Like everyone else in the pubic sector I’m scared. Things are tight, the cuts are coming, jobs will be lost, pensions will be cut, an enormous hell beast will be summoned by George Osbourne to come forth from the ground and gobble up unsuspecting civil servants at will. In short, things are bad! We’ve all bought into this idea on some level.
What worries me however is that most of this changing context is still rhetorical (at least at the moment). While there are some people who have lost their jobs already, for most of us it is a sense of impending dread about what might happen. I’ve already started to try and plan for the worst and have got involved in discussion in both HE and the careers sector about how we can best weather the storm. This is not to say that I don’t believe that bad things are likely to happen to the public sector, but I am starting to worry that this is being presented as an inevitable force that we have no control over.
I wanted to suggest some possibilities and ask people to think about how they would behave differently if any of these were true.
- What if the government are just talking up the public spending cuts to make it easier for them to sell much less severe cuts as if they were actually good news?
- What if the cuts are actually the wrong response to the deficit and succeed only in pulling a section of the labour force out of work, landing them on benefits and causing a knock-on consumer downturn that pushes the whole economy back into recession?
- What if all this talk about the deficit and austerity is actually a smokescreen to allow governments to engage in an ideologically driven process to rebalance the economy in favour of the private sector?
- What if the opportunity to make cuts is being used in public sector organisations an arbitrary way to settle old scores by individuals up and down the management chain?
- What if the bits of the public sector that get cut most severely are those bits where nobody makes much of a fuss?
- What if the media are whipping up panic about a crisis because it makes better story than one about a long slow economic recovery?
- What if…
I’m not an economist so I’m really not sure what the best thing to do is here. I can’t help but think that massive public sector cuts probably isn’t it, but I would say that wouldn’t I. I’m also not necessarily against change in the public sector or a more “big society” conception of civil society as a way forward from a statist public sector. However, I like to feel I know what is being done and why. At the moment I feel a sense of panic and impending doom is underpinning too many decisions in the public sector without a clear sense of what is going to happen and why.
Is there any space in which to challenge the “everything must go” atmosphere. Maybe, maybe not. I guess as ever in a democracy it comes down to us to decide what we are going to do about it.
There’s clearly a lot of talking down expectations going on by both politicians and the media at present. Most of the sensible economic forecasts suggest slow recovery is probably, double dip possible but unlikely. And the ConDems are grinding an idealogical axe. But sharing the impending dread is good, because it’s sure as hell blighting my existence at present. Let’s talk ourselves up.