Political Promise

Barry Maginn on why “Whitehall Reform is a Potential Political Minefield”

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

Cutting the cost – and changing the mentality – of Whitehall has become a pivotal political battle ground.  The ONS have reported that public sector productivity growth has been negative over the last 12 years, while much research has shown Whitehall’s top-down, target obsessed culture to be counter-productive.

The Conservatives, speaking on Friday, claim that billions could have been saved in public-sector spending.  The UK could have the same front-line services for £60bn less if the public sector had grown at the same rate as the private sector since 1997, Phillip Hammond claims, perhaps underestimating the differences in productivity growth potential between the two sectors.  However, the Tory plans are intended to induce real competition into the public sector, through choice and transparency.  Yes, the budgets may stay the same, the thinking goes, but Local Authorities, PCTs, etc. will have to fight between themselves for their share.

Labour intend to have a say, through a new white paper, further loosening its reliance on targets, but otherwise not offering much in terms of radical change.  Some ideas are decidedly similar to Tory ideas – selling ministry office space – while others seem slightly mediocre, such as reducing the space of back-office facilities.  The elephant in the room that neither party has tackled head-on is the quangocracy, despite the LGA recently finding £4.5bn that could be painlessly saved through reigning in quango bureaucracy and devolving power to more appropriate local decision makers.  Disappointingly, the Conservatives, while repeatedly making a point of their ‘list’ defining what quangos to cull, have not mentioned specifically what they intend to scrap.  Labour, meanwhile, are staying silent on the subject for the moment, perhaps not surprisingly, as quangos have grown substantially as a tool of Labour target setting and maintaining over the last ten years. 

Barry Maginn
Guest writer and political researcher
E-mail: barry.maginn@googlemail.com

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