On Tuesday Douglas Fraser, the BBC’s Business and Economy editor raised a number of issues about public services, charging and the ‘three wise men’ in his blog BBC - Douglas Fraser's Ledger: Priority Boarding for Public Services. Fraser raised the prospect of a Ryanair business model for public services as promoted by PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants and quoted Crawford Beveridge as saying that "nothing was off limits". UNISON Scotland's Chris Bartter was minded to comment on Faser's blog – here’s what Chris had to say:
"I suspect these three wise men do not, in fact, have an 'open remit'. All Mr Beveridge has said so far indicates that they are assuming that we need to cut public services. This is simply a big business driven assumption.
In fact, a) UK debt is not significantly larger than other comparable European countries, b) the deficit is not as large proportionally as after the War, when we were able to create the NHS.
What has happened is that a very large amount of public cash has been given to failing, private businesses (mainly banks) to stop them going bust. Now they and other private companies (including PriceWaterhouseCoopers – what is their responsibility for auditing these failed banks one wonders?) say we have to cut other public sector spending to pay for this.
I think the people of Scotland (and the UK) would rather like to consider other alternatives. For example:
We could make the sector that caused the imbalance in public sector spending, (if imbalance it is) contribute rather more than they currently are doing to pay off the money they owe. (Either by increased taxes, or by paying back loans etc). Indeed Ryanair themselves might consider a realistic payment to compensate for the climate damage they do.
We could look at the whole public spending package and see if there are genuine items of waste - UNISON has recently suggested cutting the use of private consultants by the public sector, not replacing Trident, or introducing ID cards, abolishing the Scottish Futures Trust and other forms of PFI. Are the three going to consider these options?
It may well be that (boosted by the continuing investment by the public sector) return to growth is faster than predicted. There are some signs of increased growth already. If taxation is fair, that is one method of cutting the deficit.
However the likely truth is that it will require some of all of this. What it does NOT need is for damaging cuts to be speedily implemented on our increasingly in-demand public services. That way lies increased poverty and suffering, more demand on public finances (via increased demand for benefits etc) and a real risk of a return to recession.
Are these items on the three's agenda? If not, they should be."