I wrote here a few weeks ago about the simplest possible way to cut the deficit – cut public sector salaries. All we would have to do, I said, was to cut the average public sector compensation down to much the same level as that of the average private sector worker and we would be saving ourselves a nice £42bn a year. Without cutting any jobs.
Clearly that hasn’t happened, and isn’t going to happen. No one likes a pay cut. But David Craig, author of Fleeced: How we’ve been betrayed by politicians, bureaucrats and bankers has an idea that would, he thinks, have a similar, if smaller effect. Why doesn’t the government instantly put all public sector administrators and managers on to a four-day week and adjust their salaries pro rata? Everyone actually doing something – making people better, processing passports and benefits and so on – would keep working all week. But those who manage them, along with all quango staff, all executives and managers in the NHS, and the many managers and administrators in most government departments would take one day a week off.
The immediate cash savings, says Craig, would come to about £100m a week, or £5bn a year. There would also be no early retirement or redundancy packages to pay – no bad thing given the bonkers packages given to people who leave the public sector involuntarily (the rest of us get six months’ worth of salary if we are lucky, they regularly get two years plus).
The risk, of course, is that the country instantly grinds to a halt. But it isn’t a very big risk. Let’s not forget that while public spending more than doubled while Gordon Brown was in control of our money, the number of frontline workers in the likes of education and the NHS rose by only about 10%. The NHS doubled the number of managers over the same period. Back in 1997, says Craig, there were 12 beds per NHS manager. Now there are an “astonishingly low four”. Something to think about the next time someone tells you there aren’t enough efficiency savings to be made to make a difference to the national debt.
In large bureaucratic organisations it is tricky to cut costs without cutting services. Not because it isn’t possible, but because management isn’t able to see that it is they that are “superfluous.” So they cut the people who do the real work. That makes this suggestion – that instead of asking them to cut themselves, we just cut a little bit of all of them – a particularly good one. Who knows, after a year or so it might become clear that “frontline workers actually deliver the same if not better services without the army of policy advisors, executives, managers, communications professionals, diversity officers, community relations specialists, involvement officers and others of their ilk” constantly bothering them. Then we could cut all the managers down to three days a week.