I was intrigued to see criticism of the BBC for running endless stories of cuts in public spending. However, I also recollect that last summer and autumn I was a very lonely voice pointing out that the government plans to increase current public spending in cash terms every year for five years. The government itself was briefing of big cuts to come, bandying around 20% cuts figures based on a five year real terms assessment of the most squeezed programmes. It is hardly surprising that the BBC picked up all the public sector lobby stories, when the government itself was implying big reductions in many departmental budgets.
It reveals a common weakness of much media journalism. They do not usually ask what is the truth, what are the facts? They ask what are the various important people and groups saying? These are often very different things, as I know to my cost, trying to stick to the facts and to making realistic forecasts about what might happen next. You get marginalised by the media if you have read the documents and know the truth. You get airtime if you speak for the fashionable consensus, or if you attack the fashionable consensus in a way which they can sensationalise and use against you.
If the government is now serious about wishing to get across the true position, Ministers need to change their own rhetoric. They need to start by stressing in every interview that they are making more money available for the public sector as a whole. They should say they wish to see this money well spent, and wish to use it to protect all important services which they on behalf of the public value.
There will be cuts for three main reasons. Firstly, the government has priorities for increased spending. Few will disgaree with the priority for health and schools. The decision to increase spending on the EU and overseas aid is more contentious, so Ministers need to explain why these are the most deserving causes. Priority areas mean less of the increase is left over for other areas.
Secondly, inflation is high and could absorb the cash increases. However, the good news is that if the government sticks to its plans to keep public sector wages down other than for the low paid, and does succeed in buying things more cheaply, inflation need not eat up much of the cash increase. That leaves more scope for better services.
Thirdly, there are some in public sector management who seem to think it their task to propose damaging and clumsy cuts in the hope that will force the government to find more money. Ministers have to find a way of countering this conduct. They need to show that parts of the public sector can deliver more for less, so there is no need for draconian cuts in valued services. This is the most difficult challenge of all, which has defeated many past Ministers. They have to implement better ways of doing things and then get airtime for them. They need to change public sector management where they can, to promote people who do want to do more for less.