Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Is Britain Becoming a Nation of Bureaucrats?

One of the biggest growth areas in the last 15 years has been the rise in the number of jobs in the Public Sector. In fact, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister never existed before the last Government and now it is one of the largest departments in the firmament of 'Big Bureaucracy'.

It was fashionable to spend more money in those booms days on frivolous red tape and many argued that there was a salary gap between private and public sector that had to be closed. It didn't just close - the kinds of salaries earned in the Public Sector, and then add in fine pension schemes, are fast getting ahead of the Private Sector.

In fact, this morning's story that in Wales the Public Sector wages are now around 18% higher than in the Private Sector is shocking news. It means that the Private Sector is finding it hard to compete in terms of salaries which means that Wales is staring down the barrel of becoming a haven for bureaucrats while innovation, entrepreneurship and business creativity will be stifled because people cannot afford to take Private Sector jobs. It also means that if there is an austerity package meaning Public Sector jobs and pay decreases then the Welsh economy gets hit disproportionally harder.

It's a fast turnaround. Some years ago, thanks to the inbound stimulus of investment by the Welsh Development Agency, Wales was attracting far above its fair share of inward investment by Private business when compared to the rest of Europe. 

It's a sad state when good experienced business people take Public Sector jobs in the middle or end of their career to get high salaries and pension benefits rather than keep the innovation going in business - where the economy can really get stimulated. But that's the reality. If you want to be an Interim Manager/Practitioner, Public Sector pays far more on a daily rate than Private Sector (Oil business excepted). If you want to be an IT consultant, the Public Sector have plentiful openings at great rates as they waste more and more money on useless, never ending contracts.

At one point in the Blair/Brown years, 1 in 4 jobs in Britain were in the Public Sector plus plenty of 'temporary' jobs and many more indirectly in support functions. The Public Sector accounts for, some say, as many as one third of the jobs in great Britain.

It's little wonder that our economy is struggling under that burden of payments but more importantly, how many of the people employed in these 'more secure' jobs could be contributing vibrantly to the Private Sector to help stimulate real growth?

Today, MPs will vote to pass the new High Speed Rail link that first goes to Birmingham costing around £32billion. While the Construction Sector will get great benefits from this stimulus it doesn't seem to be the wisest way to spend money to spawn a massive new Public Sector monolith to cost, administer and manage the project which will inevitably over-run and cost far more than originally intended - you can already write the book on it. And is a rail link to Birmingham the highest priority on stimulating the economy? You get the feeling that investing even a 10th of that into technology and construction of schools would be far better for the long term.

But that isn't what the City wants. £32billion will be split nicely between the construction companies and the banks to make this happen while a big proportion will be to fund the red tape around it. Good business all round.

And one of the biggest issues of a more attractive Public Sector over a Private Sector is not only that the tax burden on funding the jobs goes up but also the long term accrual for the pension deals also rise. For every one job created in the Public Sector around two could be created in the Private Sector (I can't prove that but it wouldn't surprise me).

Public Sector employees work in the same jobs longer, stifling the future for our young and it will mean ultimately that Britain becomes less competitive as it becomes just a sprawling, unimaginative bureaucracy supporting the Finance Sector.

Maybe that's our future. We are so good at administration that we become the new Offshore Outsourcing Centre for all of Europe's Civil Services. Lord knows, we are good at it.

Pity we didn't put so much time, effort and investment in encouraging Private business and entrepreneurship.

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