Uk politics is dominated by the debate about how much money each public service needs and deserves. Labour specialise in defending each and every public service, regarding any attempt to do more for less or to reduce certain types of public service as damaging and against the public interest. The public sector itself spends a lot of time and some of the taxpayers money on presenting its case for more cash.
Of course those managing public services should be expected to stand up for their own service. They need to tell the politicians making the financial decisions what the consequences are likely to be for any given level of financial support. The issues arise as to how much they should spend on promoting their views on financial resources, whether they should do all this in public as well as in private, and how can those making financial judgements be sure they are getting a fair and balanced understanding of what the money will buy?
In recent years some public sector managers and public sector suppliers have worked with lobbyists, PR and advertising people to get across their need for cash. They often hire a dining room in the Commons to present their general case to groups of MPs over meals or at receptions. Various interests provide financial support and other back up to All party Parliamentary groups. In the health field most different types of illness have groups and campaigns to explain the importance of their treatment group, the need to use certain drugs and protocols and the like. How much of this is sensible? Should there be any limits on what the public sector pays to lobby the public sector? Is it better if the lobbying is done by a private sector supplier who hopes to get the contract or the extra business if the case is accepted?
Should some or all of this argument be made in private to Ministers responsible and to MPs taking an interest, or should it be part of a public campaign? If it is public, does it make the relationship between public officials responsible for proposing budgets, and politicians having to settle the budgets, more difficult?
The politicians have to be the taxpayers’ representatives as well as the service providers’ leader. They are the substitute for the many choices of individuals in the market weighing price, value, need and performance. They require good impartial information from their managers about the options for service delivery. They need to find a way of driving quality improvement and cost reduction. They need to choose between the nice to have and the essential to buy, to end up with a balanced and affordable package for taxpayers and service users.