Thursday, July 15, 2004

Gordon's Spend and Save

So, that's the round of departmental spending plans out of the way and they seem to have been well received all round.

The Civil Service Unions are up in arms about the job losses, but I suspect that many of those "losses" will disappear into redeployments and perhaps the creation of new independent agencies.

The relocation of departments outside London probably doesn't go far enough - just 20,000? Why not move whole departments to different cities? The Met Office has just completed a move from Bracknell to Exeter. Why shouldn't the Home Office shift large parts of the operation to Birmingham or Manchester? I'm sure York would welcome the MoD and somebody would be able to look after the ODPM.

Dealing with sickness should also be a positive thing, if handled correctly. A good sickness policy ensures that people know that if they are genuinely sick, their employer will support them and help them back to work. If people are taking liberties - do you know anyone who has regularly has mysterious colds and stomach upsets on Monday or Fridays? With the Disability Discrimination Act in place, it can't be used to get rid of staff with genuine problems, but it should help to tackle members of staff who are letting their colleagues and the public down.

It should have been tempered by an exploration of the issues behind this absenteeism, which can be an indicator of poor morale or excessive stress.

Otherwise, good news:
- more community support officers (up to 15,000 more)
- more funding for nursery provision with pilot projects for two-year-olds
- massive investment in some of the poorest housing stock in the country with an extra £525 million for the neighbourhood renewal fund each year
- extra funding for overseas aid and the World Service with a tripling of aid to Africa to over a billion pounds in 2007/8
- the costs of unemployment have fallen to a third of what they were seven years ago, as we keep the employment levels high

My only concern is that it is easy to talk up the potential for stopping waste and reducing the number of penpushers, but actually finding jobs that aren't necessary and rooting out the waste is very difficult and time consuming. The easy way is to demand that every department cuts back on a set quota basis, without regard for services.

The Tories whinged, as they are wont to do. After all, Gordon was driving his tanks onto their turf with this opening strike in the general election campaign. They may go on about 'big government' - forgetting that they presided over a massive increase in the size of the civil service.

It takes big government to do big things.

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