One of the unanswered questions I mentioned in my round up before the conference was what the effect of support for others might be. When support for them increased earlier this year it impacted upon Labour and the Conservatives pretty equally, but what if it declined in a less even handed manner? Were those “others” disillusioned Labour supporters who wanted to protest against the government, but wouldn’t vote elsewhere and, presumably, would therefore be more likely to go back to Labour? Were they anyone but Labour voters who were more likely to eventually coalesce around the Conservatives? Would they decline at all?

Well, that last question is perhaps a live one again now the expenses scandal has reared up again, but up to now the answer was certainly yes. The graph below shows the decline of “others” since the European election, compared to the fortunes of the main political parties. There are various ups and downs along the way (particularly the Lib Dem conference!) so I’ve added some trend lines to highlight the bigger picture.

Basically, support for the others has steadily fallen and as it has divided pretty evenly between Labour and the Conservatives, with little benefit for the Liberal Democrats. Labour in fact do very slightly better (their trendline has gone from 23% to 27%, the Conservatives from 38% to 41%), but on the whole their support has moved in parallel. The other vote appears was a plague on both the main parties houses when it appeared, and they seem to be recovering at an equal rate as it recedes.

142 Responses to “What happened to those “others”?”

1 2 3
  1. Did Labour actually decide on that £20k scheme in the end Alec? I know it was mooted, but I don’t remember them making it policy. Also, my understanding of the Tory proposal was that it too was required at retirement. Any insurance scheme that you don’t have to take out until you know you’re going to claim on it would be self-evidently stupid, so it would surprise me to learn that the Tories were saying it could be paid at any time after 65 (unless it involved a medical examination).

  2. @Neil A – I read an analysis of the Tory plan by a social care analyst who pointed this fact up. I haven’t seen the policy details other than this. I don’t think the Labour plan is formal policy yet, so there is still time for them to foul it up I guess.

    @Peter C – I have to agree with your last post. My employer took a pensions holiday in the 80’s I recall – it lasted for about 4 years from memory. I recall reading an article some years ago in the Economist that calculated that these holidays had a much bigger adverse impact on the schemes than Brown’s changes to taxation that is often mentioned in this context. Companies refused to pay in in very good years when there were some excellent returns to be had. Compounding these gains overtime would have made a major difference to scheme viability, and the deal with contribution holidays was always if you ease off in the good years you stump up in the bad. I always find it funny how defined benefit schemes are closed for the shop floor workers, but somehow retained for the Directors.

  3. I think you’re right Neil, apart from that initially the scheme would be open to people who are already retired. No medical examination.

    What they haven’t factored into the cost is the rise in people who are going to see entering a residential care home as “getting value for money”. There are many people out there who will be encouraged to take a place at the first sign of problems. That will lead to a longer time in care, unless a strict regime is in place to keep out all but the neediest/those who will die within a few years.

  4. @ John T T

    I think most people who have £8k spare are not going to think going into a home earlier is ‘getting value for money’, compared to the privacy and comfort of living in their own home. Personally I’m going to do my damnedest to keep out for as long as possible.

  5. I think that the UK parties really do have an element of hypocrasy in this ‘leader debate’ debate.

    The position of the Conservatives and Labour is that Scotland is an integral part of the UK. However, only if their chosen representatives belong to an organisation that is represented in England can they be considered a legitimate ‘UK’ party. This begs the question of what constitutes a major party? Why are the Lib Dems considered as such? They have no prospect of forming government. Under the assumption that the SNP meet the target of 20 seats in Scotland, and the Lib Dems get squeezed by a Tory vote, say lose a few seats (-10). You are talking about a difference of 20-30 seats between the SNP and the Lib Dems. Neither have a realistic chance at government, yet one is considered a ‘national party’ because of where their representatives are.

    Indeed, why is UKIP not considered a major party? Since they trounced the Lib Dems. I think, for democracy, Clegg should be very careful about claiming to lead a major party. If the SNP opted to stand a couple representative in Berwick, would they then be considered a ‘UK party’? What if every seat in Scotland returned a Socialist Labour candidate? Would they be considered a UK party or Scottish party?

