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October 2020
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The present wave of public sector strikes is clearly stoked by a deep well of discontent among public service workers.

Last Week’s strike is ostensibly about Government plans to reform public sector pension schemes but other points, which are fuelling the strikes, are anger are pay freezes and reductions in public funding and loss of jobs.

The political reality is that there is a broad consensus among the general public that the public sector deficit must be reduced and eliminated although there will always be controversy about the pace of reduction and where the axe should fall. One thing to dismiss is the idea that the cuts can be dealt with through efficiency savings – they cannot.

Real cuts in public services are inevitable and jobs will be lost. If we look at what other countries have done some (e.g. Spain) have gone for reductions in public sector pay and smaller job losses. Such an approach might be applied in the UK and could save many thousands of jobs. However, it would create a huge dilemma for trade unions, what is the most important thing to protect, the pay of members in employment or the numbers employed

Another factor to consider is what is called the inter-generational balance. People like me, the so-called baby boomers, had the advantage of free university places, a free NHS and a final salary pension scheme. The reality is that as we get older we will be placing increasing burdens on the health and social care system and extracting pensions for our state schemes well above what we have contributed to the scheme. Forget -soaking the rich or – squeezing the bankers. It will not happen other than through tokenism. The only people who can pay for this are our children and grandchildren who face university loans, high mortgage payments and inadequate pensions. Are we being fair to future generations by trying to protect our own benefits.

Malcolm Prowle

Malcolm is currently is currently professor at Nottingham Business School and a visiting professor at the Open University Business School. He has over 40 years’ experience of public services (in the UK and overseas) and has held senior financial management posts in public service organisations. He also had many years consultancy experience with two international consulting firms (KPMG and PWC) involving clients in the UK and overseas. He has held several academic posts in UK universities and is an active researcher on public sector themes which have led to published research reports and papers. He has worked at the highest levels of government and has advised Ministers, Ambassadors, senior civil servants, public service managers and service professionals on a variety of public policy and policy implementation issues. He has also been: financial adviser to a House of Commons Select Committee, adviser to two shadow ministers and a consultant to the World Health Organisation. He has over fifty publications to his name including five books, numerous research reports and papers in both academic peer refereed and professional journals. Below is information about his sixth book.

Public Services in an era of austerity: How do we dig ourselves out of the hole?

By Roger Latham and Malcolm Prowle

Much has been written about the current state of public services and public finances in the UK and worldwide. However, there is a danger that the current crisis is seen as one which is only differentiated from the past by its depth and longevity. There is an unwillingness to face up to the fact that a reversion to the “business as usual” approach to crisis management will be inadequate to meet the challenges facing public services. Instead the current crisis should be instead be seen as a watershed in our social and economic history and one which requires considerable thought about among other things,

  • the role of the state in public service provision,
  • the balance between individual and collective responsibility,
  • the organisational structure and delivery of public services, how such services are to be paid for.
  • Many have suggested that the UK is the most centralised country’s in the in the world and its current model of government is not adequate to meet the current challenges. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results. If we would look truthfully at our behaviour as leaders, we’d have to admit that we’re fast becoming insane.

    As the stakes get higher, as citizens get angrier and more impatient, as politicians make increasingly unreasonable promises, as experts compete and clamour for attention, as problems grow more complex and become more intractable, our default response is to keep applying the old solutions over and over again. Given the likely social, demographic and economic – futures – to be faced by the UK it is imperative that we make radical changes to our governmental structures and the way in which public services are planned and managed.

    Thus there is an imperative to move away from the centralised – command and control – approach applied in the UK and to move towards new paradigms that involve greater regional and local decision making which respects local choices. This transformational change will not be easy since there are huge vested interests in retaining the current model.

    This book looks at what needs to be done using the UK as a case study but with potential application in other countries

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