Clegg: in 2015 the public sector will still employ 200,000 more than in 1997

In a speech given during the week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg strongly defended introducing a diversity of suppliers to public services, saying that,

The questions that confronted me, when I came into government, were these:

How can we reinvent and strengthen our public services at a time of anxiety and stretched resources?

And how can we preserve the public sector ethos as we move to a more plural, diverse and personalised way of running our public services?…

We have to modernise our public services. And we can make them better if we do.

Clegg went on to emphasise that increasing public expenditure is not necessarily the same as improving public services and that central monopoly provision of public services is not the ethos that motivated founders of the modern public sector such as William Beveridge:

Beveridge’s report said the Department of Health should, and I quote, “supervise” the new health service, not run it.

Beveridge said the whole of the welfare state “must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual”.

Imagine how he would have celebrated the concept of personal budgets and co-production – services designed and run by those who use them. And Beveridge urged the reformers of his age – and us, through the still powerful words of his report – not to be limited, for a second, by what he called “sectional interests”.

What would he have said about a teachers’ union that tried to stop charities and parents and teachers themselves from opening new schools for our children?

Liberals have always argued for diverse provision in our public services. Gladstone’s Education Act 1870 which introduced free primary education established the new schools needed independently of government, with their own school boards.

Government paid; the people provided: a system which persisted until 1902.

Beveridge’s views were in many ways at odds with those, especially on the left, who subsequently praised the Beveridge welfare state, for he believed in both compulsory attendance at work or training centres in return for unemployment benefits and co-operation rather than top-down provision.

In addressing the issue of who provides services, Clegg was addressing a point the party has often struggled with. As I wrote in December,

The party has often had a rather unusual relationship to the question of who should provide public services. The party’s general support of diversity, love of cooperatives or mutuals, belief in local provision and local accountability and suspicions of state power could naturally lead to many forms of local provision of services through means other than staff on a public sector payroll. And yet, it never really quite has on a significant scale.

Nick Clegg went on to say,

Don’t believe the cardboard cut-out versions of what the public sector ethos is, or that it is the sole preserve of those who are directly employed by the government.

The government doesn’t have to issue your pay cheque for you to be a public servant.

What matters is that public services are delivered by people who understand the needs of the people they serve and are free at the point of use.

You must be freed from the dead hand of Whitehall to innovate, to use your judgement, and to deliver in the way you know best.

Many of the people I’ve spoken to in the public sector are positive about the opportunities ahead, the freedom from targets and bureaucracy, the chance to run your own department and design your own ways of working, the chance to do what you trained for and make a difference.

But you’re also anxious about the cuts that are coming. and anxious about the claims that what the govt is doing is privatising for ideological reasons.

I recognise that we need to be better at explaining what we’re all about. Because I am not just committed but devoted to our public services, as is this government.

Yes, we have to deal with the deficit, but this is not an assault on the size of the state.

By the end of this Parliament we will still be employing 200,000 more people in the public sector than in 1997. We will still be spending as much as Labour spent in 2006, and rightly so.

And, thank goodness, that phrase which people outside think tanks hardly ever use, “social mobility”, only featured once in the speech.

You can read Nick Clegg’s speech in full here.

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36 Comments

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Feb '11 - 5:56pm

    Nick Clegg: “What would [Beveridge] have said about a teachers’ union that tried to stop charities and parents and teachers themselves from opening new schools for our children?”

    Is this the same Nick Clegg who, before the election, said that free schools would be “a disaster”?

    Is this the same Nick Clegg who leads a party which voted at its conference to oppose free schools?

    Yet another classic example of why nobody should take the slightest bit of notice of anything Nick Clegg says any more.

  • Depressed Ex 13th Feb '11 - 6:34pm

    Andrew

    When you say “No,” presumably you mean “Yes”?

    (See – I’m getting quite fluent in Lib-Dem speak these days …)

  • @ Depressed Ex

    Just as “too fast” and “too severe” means “any at all” when it comes to opposing cuts and “improving GCSE results” means “massive decline according to objective international standards”, in Labour-speak.

    You see, I can speak more than one language, too.

  • Quite a disingenuous way of saying by 2015 some 500,000 people will lose their jobs compared with today from the public sector.

    Nick – no amount of clever words can’t hide what’s coming, thanks to the majority you’ve given the Tories.

  • Robert C – Actually, those international standards tables pose a bit of a problem because upto about 2007, the UK showed improvement following the introduction of the centrally imposed numeracy and literacy hours. I make no value judgment here about either centralising education, or the value of those international standards. Just the suggestion is that central activity had the effect of pushing the UK up the tables you allude to. See about half way down here for an exposition. It will be very interesting to see how ‘free’ schools will be compelled to participate in TIMMS/PISA, because as I understand it, they are under no compulsion.

    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/06/arechildrengettingdumber/

    Indeed, Nick Clegg’s speech kind of shows up the problem. He talks about the need to explain better what the intentions are here – but there is nothing here by way of an example. Just a pretty cheap kick at the teacher unions who are an unlovely bunch, sure, but they have something to say.

