No hiding the number of knees under British government desks

Thatcher’s privatisations certainly reduced the size of the state payroll, in terms of car workers, coal miners and steel-makers. But she failed to get to grips with the growing recruitment drive in local government and the rise of the quangocracy, which began in the early-to-mid-Eighties.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced that, thanks to a successful programme of economies, the Civil Service is now at its smallest since World War II.

That’s great news, on the face of it. But it depends what you mean by ‘civil service’. Maude was referring to those directly working for the government departments we collectively call Whitehall.

The reality is that there are now more people than ever on the public payroll, not including the six million or so on assorted out-of-work benefits, which is twice the number of the headline unemployment rate in the ‘heartless’ 1980s.

At least all those car workers, steel workers and coal miners actually produced something, when they weren’t on strike, even if it was uneconomic. Too many of today’s ‘public service’ staff produce absolutely nothing of any value.

They are variously engaged in utterly superfluous out-reaching, monitoring, regulating, co-ordinating, box-ticking, witch-hunting, inspecting, consulting, licensing, twinning, punishing, celebrating diversity and generally interfering in every aspect of our daily lives.

Yet at the same time genuine basic services like emptying dustbins and teaching children to read and write have deteriorated hideously.

Labour spectacularly reversed Thatcher’s efforts to shrink the State and left behind a massive debt and deficit. Public spending now accounts for almost half of everything we earn as a country — up over the past 30 years from £128 billion a year to a projected £722 billion in 2013. Even allowing for inflation, that is a grotesque increase.

Today, we don’t have a nationalised steel industry, but Gordon Brown did nationalise the banks. Network Rail, as it likes to be called these days, is back in public ownership and subsidies to the railways are far higher than they ever were in the bad old days of British Rail.

I don’t know about the Civil Service, but we’ve certainly got the smallest armed forces since World War II.

And the public sector still seems to be run with all the incompetence, inefficiency and flagrant contempt for taxpayers’ money which was the hallmark of British Steel under Sir Charles English Hyde Villiers MC, aka Mr Pastry.


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