And they’re off!
Following Gordon Brown’s trip to see the Queen, politicians will be spending the next month trying to persuade the electorate why they deserve our votes.
One of the key battleground issues will undoubtedly be the future of public services. While there appears to be a political consensus that cuts are on the horizon (with not unimportant differences between the political parties about the timing, scale and nature of such cuts), the opinion polls would suggest that the public isn’t quite so sure. According to Ipsos-Mori,
“Despite the widely reported large national debt, only a quarter think that there is a need to cut spending on public services to pay off the national debt (24%), while half do not think that cuts will be necessary (50%). And despite years of budget increases for public services, when asked more generally about spending on public services (rather than focusing on paying off the national debt) half of the country still think that more could be spent (48%).”
A knee-jerk ‘slash and burn’ approach to spending on public services would have a devastating impact on those who rely on public services, local communities, the wider economy and public sector employment. That’s why it was good to see the announcement of the election preceded by the launch of a set of principles to underpin the difficult trick of supporting the public sector workforce and deliver world class public services at the same time as nursing the economy back to health. Developed by the Public Services Forum, the principles set out how government, public sector employers and unions can work together on issues including, ‘training and development, health and well-being in the workplace.. maintaining the quality of work, [at the same time as] appreciating the importance of value for money and efficiency.’
The Principles aren’t perfect – few things in life are – but they show the value of government, public sector employers and unions genuinely working together to find the best way forward in difficult times. Lets hope its an approach that can be built on after May 7…
In the meantime please forward these principles as widely as possible amongst public sector union officers, organisers and reps. The Principles are designed to supplement agreements and arrangements which already exist at a sectoral/service level, and can hopefully be a useful tool for framing ongoing discussions between unions and public sector employers.