    My suspicion is that what this will all lead to is a small number of very big charities becoming very big. A bit like supermarkets where there are 5 market-dominant players. In this part of the word, what would we like – bus services are a big issue, but can residents realistically take over bus routes? We’d love for the derelict pub to be taken down – but it’s private property. The problem is not per se with a diversity of providers – the problem is the very real possibility that there won’t be much providing. The decimation of bus services outside of London is an uncomfortable glimpse at what could be.

    Nick’s speech has a strange feel to it of public = bad, private = good. I’d hopre that that was not the sentiment.

  • Depressed Ex 13th Feb '11 - 9:09pm

    Robert C

    Can you really not get it into your head that this incessant kneejerk reaction of “But we’re not as bad as Labour” cuts no ice at all with people who aren’t supporters of the Labour party?

  • Simon McGrath 13th Feb '11 - 9:11pm

    @Cuse “Quite a disingenuous way of saying by 2015 some 500,000 people will lose their jobs compared with today from the public sector.”
    or perhaps that a lot of people who leave their jobs in the public sector through normal turnover wont be replaced?

  • I heard Clegg talk at his hustings about how the majority of problems at his surgery boiled down to invidiuals having to take on large organisations (both public and private) that were totally unresponsive to their needs. About how powerless these individuals felt dealing with a faceless organisation totally indifferent to them.

    I’m glad to see that strand of thinking is being promoted.

  • “I heard Clegg talk at his hustings about how the majority of problems at his surgery boiled down to individuals having to take on large organisations (both public and private) that were totally unresponsive to their needs.”

    OK, but what has Clegg done to deal with the unresponsive private organisations? (Don’t say Project Merlin!)

  • “OK, but what has Clegg done to deal with the unresponsive private organisations? ”

    That’s a much tougher nut to crack. Intrinsically its fair to say that Government shouldn’t be telling them what to do other than to limit monopoly power, which may shield poorly performing private organisations from competition.

  • In my view, the Right deliberately make far too much of the problem of an over-mighty and over-authoritarian state. They do it in order to gloss over a problem that is in reality more serious, the overweening power of private sector organisations. It is the excessive power of the City and the private sector which has given us bankers’ bonuses, and a private-sector driven financial crash – for which the Coalition is making the public sector a scapegoat.

    To suggest the Government should do nothing to control private sector abuse of power, other than promote pure competition, is clearly to rely on a rather extreme form of free market ideology – Quite the opposite of real liberal democracy.

  • Good post David Allen.

    Remarkable (and horrible) to see Clegg offering support to the Lansley reforms, which weren’t even in the Tory manifesto, let alone the Lib Dem’s. I hear he got booed at a party meeting in Bath last week – hardly surprising.

  • @Simon McGrath.

    Come on Simon, when you read your response to my post do you not think it looks rather NewSpeak?

    Since the Coalition we’ve heard that these sackings/redundancies will be taken up by the Private sector (they won’t) and now that, if I infer your post correctly, they’re not really job losses because they just won’t be replaced.

    I know you’re loyal to your party – but there’s no way of hiding it. The Lib Dems are supporting the Tories to shrink the State no matter what Simon Hughes says in his increasingly bizarre TV interviews.

  • Tabman – ‘I heard Clegg talk at his hustings about how the majority of problems at his surgery boiled down to invidiuals having to take on large organisations (both public and private) that were totally unresponsive to their needs. About how powerless these individuals felt dealing with a faceless organisation totally indifferent to them.’

    I’m not completely without sympathy for that, but what’s the answer? Citizen’s Charter? The problem is though that there is a world of difference between the issues that Clegg raises, and having people run the show themselves. Indeed, the worst bureaucracy I have found is the immigration service, but I bet this Coalition won’t do much about that one! Privatised utility companies are not far behind in the awkward stakes, but again, how many people can really manage their own electricity supply? One of the biggest problems in my area is parents double parking every morning and blocking up half the town, but how far can traffic enforcement be devolved? And this is before we get to who would face down the parents who would almost certainly complain about overzealous and faceless localised parking enforcement.

    As another point, I do wonder if the Coalition has really though tthrough the problems aside from money. I used to volunteer at a sport club, and what did for us was no win no fee lawyers and litigation insurance. I don’t know how anyone could get around that.

    As I say, I’m not totally averse to the point here, but I don’t really think that the Coalition has a convincing answer.

  • “To suggest the Government should do nothing to control private sector abuse of power, other than promote pure competition, is clearly to rely on a rather extreme form of free market ideology – Quite the opposite of real liberal democracy.”

    No, I don’t think that’s correct.

    Government’s role is to mitigate against abuse of power. Chief amongst those is monopoly or monopolistic behaviour; if there is no alternative the individual has no recourse. In addition it has to provide a regulatory framework to constrain other activities that are excessively injurious to the individual (H&S, environmental etc), but that will be a playing-field levelling activity.

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 1:31pm

    The differnce between abuse of state power and private sector power is (generally) in the private sector you have a choice. In this case you can change electricity suppliers.

