For the past week I’ve been trying to finish a new post on this blog about what’s really wrong with the public service. As I sailed into it however it just kept getting bigger. Today I came across new information that just takes me deeper into this subject and though at first I was excited I suddenly realise I can’t publish much of it at this point as to do so would breach my conditions of employment. I will therefore have to steer clear of specific and significant examples to support my opinions. For now.
Last week the O’Farrell Government here in New South Wales brought down its first budget. It was pretty tame by most accounts, particularly for a conservative party who’d been out of office so long and who have such a landslide majority. In my own area, the environment, it is interesting to note that programmes appear to have been more or less maintained. In the newspapers the only cut to programmes I saw mentioned was a cut of $400 million in spending on infrastructure. One of the budget’s loudest proclamations was “more police, nurses and teachers…” You’d be hard pressed to find a Government of either stripe in recent decades who didn’t promise that one. From the handful of headline numbers in the budget it quickly becomes clear this Government’s biggest cuts will be in relation to Public Service employees. $8 billion they expect to save over the next 4 years by getting rid of 5,000 public servants. Public service salary increases are pegged at a maximum 2.5% PA or 1.1% below the CPI – effectively lowering real wages (and ironic alongside O’Farrell’s stated aims of “attracting the best people” and making the NSW Public Service the “first employer of choice”).
It’s in keeping with conservative ideology which oversimplifies and personalises the problems within the public service. There is something in the conservative idea that there is a problem with public servants, but the problems amid personnel are minor in comparison to the problems at the top. The public sector’s biggest problems and the cause of most waste are the over-subscription to private consultancies, the way we engage with the private sector in general, and the constant perceived need to restructure. These problems sit with the senior managment, senior executive and Ministerial levels of public administration. On this the O’Farrell Government show no signs of being any less out of touch than their predecessors.
I look forward to the day I can substantiate these claims by sharing with you, dear reader, some specific examples.