Thursday, June 30, 2011

today : Public apples/Private oranges

I've heard a ton of guff about the fact that public sector workers should have the same kind of pension and salary cuts etc as many in the private sector have already suffered.

As usual, the people who trumpet this nonsense are driven by ideology. They use their bogus arguments always to shadow their real intentions. Do we want a race to the bottom? It seems that they do. They always, remember, start from a standpoint of hating the public sector. After all - those who are generally making and promoting these policies and ideas don't need public education, health, transport etc, as they are very very rich. Public services are there for the little people and from inside our gated communities and behind the tinted windows of our Maybacks, we try not to have anything to do with them, never mind caring what they think or how they live. Remember, if the economy does well or badly we set the system up so we cannot lose. We bet on either or both outcomes so even if our game-fixing somehow doesn't work, we still cash in.

The difference with the public sector is that people join it knowing, not that they will be paid poorly, as wages themselves are often equivalent, but knowing that there is a limit to their advancement. They trade-off job security and a secure pension for the limited opportunities to earn big money.

The private sector has no theoretical limits, and operates on a simple risk and reward basis. If you want to become a multi-millionaire or billionaire then you can. But if you are a nurse or an ambulance driver or a teacher then you settle for some level of comfort and security (perhaps also a measure of altruistic fulfilment) in return for abandoning such limitless ambition.

Of course, this necessitates a structure within which complacency can flourish. I strongly agree that public sector institutions need to tighten up and be more efficient - somewhat more connected to the real world than they often are. I've worked in the public sector most of my adult life and seen some horrendous incompetence and profligacy - health administrators ordering taxis to travel half a mile and paying people to polish and water the office plants and schools that in difficult places, make no effort or spend pots of cash on inappropriate schemes and initiatives that only exist to look good on a manager's CV. Example : the deputy head-teacher who uses the school to pay for their Headship qualifications whilst doing as little as possible in their actual primary job, the new head who buys 300 computers without backing them up with maintenance contracts or staff and student training, or school that spends a lot of time, effort and money in manipulating the league tables rather than spending similar time effort and money on getting their results legitmately by actually teaching the pupils.

Sometimes, in the case of the schools and health especially, organisations and institutions have to be, what would be called in the private sector, loss-making. You have to give chemotherapy to a frail elderly person or weak and damaged baby, despite their percentage chance of survival. In the private sector that would be seen as throwing good money after bad. In education, you cannot give up on a single child. Let's also remember that, as we are reminded too rarely, that the school system is first and foremost a 'free' nationalised childcare facility. You can't just shut the thing down without a huge knock-on. But in the private sector a school that shows no improvement in results and seemingly shows no return for any investment would be gone in a heartbeat.

It is fine to try and improve the less efficient aspects of public services, but fundamentally I believe that a modern, decent society should show them (and more importantly the servants themselves) a healthy measure of respect. Using public servants as an easy target for cuts, seeding the press with stories that fuel jealousy and anger and making bogus comparisons with some mythical private sector is the opposite of this.

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