Peter Hoskin

Byrne draws a dividing line over decentralisation

Byrne draws a dividing line over decentralisation
Text settings

Good work by the Guardian, who have got their hands on leaked sections of a government report into downscaling Whitehall.  At first glance, it all looks kinda promising.  There are provisions to reduce the cost of senior civil servants, to cut the numbers of quangos, and to make it more difficult to establish new quangos.  Surely, these are measures which will be necessary to fix our broken public finances.

But it's the headline idea which could give you cause for concern: namely, that the government "wants a review" into relocating around 200,000 civil servants and other public sector workers away from London and the South-East.  It's meant to strengthen localism and reduce costs - which is nice, if it works.  But it may not be sufficient to meet the scale of the debt crisis.  Indeed, a better approach could be to ask whether these functions and functionaries of the state are required at all.  

Throw in recent comments by Liam Byrne – who oversaw the report – and the dividing line between the Labour and Tory ideas of decentralisation becomes even clearer.  Byrne claimed to be "incredulous" at David Cameron's plan to cut public spending while expecting the charitable sector to perform a greater role in service provision - the message being that only the state can be expected to function properly in an atmosphere of cuts.

You can expect to hear that message repeated countless times between now and the election.