Welcome to my day: 5 December 2022 – “would the last Tory to leave the building…”

It’s shaping up to be a pretty miserable winter, with key groups across the economy either already intending, or considering, strike action in an attempt to maintain living standards in the face of inflation rates above 10%. I’ve written here before about the effect of real terms pay decreases in the public sector over more than a decade, but whilst opposition politicians can, and do, call for the Government to do better, there seems to be little long-term thinking about its future.

Our politics is so often about change, about big ideas for reform, yet government is, ironically, underpinned by the ability to manage what is already there. It isn’t “sexy” or exciting, it is unlikely to cause voters to rush to their polling stations overwhelmed with enthusiasm, but the concept of competence in government should be at the core of any political party’s offering. For Conservative supporters, the events of the past year have been a salutary reminder of the need to demonstrate that virtue.

Whilst Labour are attempting to recreate the conditions that led to the 1997 landslide, treading carefully in order to avoid offending anyone, there is an opportunity to talk about how you maintain a healthy, efficient public sector in the face of the challenges that now exist. And, just as in 1997, it seems that the public agree that greater investment in those services is necessary. But new, shiny buildings are only part of that reinvention – establishing a conveyor belt of new recruits into teaching, nursing and the rest of the services that underpin civil society is a long-term, slow burn primary task for any incoming government.

To some extent, I was sympathetic to Keir Starmer’s lack of enthusiasm for relying on migration to solve public sector staffing problems. Rather than simply attracting people from the global South and thus denuding it of talent, it would be better to offer incentives to those who are already here too, encouraging people back into the public sector by valuing their work more.

And there needs to be honesty too. There is no quick fix for public services in this country. Throwing money at them in the short-term without a longer term strategy on recruitment and retention and serious thought about how services are delivered merely enables government to defer the crisis. The public need to be reassured that such a strategy is at the heart of an incoming administration’s planning. It brings us back to the concept of managerial competence.

There’s been a sense for a while now that this Government’s sole aim is to get to the end of each day broadly intact, in the hope that something will turn up, something that would allow them to survive a General Election. The steady flow of announcements by Conservative MPs that they won’t be standing next time, and their age profile, suggests that that hope is ebbing away. But if they had any aspirations left for our nation, starting a discussion about the future of our public services might not be a bad way to go out.

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and a veteran of the public sector.

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One Comment

  • David Garlick 6th Dec '22 - 11:49am

    Honesty. Now thers an idea…
    Honesty when it means bringing bad news is always difficult and so is the need to to tax and spend.
    Add to that a rolling plan for the next 20 (Twenty) years and the sell gets even harder.

    Without honesty we will lose the public support for government
    Without tax and spend we will lose the NHS and much of national and local govenment services
    Without a long term plan we will be in both a long ‘generational’ cost of living crisis and a Climate Change DISASTER where the rich survive happily and the rest of us ‘just manage’ or go under. A difficult message for us to acknowledge let alone for our voting public.

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