    And what about all the privatised monopolies? No choice, no accountability, no market forces operating. Only the ideological imperative that nothing should be done by the state if instead it can be done for private profit.

  • Simon McGrath – ‘The differnce between abuse of state power and private sector power is (generally) in the private sector you have a choice. In this case you can change electricity suppliers.’ Yes – I can change my electricity supplier correct. That principle does not apply to thigs like train companies.

    Just to be clear, the point I was responding to by tabman talked about large, faceless organisations both public AND private and my comment was in that spirit. Of course, the privatisations of the 1980s were not real privatisations in any meaningful way. These were more like medieval fiefs. Corporatism, not privatisation more like. This is, of course, not to say that the private sector is per se any better or worse.

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 2:46pm

    Andrew

    Sorry, but what point are you trying to make, exactly?

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 3:17pm

    Andrew

    Sounds as though you should have directed your comment at Simon, not me!

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 4:01pm

    Andrew

    By definition, there IS no competition in the case of a privatised monopoly.

    Would it help if we clubbed together and bought you a dictionary for your birthday?

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 4:08pm

    Andrew

    Please just go back and read the comments above.

  • @Andrew Tennant

    To pick on the privatised utilities as an example of the market in the private sector shining a beacon of brightness over the rubbish state is absurd!

    The point with the privatised utilities is that they’re all generally rubbish….. perhaps you’re too young to deal with them yourself?

    Anyway, for you Mont Pelerinists who seem to believe that the market is sacred, unfortunately every country following these neoliberal policies has been a disaster (widening inequality, poverty, collapse of markets (think banks 2008) requiring taxpayer to sort out mess, etc etc) starting with Chile’s CIA sponsored neoliberal experiment.

  • Depressed Ex 14th Feb '11 - 6:37pm

    Andrew

    What I’m saying – and I can’t for the life of me understand what is confusing you about it – is that there is a problem with Simon McGrath’s market panacea BECAUSE there are privatised monopolies that by definition aren’t subject to competitive pressures.

    Apparently you’re against them too. Good. But in that case it’s difficult to fathom why you seem to be arguing with me, unless out of sheer cussedness.

  • Stuart Mitchell 14th Feb '11 - 6:42pm

    Andrew: If Nick Clegg has “studied education around the globe” and come to the conclusion that free schools are terrific, then how come he told hapless voters on 4th May 2010 that free schools would be “a disaster”?

    I’m starting to think that Nick Clegg is some sort of undercover satirist rather than a politician.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '11 - 11:18pm

    Nick Clegg (quoted)

    Liberals have always argued for diverse provision in our public services. Gladstone’s Education Act 1870 which introduced free primary education established the new schools needed independently of government, with their own school boards.

    Yes, that’s what we have now in the shape of school governors. Our schools DO have this direct independent input, they are not mere branches of the state. So that’s why I question this “free schools” movement – if people like Toby Young want to run schools, they can already do so by becoming school governors. State schools are ALREADY free to do the sort of things Toby Young wants to do in his school. If state school want to make a big thing about teaching Latin, for example, they can. Head-teachers under the direction of the board of governors have a lot of freedom on setting the ethocs of the school and the curriculum mix. So why this big thing about “free schools” being something so different from what’s already on offer?

    I think it just shows our society is dominated by clueless millionaires, so they think this is some big thing because they don’t realise how the state school system is because they all send their kids to private schools anyway. The people who run this country, the people who write the comments in the newspapers seem to think local authorities dictate to their schools just how and what tye shoudl teach. They don’t. In the 12 years I was a councillor sitting on the Borough’s Education Committee I had no chance to tell any school what they should do internally. For six of those years, my wife was Chair of governors of one of the borough primary schools, and she had a huge influence on how it ran. Yet you just would not believe this is how things are from the words of the stupid ignorant out-of-touch clueless millionaire public school-boy types who dominate politics and the press.

    I wish this country was run by people who knew about ordinary people and how it really works on the ground. We might then get some sensible policies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '11 - 11:27pm

    Nick Clegg (quoted)

    By the end of this Parliament we will still be employing 200,000 more people in the public sector than in 1997. We will still be spending as much as Labour spent in 2006, and rightly so.

    Yes, but does Clegg have a clue why this is?

    Well, we’ll be spending a lot more on unemployment benefit for one thing …

    Also, a lot more on housing benefit, despite attempts to cap it. This is an inevitable response to more people having to rent privately due to the council house stock being sold off. They pay two or three times what the council rent would be, all taken through the state from the taxpayer and delivered as nice big dollops of cash to the landlord.

    But the main thing is people are living longer, due to more expensive things we can do to keep them alive. They still die in the end, more of them in a costly long drawn-out extreme old-age way than by the things that used to kill them off before they even got round to drawing a pension.

    That’s why the state has to spend more to appear to keep still. Which Clegg shows no signs of understabnding, which is why he’s repeating what used to be ignorant Tory lines.

    I wish we had people of some real intelligence running this country, instead of rather dim public school-boys who’d be in low-level management at best if it weren’t for the wealth and contacts that pushed them upwards to where they are.

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