Soap Box

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By Ben Page, 2020 Commissioner

The state needs to be smaller. This is the conclusion not of the coalition government, but of a cross-party group of politicians and experts on the RSA’s 2020 Public Services Trust, whose final report is out soon. 


We believe that the 1940s Beveridge settlement public services now urgently need re-calibrating.

Public services face a triple crisis - of social demand, fiscal constraint and inadequate productivity.

We face rising costs from chronic disease, an ageing population, falling global competitiveness, and a risk that speedy cuts may simply lead to salami-slicing of existing silos and services, and real service failures, rather than the debate which needs to be had with citizens.

Even the tough measures planned by the coalition may not be enough to solve our longer-term problems, without us as a society being willing to fundamentally look at what we want from collective provision, what we are prepared to pay, and what we can expect individuals and society to do together.

Although the gap between government revenue and expenditure in 2010/11 is about £148bn, our analysis suggests budgets will stay under severe pressure even after 2015 and paying down the deficit.

Discussions about the Big Society are a start, as is the mantra of ‘localism, localism, localism’. Local government is the place where the rubber hits the road, and when every chief executive I meet talks of plans to shed 20-30% of their staff, it ought to lead the debate locally. The answer is out there.

It is not made easier by the demonisation of public services as inherently inefficient and spendthrift, but it is only by debating not just where the axe will fall next year, but how we build alternatives, that we will avoid a generation of cut after cut.


» Read it here: The MJ

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