A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Tories are no economic geniuses

"It's not talking about people losing their jobs, it's talking about not filling vacancies as they arise." So said economics genius David Cameron on Friday. The consequences, he didn't look at - the 40,000 job losses which would result from such a drastic cutback in the public sector weren't even worthy of a mention. And, as for the implications for service delivery, well they didn't enter amateur Dave's head. It's this amateurishness which is most striking about the Conservatives' frankly absurd attempts to cobble together an economic policy. Cameron can't possibly be silly enough to believe that not filling vacancies is in some way different to cutting back jobs, but he clearly believes that we, the public, are silly enough to swallow this nonsense. Gordon Brown alleges that the Tory cuts plans are "built on a myth." He's certainly right about that. But, unfortunately, it's a myth that he and the other luminaries of new Labour have been instrumental in perpetuating. It's the myth that you can cut back on the public sector without damaging the services that it supplies. And it's that myth which has propelled the incessant attacks on public services, on the town halls and the Civil Service by Alistair Darling and his mates in the Treasury. It's hardly surprising that the Tories have latched onto this illusory pot of gold; Labour has been digging into it for years, causing damage with every shovelful of "savings" that they have dug out. Which has encouraged the Tories no end. "If Labour can do it, so can we, but twice as hard," runs the thinking. But twice as hard means twice the damage.

However, it's entertaining, on a basic level, to see just how warped the Tory world-view has become. If there was an award for the most idiotic statement of the election, Mr Cameron has put in an early bid for it and, if there isn't, there certainly should be. His statement to the BBC that the Tories would stop the highest-paid public-sector bosses from earning more than 20 times what their lowest paid staff got, which would save money and tackle "inequality in pay," must be worthy of an Oscar. Posing the idea that no local authority chief employing people earning, say, £15,000 a year would be allowed to earn more than £300,000 over the same year is contributing to closing the pay gap in any significant manner would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that it's coming from a man with ambitions to be the next prime minister. God help us all. And then we come to IT cutbacks. With no plan and no justification Tory adviser Sir Peter Gershon insists that savings of between £2 billion and £4 billion can be made simply by cutting back on expenditure. Well, sorry, Sir Peter, IT simply doesn't work that way. Put off buying today and you'll simply have to buy tomorrow. Computers wear out, operating systems change, software continually updates and chewing gum doesn't hold dodgy hard drives together. You wouldn't economise in a carpentry workshop by not buying the tools to do the job, so why would you try to do the same thing to administrators?

Once again it's damage to services and an increase in inefficiency. But perhaps that's a bit low down on Sir Peter's list of priorities. It's clearly not an item that concerns his political masters too much. And as far as cuts to "discretionary" spending, such as consultants and staff expenses, which he thinks should yield a further £2.5 billion in 2010-11, well, he really needs to grow up. Consultants are nobody's favourite, it's true, but they are now used more than ever because successive rounds of cutbacks have succeeded in removing whole areas of expertise. It's the natural logic of cutting a service. You don't just lose the staff, you lose their specialist knowledge. But there's one consultant who might usefully be cut back. How does it feel, Sir Peter?

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