  6. Jim Jam,

    “Plus I would not be surprised to see Greens in Government somewhere in the UK (maybe Scotland first) as part of a coalition within 30 years even if others try to steal their clothes.”

    In 2007 the Scottish Greens were invited by the SNP to be part of the new Scottish government but declined because of a lack of agreement on transportation issues.


  7. ‘Indeed, why is UKIP not considered a major party? Since they trounced the Lib Dems’ Beans

    Get real. Try counting the MPs at Westminster. UKIP- zero; others some to lots. As such UKIP are not a major party. Lib Dems have many seats at Westminster and frankly might be kingmakers in the next elections. UKIP cant even get into Westminster so certainly wont be kingmakers

    UKIP are a minor party which gets a few protest votes at elections where people think it doesn’t matter and so-bizarrely – an odd MP at the home of their stated evil. I’d respect UKIP far more if their EU Mps did not take their places at Brussels (like the way Sinn Fein do not at Westminster–at least they stick to their principles). Ukip are, frankly, a laughable party as shown by your belief that they are more important than the Lib Dems.

  8. @Alec

    “I do wish people would grow up a little…Its a big red herring, and I’m afraid everyone seems to fall for ….Be more intelligent ”

    In patronising overload there Alec-you excell yourself!

    Quoting the low pensions of low paid public sector workers is as meaningless & uninformative as it is irrelevent & emotive.

    One could do the same for similarly employed private sector workers & make no contribution to the debate either.

    I was refering to the comparative pensions ( and the conditions attached to them) of public/private sector workers expressed as a % of final salary, for equal years of pensionable service.

    Public Sector workers now win hands down.

    Public Sector pensions cost £42bn pa or around 3% of GDP-but this does not tell the story.
    In the private sector, pension cost is measured as the funds set aside today in respect of employees , for investment calculated to provide pension payments for those employees when they arise in the future,

    The public sector does not-by & large -set funds aside in this way. 80% of public sector pensions ( notably teachers, nhs, civil service, armed forces) are not funded actuarially.
    The sum today required today to fund pension promises for public sector workers is around £1.3 trillion-or 90% of GDP.

    Since such a fund does not exist, future taxpayers will be charged the cost of those pensions-whatever they are.

    Since they are a proportion of future pay, this cost is unknown.It is escalating dramatically.-try comparing market annuity rates for level & indexed pensions .

    Peter Cairns , a representative of the public sector mindset says :-
    “As to the idea that the public sector should follow suit because thats private sector has done, well;

    I don’t hit my kids because I don’t think it’s right. That other people hit their kids still doesn’t make it right, and if it turns out that more and more people are hitting their kids, I am not going to start because they are because even if most do it I don’t think it’s right”

    He-like you Alec-demonstrates a penchant for the irrelevant & the emotive when defending public sector privilege.

    The Ivory Tower which this thinking constructs against all comers, will simple reinforce the growing antagonism of those on it’s outside who are paying for it.

  9. @Colin – Forgive me if I did sound patronising – my apologies. It’s a function of extreme anger at this issue.

    The cost of unfunded public sector pensions (ie those that do not have an investment fund in place) is about £4b pa. Tax relief on private pensions costs us about £38b pa, of which about £10b goes to the richest 1% of earners. This should be the starting point of any pensions policy changes. I’m not sure about the £42b pa cost of public sector pensions you quote. I know this is the same figure as proposed by a recent study by Standard Life – a company with a very big vested interest in persuading us that state provision of pensions is not viable. By contrast IOD claim total public sector pension costs for 2009/10 are actually £21b – half the cost claimed by Standard Life, and exactly in line with my last post at c 1.5% of GDP.

    There will be issues that need resolving in public sector pensions I’m sure, particularly around retirement dates etc, but the central point stands – the biggest drain on state resources as regards pensions are the massive and unaffordable payments going to the richest 1% of the population. As Neil A suggested, we should all be more focused on getting greater pension support for the least well off, whether public or private sector. Similarly public sector employees with huge pensions are as unacceptable to me as £10b tax relief for the richest 1%. Simply choosing to bash public sector pension provision is, in my view, misguided and lazy thinking.

