David Blackburn

Avoiding confrontation with the heirs of Scargill

Avoiding confrontation with the heirs of Scargill
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The unions are bent on confrontation. The elephantine Bob Crow, finding unlikely inspiration from Malcolm X , has called for a 'campaign of civil disobedience'. Brendan Barber has described his hot-headed colleague's remarks as 'unhelpful', and so they are. The situation is complex: the public sector is a Leviathan but one that provides lucrative contracts for private firms specialising in defence, financial services, consultancy, health etc.

Cuts have to be very carefully managed to avert discontent and disruption - as Francis Maude observed on the Today programme. Yet the government still relies solely on the refrain that these 'cuts are necessary'. It must offer more detailed arguments, and it has the capacity to do so.

First, Osborne's solution to debt is more debt. Spending is not being cut; it is increasing in cash terms by 15 percent over five years. Regrettably, job losses are unavoidable but the public sector debate should primarily concern reform: that 15 percent investment must go further to advantage the poor and the taxpayer than it has in the past. Second, there are obvious efficiencies that can made at the top of the public sector wage bill. The Mail carries an extraordinary story about directors of the Commonwealth Development Corporation living the life of Riley five times over. £700 lunches at Michelin starred restaurants, £330 taxi fares and self-awarded salaries exceeding £400,000 - a culture that is both unsustainable and unacceptable. Third, the Budget claimed that 2.5million new jobs would be created in the private sector over the course of this parliament, more than replacing those jobs that are lost in the public sector. I haven't heard this figure mentioned since - the government must articulate its narrative of recovery.