Andrew Haldenby

Is this Government finally talking small government?

I’ve just got back from the launch of The Lab, a new initiative by NESTA to increase innovation in public services (which I’m helping). Gordon Brown turned up, with John Denham and Liam Byrne, to give his blessing and to bang the drum for his own contribution today, the new White Paper by the Cabinet Office on public service reform.

The opposition parties have been too quick to dismiss the White Paper.  They’d have been best advised to engage with it, as it tackles head-on one of the day’s Big Questions: what should happen to the size of government in the wake of the recession?

Most of the paper repeats the Government’s strategy of higher public spending to get us through the downturn.  Nick Bosanquet of Reform asked Gordon Brown directly whether the Government would plan for falling public spending in light of the recession.  “No,” the Prime Minister replied, with a smile.

But, in other places, the Paper accepts that the recession is going to mean a smaller and more focused government.  Here are some key quotes:

“Just as a strong government is required to steer the economy through the global recession, it is also the case that a responsive state should withdraw from areas in which it is no longer needed…

…Now more than ever government must prioritise its interventions…

…We know that it is the effectiveness not the size of government that counts.” So the White Paper has not set the UK on a welcome path to public spending at 35 per cent of GDP (far from it).  But it has still done something important. 

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