Columns

The public sector delusion

28 November 2020

9:00 AM

28 November 2020

9:00 AM

I wonder how much more money we will have to bung the teachers in order to inculcate within them an amenability towards doing a spot of teaching? They still seem terribly averse to the whole idea. During the first lockdown, 60 per cent of young children received no virtual lessons at all from teaching staff, and one in five pupils over 12 was given no work to do, according to the Children’s Commissioner. Virtual lessons shouldn’t have been terribly difficult to arrange, but most of the time there were none. My own daughter had no virtual lessons from March to July (which is why she’s no longer in the state sector). She did, however, complete five physics papers and, being scatty, sent them — one after the other — to the wrong email address. Nobody noticed.

When we contacted the school to inquire about online lessons we were told mimsy stuff about how our priority should be to protect her mental wellbeing during this terribly stressful time, yada yada. One head teacher in the north-east reported that almost her entire staff were sitting at home on their arses doing nothing at all. When lockdown was lifted on 4 July it was gently suggested that perhaps the kids might get a bit of tuition over the summer, but the unions went berserk. They seemed to demand a kind of permanent lockdown where they never have to teach anybody anything at all. It seems highly likely to me that the kids will be given no exams next summer, thus freeing the teachers from even the mild rigours of preparing their charges for tests. In that weird anti-lacuna of activity between lockdowns, whole classrooms of kids were sent home for a week or so if one of them showed as much as a sniffle.

Anyway, the reward for these months of near total inaction was a pay rise of 3.1 per cent, easily the largest within the public sector. The less they work, the more money they get. But then this is the hallmark of the public sector, which has thrived during this crisis like bluebottles on the corpse of a gassed badger. Jobs in the private sector — you know, the sector that enables us to pay for everything — reduced by 51,000 from March through to September, while public sector jobs increased by 39,000. The same contrast was there with earnings. Over the year to June public sector weekly earnings increased by 4.1 per cent, while those in the private sector reduced by 2.4 per cent. Even before Covid struck, average weekly wages in the public sector (£632) were ahead of those in the private domain (£570).


This is Rishi Sunak’s major problem. Yes, of course, the economy in general doesn’t look too healthy. But worse is the fact that we will have, predating upon it, a bloated public sector suffused with an inordinate sense of its own worth and to whom, most likely, we must pay obeisance once every week by taking a knee or banging together pots and pans.

You can judge the robust nature of the health of our public sector by the size of the lefty protest marches every few days in London. I doubt anyone on an Extinction Rebellion or BLM march works in the private sector: all unemployed, public sector or third sector. I tried to find someone who wasn’t on the public payroll during a ‘Stop The Cuts Tory Scum Out!’ demo a few years back, and couldn’t find a single one.

Mr Sunak’s public sector pay freeze has come several months too late for my liking, and those supposed ‘cuts’, occasioned by austerity, merely grazed the surface. An expanding and ever more voracious public sector plus a declining private sector is not a healthy recipe — in fact it is a kind of delusion.

Meanwhile, we now have a sort of gentle civil war in the country between the people, who are desperate to be put in the government’s most congenial Tier 1 once lockdown is over, and their public sector local officials, who want the entire country placed in Tier 4 for ever. Yes, I realise there isn’t a Tier 4 (yet). But there is no possible list of restrictions which Steve Piemuncher (Lab), urban mayor of Ferrethell and Methadone, wouldn’t find wholly inadequate. Nobody must go anywhere at any time, nothing must be open, nobody must go to work — but in the meantime we need millions of quid to help us out, assuage us in our self–flagellation and complete bone idleness. Cash from that magic money tree, grown somewhere else by someone else.

This is more of a problem than it sounds: we will emerge, one day, from this holiday from life with Labour-governed areas — and the public sector in general — having become used to being doled out vast amounts of taxpayers’ largesse and with a shrunken private sector. The expectations from the likes of Mr Piemuncher will be for more and more money, a kind of unceasing fountain of other people’s cash and, given the government’s willingness to spend and spend again during this crisis, he will not be easily placated. The government will sooner or later be forced into substantial tax rises, which for Piemuncher et al is the only moral way of averting bankruptcy: take moreof other people’s money. We know what higher taxes do to an economy, especially one which has endured a longish period of suffering. A spur to growth is lower taxes and a pared-back state, but such a policy has become almost impossible to advance in the current climate.

We will emerge from this lockdown and move swiftly into another in all but name. And then, after we’ve been allowed to see the rellies at Christmas, into another. Does anyone seriously believe that this will all be over by Easter, as the government seems to be implying? Do you recall them telling us it would be all over by May, and then September, and then Christmas?

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