On a day when a respected credit rating agency (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) warned that Britain needs to act faster to reduce its deficit, sending the pound tumbling against the dollar yet again, the Government appears to be floating the idea of a new approach to fiscal policy: choose your own cuts. Apparently the Treasury will seek the public’s views on what functions the Government should perform, and which it shouldn’t – the theory being that this is not just about saving money, but offering people a ‘once-in-a-generation’ chance to change the way Government works. A noble aim – but we can’t see many turkeys voting for Christmas…
Chancellor George Osborne and Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander (in for the much-lamented David Laws) are due to outline the framework today for their autumn spending review, which could apparently slash some departmental budgets by a quarter. Among the ideas being floated is the creation of a ‘star chamber’ of civil service and ministerial bigwigs, before whom ministers will have to justify how much they’re spending, if they’re spending it in the most efficient way and whether the same service would be better provided by the private or voluntary sectors.
It sounds like a sensible attempt to introduce some extra scrutiny and avoid the Whitehall ministerial stitch-ups of the past. And the idea of public consultation also makes sense, to some extent. With Fitch warning today that the UK faces a ‘formidable challenge’ to reduce its deficit (and arguing for faster spending cuts – music to Tory ears), it’s increasingly clear that swingeing cuts and tax hikes are on the way. And the Government is obviously keen to create as broad a consensus as possible about where the axe should fall. ‘We’re all in this together’ is the Con/Lib mantra (well, that, and: ‘It’s all Labour’s fault', natch).
So you can see the point. And it’s all quite zeitgeist-y – it chimes nicely with fashionable ideas like co-creation and user-generated content. But the problem is it’s very unlikely people will come out in favour of cuts that will cause them pain. How many will be able to put the country’s interest ahead of their own self-interest? (And would it actually be rational of them to do so?) That’s the burden of Government: to make decisions that are in the best interest of the country, even if they’re opposed by large swathes of the country (as public sector cuts and tax hikes inevitably will be). So we suspect this public consultation is more an exercise in public relations...
In today's bulletin:
Sir Terry Leahy to retire after steering Tesco through the storm
Osborne proposes user-generated government
MT Leadership Visions: Eric Salama, CEO of Kantar Group
Ocado offers shares with your sun-blushed tomatoes
John Vincent: On Situational Leadership