  10. @ Alec

    “issues …need resolving in public sector pensions I’m sure, particularly around retirement dates etc, _
    public sector employees with huge pensions are as unacceptable … as £10b tax relief for the richest 1%. ”

    I agree

  11. On past form, particularly with the nationalist parties in the 70s, and perhaps the SDP before 1983, we can expect Others to slip back a bit as the election approaches.

    Other parties, even UKIP and Greens, will have a hard task even to get one seat given UK political arrangements. They may not be helped by the three major parties in effect colluding over leadership TV debates.

    However, Andy Stilwell’s figures about lost depositis in 1992 do show that the minor parties have actually come a long way. It is very unlikely, in particular, that the Greens will lose all their deposits next time. And it took a generation for the Nationalists, Plaid and SNP to break through: they were founded before the Second World War but only started getting MPs regularly in the 1970s. UKIp and the Greens need to be patient.

    The lack of movement form Others to LibDems is perhaps surprising. My suspicion is that many voters are looking for something new.but the LibDems are lacking USPs (unique selling points) either in relation to policy (But could their signs of moving to an anti-Afghanistan war stance help them here?) of in relation to leadership (Clegg appears to aim at a similar group of voters – women attracted by nice young men – to Cameron, but to lack the glamour of likely power).

    One problem in interpreting Other support in the opinion polls is that I wonder whether respondents actually tend to move between “Other” and “Don’t Know”. Because of the various ways the opinion polls have of treating “Don’t knows” we in turn lack information about how “Don’t know” and “Other” responses relate to each other. But this information would actually be useful.

  12. Alec-your£4bn figure is that quoted by TUC-it is the top up paid by the treasury IN ADDITION to the contributions by employing departments.

    Here are some extracts from a piece in The Times last February which gives a glimpse of the size of the problem :-

    “CIVIL SERVANTS and teachers racked up pension benefits last year that will cost the taxpayer another £11.2 billion – a 33% increase on the previous year.

    Teachers pay 6.4% of their salary towards their pension, while the UK’s 577,000 civil servants rarely contribute more than 3.5% of their salary.

    “Civil servants do make contributions, but their contributions do not count for anything like the true cost of their pension – the bulk of which will be paid for by generations of future taxpayers,” said Silver. ( chief actuary at Callund Consulting,)

    …..and this from BNAC last June:-

    ” The Governments of the UK, US and Canada are understating significantly the true cost of their employees’ pension costs in terms of both the liabilities already incurred and the annual cost of running their public sector schemes.
    In the UK, where unfunded schemes predominate,
    public sector pension liabilities are £1,177 billion, about £20,000 for every person in the UK,
    equivalent to 85% of GDP, a percentage three times as high as in North America. These findings are in
    a study The need for transparency in public sector pensions, published today by the influential British-
    North American Committee
    In the US and Canada, where the majority of public sector schemes are now funded (i.e. a ‘real’ fund is
    being built up to meet all or some of the cost of anticipated future pension liabilities), the position is
    somewhat better. In the US, whilst the net liabilities of public sector schemes are higher at around
    £2,700 billion, this equates to ‘just’ 28% of GDP. In Canada, liabilities are under £250 billion, equating
    to around 27% of GDP”

  13. Thank you colin for making the point on public sector pensions so clear.

    I am not sure that any money would be saved if pension tax relief was removed on the top ten per cent. They would save money in other ways, and the inland revenue would receive very little extra.

    Actually those earning perhaps 50 or 60K are not the very rich. Those who live in £500K house, and would benefit from the raising of inheritance tax, are not the very rich. The rich do not pay inheritance tax, or any other tax, they just pay tax advisers to avoid it.

    The papers the other day referred to a labour peer who donated generously to the Labour Party and was worth £100 million. That is seriously rich.

