RDN on public sector covenant & pensions on BBC R4

Posted by RDN under On TV & Radio / Politics & campaigns / RDN's media outings on 15 March 2011

The Today Programme (10 March 2011) asked a  man from Compass (the think tank) and me what we thought about the idea of a Public Sector Covenant. Is there, like the Military Covenant, a special understanding or settlement with civil servants of every sort. I said no….

(1) I am very interested in the Military Covenant, as you can see here.

(2) The public used to think that the Public Sector was special. It was “official”, it was somehow oathed to the Crown; it was underpaid but well-pensioned; it had a special sense of duty.

(3) A lot of that has changed. The big difference is that many nurses, teachers, cleaners, binmen, “civil servants” now work for the private sector. They serve the public as well as ever, but not by virtue of being public servants per se.

(4) It is understood that the private sector serves the public too, whether as fuel-tanker drivers or behind the till in Tesco.

(5) The public sector is paid better than it used to be. (It is disputed whether it has parity with the private sector and hard numbers are hard to come by.)

(6) Now that most private sector workers are not unionised and many public sector workers are, there is a sense that Public Choice economics and Producer Capture (both of which speak to the undue political muscle of the well-represented) cushions the public sector from the rigours of the private sector, including during recessions.

(7) There is less tolerance now that a sector of the economy should be patronised by having their pensions organised for them by the state on preferential terms rather than being paid better and buying into their own pensions. 

(8) There is an increased awareness that it is peculiar that public sector pensions should be paid for by the taxpayer at the time of pay-out rather than paid for during the workers’ careers.

(9) We need to understand that we should accord trust and gratitude to people all over society rather than somehow ghettoise the public sector as especially deserving (especially in the degree to which the public sector has, in Tom Winsor’s words, “secured indolence”). 

(10) None of this is to undermine the special role of people who specially swear allegiance to the Crown. That may properly be required of (and an honour for) those who apply force, whether employed by the state or not.

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