        Talking down public service and insulting public servants does nothing to help make the 75% of public spending that will be left more productive and relevant to the economy.

        Some public jobs do not make a profit. As a society we choose to do things like look after ill people. Are you saying that this is not relevant because it does not make a profit!?

        We may lose our best public servants to Australia, Canada, NZ, Singapore and Hong Kong. In the end this means that your tax money does not go as far as you would like.

  12. A G
    July 7, 2010

    Yes, the government is looking harsh and aggressive and in attack mode towards the public sector and this will alienate sympathetic people who would otherwise welcome and be receptive to change.
    Where are the workers co-operatives?
    If Mr Lansley thinks that the least qualified level of service of doctors ( the GP's) are the most fit to be in charge then that's stupid in itself.
    All Labour have to do is sit and wait for barmy or harsh treatment to cause a mass exodus of brain power from the public sector and then point the finger.

    1. Johnny Zero
      July 7, 2010

      Where exactly will this so called "mass exodus of brain power" go to? I dispute the notion that the Public Sector holds a mass of brain power in the first place. They are far too interested in thier own job security and gold plated pensions. Public Servants know only how to spend money not to make it, nor take risks. My experience of Public Servants are those retired from Town Halls and Police Forces aged about fifty and playing on the Golf Courses of Britain.

  13. Javelin
    July 7, 2010

    Obama on the TV today saying he still want to double exports. America will be an exporter. Is he being creative with the economy?

    So what does this mean. Everybody can't be exporters. Does he want to drive down the dollar and wages to compete with China. He is trying to shift the economy away from being a consumer to being a producer.

    Like I said we can't all be exporters. So if we want balance we have run down our standard of living and wages. It looks like an acknowledgement of the need for an international rebalancing and a more assertive free trade policy.

    So is the UK going to see the same rebalancing of the economy? I see very large changes coming.

  14. manicbeancounter
    July 7, 2010

    This is a very positive posting that to those public sector workers who see themselves as serving others, especially your comment
    "seek to do things better than they have been allowed to do under the top down state directed model of the last government."
    However, your examples refer to the top level people – those who would find running a large department in the current public sector stifling. But I believe that at the lower levels, especially in the finance & admin fields that people are stifled as well by the excessive amount of top-down initiatives, regulations, compartmentalisation and form-filling to justify one's existance. Actively trying to improve your own role, or trying to help colleagues to reduce their work less burdensome seems to be discouraged. A more flexible public sector could make work-life much rewarding for many, improve productivity and reduce stress-related absences.

    July 7, 2010

    i agree wholeheartedly

  16. adam
    July 7, 2010

    Terror arrest threat for rail passenger who took photos

    Mr Roberts' traumatic journey began when he joined South West Trains' Weymouth to London service at Southampton.
    As soon as he boarded the train he saw the carriages were full of piled-up suitcases, bags and backpacks. Even the overhead racks were stuffed with heavy luggage – and vital passageways to the doors were also blocked.
    'The train was full of passengers who had got off cruise liners and aircraft at Southampton who obviously all had luggage,' Mr Roberts said.
    'But it was a disaster waiting to happen – conditions on the train were unsafe and in an emergency people would not have been able to get out.
    'I saw one elderly couple in their 70's desperately calling for help from station staff because they were unable to get out at their stop in time because the aisle was blocked.
    'And if the train had to make an emergency stop a 20kg medium-size suitcase travelling at 50mph would probably decapitate any passenger it hits – it would almost certainly kill them.
    'A passenger announcement on the train invited us to raise any concerns with the ticket inspector, which I did because it was not the first time I had seen the problem first-hand on that route.
    'I told him I was going to make a complaint to the Office of Rail Regulation because conditions on the train were unsafe.'

    Mr Roberts added: 'But when I told him I had taken some photos he said it was illegal under the Terrorism Act and that I could be arrested and demanded my name and address.
    'He said there were police officers on the train and I may be arrested for taking the photographs.
    'He said he had powers given to him under the Railways Act to ask me for the information and it was an even more serious offence for me not to comply.
    'I felt as if I was in a police state. He explained that for some reason it was for my own protection but my argument was that every passenger on the train would have needed protection in the event of an emergency.
    'He told me he would make a note of our conversation so that they could be used in the event of a prosecution. He was pleasant enough but it was a frightening and chilling experience for me.'

    Mr Roberts, who lives on Alderney in the Channel Islands, claimed he was told that newer South West Trains often didn't have enough luggage space because operators wanted carriages that could hold more fare-paying people than baggage.
    He said: 'I have asked the rail company for an explanation but they haven't replied.
    A spokeswoman for South West Trains – owned by the Stagecoach group – said today: 'Staff are aware they need to be particularly attentive to unusual photos being taken or suspicious behaviour and to challenge this if necessary.

  17. Nick Leaton
    July 7, 2010

    It's only 'free' because the cost is hidden.

    Reveal the cost. For example, where are the civil service pension liability figures. You promised them John. I know they exist because I was refused an FOI request because they were to be published in January.

    Reply: I have often published estimates for the total unfunded public sector pensions liabilities – last seen at £1.1 trillion excluding the basic state retirement pension.

  18. Phillip Blond
    July 8, 2010

    I couldn't agree more John – we need to widen the concept of ownership by widening the participation in ownership especially in the public sector – and if we can create different kinds of capital through different kinds of structures then we can radically increase efficiency and real innovation and create pride and responsibility at every level of public (and private ) sector provision

  19. Tom K
    July 8, 2010

    Well if you ask me I don't see any cuts … some schools cancelled (very botched and ill thought out IMO) but so far I see 400 jobs cut at BECTU … a few bold words … and that's it.

    Time to get on with it lads … this needs doing, enough with the faffing about and get a move on.

  20. Andrew
    July 14, 2010

    JR, you set out an interesting vision, one which the last Government encouraged in some areas.

    If this vision works in practice, in some instances and areas, -fine for a while.

    My question is though , what happens when it does not work ? People will then complain to where, and who, — they usually do complain to ,– MPs, Councillors, Councils, etc.

    The perceived accountablity will not lie with the new providers !

    "Some one" will be asked to "do" something .

  21. […] must do more than blame Labour32 Comments David Blackburn – 7 July 2010 17:22 John Redwood has written a typically thoughtful piece, questioning the government’s arch cuts rhetoric. He writes: […]

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