  14. @Colin – the £4b figure is the annual cost of current unfunded pensions, rather than a ‘top up’ – the remaining balance of the £21b pa is what you refer to – ie payments by departmental employees into pension funds to meet future liabilities. I have no doubt that there needs to be adjustments to future public pension provision to meet the rising liabilities – that is a sensible response to longer life expentancy and is something I went through with my (private) employer when we agreed to increase employees contributions.
    What upsets me is the resistance of many to looking at similar changes in the pension tax relief issue, which is actually a bigger problem. For example, Davey’s idea that if you remove £10b of tax payouts from the top 1% they would find other ways to save the money is wrong. They wouldn’t – this is money paid by the taxpayer that simply wouldn’t be paid. In fact, if it persuades the individuals to divert some of their pension contributions into shares, other savings or property etc the taxpayer would get even more back from other taxation. Any other likey tax dodges will already be in place so the change would be a pure net gain to the Treasury with no downside. And we are only talking about people earning over £150K on this one.

    To put this in perspective, total top rate pension tax relief is worth £23b pa – more than the total cost of public sector pensions. It’s over half the total savings thought to be necessary to control debt levels. While I agree with Davey that people on £50K are not ‘rich’ they do earn twice the national average wage, and need less help than someone on £15K. I don’t necessarily support the total removal of tax relief on all higher rate pension contributions, but the issue is very clear – this is a bigger drain on state resources than public sector pensions, and goes exclusively to people on much higher than average earnings. Yes – reform public sector pensions in a sensible manner, but the really big savings are to be made from massive state aid to the very rich. I would have thought the modern Conservative Party would be champing at the bit on this one – after all – we’re all in this together!

  15. @Alec,

    I see your point, but there are two observations I’d make, one practical, one “moral”.

    Firstly, a (private, funded) pension is really just a tailored savings scheme. You put aside X amount per month and at the end you get Y back (by buying an annuity with the accumulated payments of X). The main reason people put their money into pensions rather than investing it elsewhere is the tax relief. You are assuming that, having lost the tax relief, the money will either remain in the pension schemes and not attract tax relief, or be diverted into some other UK-based investment that will attract similar taxation. I am no accountant but I suspect that a lot of that money might travel abroad in search of investment, in an effort to find more attractive tax regimes elsewhere. That’s before you even get into the “brain drain” and disincentives for global companies to base staff in the UK.

    Secondly, and I’ve said this before; I do object to the use of words like “drain on state resources” to describe taxes that people aren’t yet being asked to pay. I could come around tomorrow and repossess your car, flog it at an auction and hand over the proceeds to Mr Darling. That doesn’t mean that you represent a “drain on state resources” equal to the value of your car. This is the basic difference of view between the left and right. On the right, we believe that property belongs to the individuals that own it, and any levy made on them has to be as small as possible, and carefully justified. On the left, everything people “own” is merely resources the state is permitting them to utilise, on sufferance, until a committee somewhere decides those resources should go to someone more deserving.

    There may well be scope to raise more funds from pensions, although the government has already raided them pretty savagely. Perhaps by limiting the size of pension pot that can attract relief. But if you are talking about taking £23 billion in extra tax from a relatively small section of the population then you are in “rich flight” territory.

    I’d much rather put a swingeing tax on bonus payments, if there is an equitable way to design it (and various governments are finding that a struggle I understand). At least that way we are targeting “bad” behaviour (handing out fat cheques to people who distorted the markets for short term gain, so that they can buy a new Ferrari) instead of “good” behaviour (saving assiduously for your retirement so that you can be a comfortable, economically active pensioner who doesn’t rely on the state).

  16. Alec:-
    There is equity in what you say.

    However you continue to be in denial about the scale of the public sector time bomb & the real figures.

    Last June, Neil Record, former BoE Economist produced a report which included the following comments :-

    “Pensions for the one in five workers who are on the state payroll cost £45.2bn last year.

    Four in five public sector workers, enjoy schemes that guarantee them up to two thirds of their final pay during retirement. Seven eighths of the cost of an average public sector pension is met by the taxpayer.

    ‘The Government has allowed public sector pension liabilities to run out of control, using the Treasury spending contributions received for the next generation’s pensions to the pay the current generation of pensioners.

