Spending, efficiencies and some other (more important?) questions for the election

We have a quite depressing spectacle of politicians offering daily statements about the numbers they wish to cut from public spending.  Few of these statements are clear and virtually none of them are about efficiencies.  Both Labour and the Conservatives have offered up economies, simply stopping certain activities or functions.  So they suggest putting back the age at which we qualify for a retirement pension or removing some of the bells and whistles on public sector pension schemes.  They then also pledge to reduce bureaucracy – whatever that might mean.  None of this is about changing the relationship between inputs and outputs (i.e. efficiency).  It is all concerned with reducing inputs with little evident regard to the impact on outputs, let alone outcomes.  On a slightly different tack, the Liberal Democrats appear to be spelling out the programmes they would stop, such as the replacement for Trident or scrapping ID cards, ones they have on the whole opposed as a matter of principle.  This is fine as far as it goes.

But there are some big questions that need addressing.  For more than thrity years, we have heard politicians talk about reducing the size and scope of the state with little evident impact.  And each passing day we are met by more demands on the state’s resources (this morning we hear that prisoners are not being released early anymore for fear of public reaction should they reoffend).  The two sides (costs and services) are rarely put together to forma sensible discussion abiout what we want from collective provision and by who/where this might be done.

So, if the standard of political debate is so low, can we do soemthing to raise it?  Recently, I was asked for 5 questions I thought we should be discussing in the election campaign.  The intention was to have an alternative election debate on issues of deeper relevance than those discussed above.  I struggled with this for some weeks and have offered four:

1.       Can our socio-economic and geo-political decline be a catalyst for creating a vision for a different future?

2.       ‘Modern’ institutions (banks, governments, corporations etc.) have been found wanting.  In what different ways might we come together to achieve common purposes?

3.       Are we as self-interested as we are treated?

4.       Is ‘how’ (and, though this is perhaps a different question, ‘why’) more important than ‘who’ and ’what’?

My fifth suggestion was more flippant.  I would welcome any comment on these questions – even answers if there are any.  Or are there other questions others might want to offer up?

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2 Responses to “Spending, efficiencies and some other (more important?) questions for the election”


  1. 1 Private Sector pensioner April 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Why is it only the ‘bells and whistles’ of public pensions that are under discussion. When it comes to retirement benefits we are ‘two nations’, with the public sector bureaucrats who set the rules having little or no idea of the realities of life. For example, the rules that proscribe the period in which an annuity may be taken leave would be pensioners vulnerable to the short term fluctuations of the open market. I was once astounded to hear a civil servant in the Department of Pensions declare that all pensions were index linked. No party, as I see it, is prepared to grasp the nettle of the public service pension bill. While reform of public service pensions is not an instant panacea for the current problems we face the issue must be faced in the near future.

  2. 2 mikerowe April 12, 2010 at 7:20 am

    As a beneficiary from public service pensions, I couldn’t possibly agree…! I think the point connects to broader questions of decline and institutional form. The pensions system in the UK is struggling to cope but we lack any real discussion about what to do with it. Is it a matter of tweakings (granted, public service pension reform is quite a tweak)? Or do we need to ask more fundamental questions about the balance between working/non-working life?


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