    The Government’s accounting for these pensions has been arbitrary and opaque, making it all but impossible to understand.’

    ‘Public sector workers deserve security in retirement. But the worry is that in denying the extraordinary generosity of the current schemes, the Government is creating an apartheid, when comparedto those of the private sector.’

    On average, public sector workers contribute just 6% of their pay towards their pension, the report said. To pay the full price of their pension, they would have to put 48% of their wages into a pension pot.

    At present, the shortfall of 42% is made up with ’employer contributions’ which come from the taxpayer (14%), while 28% is supplied by the Treasury from current taxation. “

  17. Colin,

    “At present, the shortfall of 42% is made up with ‘employer contributions’ which come from the taxpayer (14%), while 28% is supplied by the Treasury from current taxation. “

    Two points;

    First the 14% from the “taxpayer” could equally be from the “employer”. With just as in the private sector the money split between the employer and the employee.

    You could equally say that only small percentage of private sector pensions comes from the comes from employee and the rest is a burden on customers and consumers.

    Secondly almost all private sector workers get the state pension which isn’t funded either, so are you in favour of getting rid of that as well. Along with pension credit that guarentees around £115 a week to about 10 million people thats about £60bn a year.

    If you have a problem with the way the state provides and accounts for pensions why restrict it to public employees.


  18. @Neil – I think the key point about the 40% tax relief is that, up to the annual allowable contribution limits, you get 40% relief on all your contributions. So for example, last tax year I was extremely fortunate and my business went well and my earnings crept over the higher rate threshold. On my tax form I was entitled to claim full 40% relief for all my pension contributions, even though only 7% of my earnings were taxed at the higher rate. This would have been the case if my earnings were just £1 over the threshold. If the system assumed pension contributions came out of people’s first £40K of earnings it would be entirely fair to offer tax relief at only 20% even if they earned above the threshold.

    As for ‘rich flight’ – I’m rather unconcerned about that. There are myriad examples of the remunaration of the top earners salaries grossly outstripping their performance. I honesty don’t believe we have much to lose if a few of them decide to leave – better people will replace them who are more motivated by better reasons than personal wealth, and the country might do a lot better for it.

    And just for clarity – I didn’t claim for my additional tax relief. Although my accountant was a little bemused, if you have a belief I think you should stand by it.

  19. Peter Cairns, you highlight a great left and right divide, that appears to become clearer as the GE approaches.

    You refer to private sector pensions as being a burden on the consumer.

    Many would argue that the private sector pensions are paid for from profit that could equally go to share holders or employees in extra pay. It is not a burden on customers or consumers. If one is not happy as a consumer he/she can walk away from private companies, but are required to accept local and central government like it or not.

    Private companies in the past were accused by the left of shareholder greed, rather than generosity to the consumer, when taking ‘pensions holidays’.

    If private organisations cannot afford to pay final salary pensions how can the state sector?

    A much smaller state sector could pay final salary pensions without being such a drain on the country.

    The state pension paid to both private and public sector workers has been more than funded by the employees’ NI contribution of 11% of salary and employers’ NI 11% contribution.

    Most pensioners argue, through their groups and representatives that the state pension is very mean and a very poor return.

  20. Peter

    You equate the public sector employer with the private sector employer.

    I think there are many fundamental differences, but if you wish to use the model you will have to accept the role of market forces.

    In the private sector, managers must react to market forces ( aka customers) or see their company go bust, losing their jobs & those of their employees.

    If-as has been the case for some time-private sector companies believe that the cost of providing funding now , to pay for pensions linked to unknown future pay levels, indexed in retirement, is unaffordable, they change the pension scheme.

    Unless you can find a mechanism for reacting, in the public sector, to market forces in the real economy, you demand of those who provide your funding, that they exempt you from the constraints they are subject to, whilst they pay for your employment privileges which are not available to them.

    I see no sign of such a mechanism and so the voter will have to take the place of the customer in insisting that it is installed.

    I haven’t argued that the State Old Age Spension is a problem. It is funded, as Davey says through our NI contributions-at least those that are left for the purpose!

    With regard to – “If you have a problem with the way the state provides and accounts for pensions why restrict it to public employees” – you rather make my point for me.

    In the private sector-certainly for listed companies- mandatory Accounting Standards ensure that pension promises are funded actuarially , and the resultant investment funds set aside are monitored & reported on to ensure their ongoing adequacy.

    In the large parts of public sector I have mentioned before, this is not the case. The government operates a system of pay as you go , where the future cost of today’s pension promises is not evaluated, whilst future taxpayers are held liable for it.

  21. We need another poll!

  22. I’m expecting at least one tonight Neil.

  23. I o S Neil but not out yet should be on John Rentouels page 9-10pm.

  24. Someone has indicated some Sunday Times YouGov figures on Political Betting but not yet clear if they

    ComRes figures are definately coming out.

  25. ComRes poll for I on S may be available at 7.30 pm .

  26. Scottish polls results? Largely non-existent.

    Makes the “other” results meaningless.

  27. Total UK national insurance contributions which are supposed to pay for both pensions and the NHS raise about £65bn a year. The Cost of pensions last year were 17% of the governments £630bn expenditure which for me is about £107bn.

    So although NI is supposed to pay for pensions but I don’t think it has for a long time.

    Three other points;

    Firstly I am not sure how many companies who are closing their “unaffordable pension schemes are doing it because they are unaffordable or just unattractive.

    If providing good pensions makes you less profitable then I can see how that might make you less attractive to investors or share holders.

    The problem then is that just means that as soon as one company benefits from closing its scheme then others follow suit till no one provides a pension.

    That is the market but then what do these people do for pensions. They could of course save more or the state could provide better pensions to compensate but that might mean a slower economy through less consumer spending and higher taxes.

    The less employers provide pensions the more the state has to fill the gap. the problem for a country with a service economy built on debt is that the market wants people to spend not save but it also doesn’t want employers and companies to provide pensions or the government to set high taxes.

    That starts to look a bit like the Chinese model which if people want is fine, but personally i am not a fan.

    Finally on the issue of the market mechanism the public equivalent is democracy.

    Private companies make profits by selling things there customers want or need. In the case of drugs that is what the market can bare and if you can’t afford it or your state want then tough.

    It’s ipods and wheel chairs, at one end there is a first class product at a good price that people want and at the other a pretty poor product at a high price that certain people can’t do without.

    The state really doesn’t do that because at least in the Uk people want universal health care and pensions so even if they are unaffordable the Voter ( consumer and shareholder in one) tells the State (the company) what it wants and the state tries to provide it.

    So the state acts like a company that provides its customers with a product they want at a price they can afford, even if it makes no economic sense and pretty much every western government does it.

    Now someone like Cameron could come clean and say that within a decade if we want to match the chinese we should be looking not to raising the pension age but scrapping the state pension all together, but of course if he did he would be lucky to get 20% of the vote let alone 40%.

    Democracy is the equivalent of the consumer is king and no one who wants to be chairman of the board is going to have a Ratner moment on Pensions.


  28. “So the state acts like a company that provides its customers with a product they want at a price they can afford,”

    But the “customer” has no say in affordability.

    The supplier is deciding what the cost will be , and the customer has to accept it.

    How many Council Tax payers think their “services” are affordable?

    Not all that surprising this one, is it? The closer we get to an election, the voters will focus more on voting for a party with a chance of being in government (I’m including the Lib Dems here as well) rather than ‘wasting’ their vote.”

    The only wasted vote is a tactical vote or negative vote – i.e. a vote for something you don’t believe in.
    Remember, the Libs were once considered a “wasted vote” (and still are in many areas).

    I presume this summer snapshot is based on the combined results of all the polls?

    I’m interested to see the next IPSOS/Mori one, as their results seem to me to make more sense.

    I simply can’t make sense of the idea that Labour are increasing in popularity – even gradually. I simply never encounter anything but antipathy towards them – even from supposed erstwhile supporters both in terms of people and media outlets.

    Where on earth could Labour support *not* be falling?! Which demographic groups? Which parts of the country? There must be an invisible constituency somewhere boosting their support – it juss don’t make no sense!

    Anyway, it is only a snapshot of period where you don’t get a lot of proper coverage for any minor party in terms of presenting and exploring their policies with the public (I wouldn’t class the Brit Nat hate-a-thon as proper coverage… just media trolling). None of this really yields much insight into what might actually happen in real constituencies on election night…. still so far away.
    Perhaps the character, record, and personality of real candidates will have more of a bearing than their particular party.

  30. Colin,

    “But the “customer” has no say in affordability.”
    The supplier is deciding what the cost will be, and the customer has to accept it.How many Council Tax payers think their “services” are affordable?”

    Rubbish, the customer has an absolute say.

    If a party says it is going to stop pensions because they are unaffordable and gets elected then it can cut pensions, if it doesn’t get elected then pensions stay.

    As to Council tax payers the standard response about services is ” I pay my council tax”. The public expect every service they get from the Council to be first class and think they pay to much for it already.

    In general the public have no idea and no concern about affordability, they have an expectation of service and a belief that it should be better and they pay to much already.

    I am not sure the services the public want are affordable but I know they want them.

    Right now the polls show the public don’t want cuts in pensions, education, health or defence, if anything they want to spend more and that makes up 60% of the spend.


  31. I certainly believe that the ballot box is the answer to Public Sector spending policy.

    I wish I believed that intent at the elected representative level always filtered down.

    I fear that the multiple layers of self interest, “free money” attitudes, and sheer profligacy , filter much of it out.

    I see it in local Councils. I know of it in the Higher Education system. I don’t trust Officers/Civil Servants to spend public money wisely-particularly when they are spending it on themselves.

    I no longer trust elected representatives to do so either-and that goes for Council Members who these days seem to be just another layer of salaried , expensed & bepensioned people to dip into the trough.

    I don’t know what the answer is.

  32. Colin,

    We are therefore at an impasse.

    You seem to believe that the public want public sector efficiency and would vote for it but it is being thwarted by the vested interest of the political elite.

    I on the other hand think the system gives people what they want and that politicians and civil servants try to deliver the publics priorities, its just that the publics expectations are unrealistic.

    I’d be interested given your confidence in democracy as to how its going to happen.

    The low cost state you seem to advocate is the type of thing we see in China where the state doesn’t do these kind of things, but its not a democracy.

    its also very popular with the right in the US but despite almost a decade of its most adherent advocates since Reagan in power they state has got bigger and without the dollar as a reserve currency would be bankrupt.

    Come to think of it the deficit ran out of control under reagan too.


  33. Peter:-

    “You seem to believe that the public want public sector efficiency and would vote for it but it is being thwarted by the vested interest of the political elite.”


    “The low cost state you seem to advocate is the type of thing we see in China where the state doesn’t do these kind of things, but its not a democracy. ”

    It’s not a “low cost” State I want per se-and certainly not a Chinese model-though we would probably get Olympic infrastructure & Nuclear Power stations built more quickly!!
    It’s an appropriate sized & cost effective State I want.
    I can’t define that in detail-where the State should provide , where it should merely facilitate, & where it should butt out are matters of detail depending on circumstances-so one falls back on political philosophy to make voting choices-and hopes for an outcome something like the one you voted for!!

    But I become less & less confident that it is possible to deliver it-the vested interests in the public sector ( as in the private sector) are massive & the inertia is gravitational.

    The money is free-it doesn’t have to be earned; merely levied.

    Turkeys & Christmas syndrome.

    enjoyed the debate though!

  34. Colin,

    “It’s an appropriate sized & cost effective State I want.”

    No doubt doing pretty much what it does now but at lower cost.

    I’ll file that with the public belief that;

    The rich should pay more tax and we shouldn’t pay scroungers, but I am taxed enough and am entitled to my tax credit.


  35. Peter:-

    “No doubt doing pretty much what it does now…….”

    I would have considerable doubt actually. Your remark reminds me of Bob Crowe at the Labour Conference after Brown’s apotheosis as a “cutter”.
    Brown said he would stop doing unnecessary things.
    Crowe asked something like -Well if we are doing it now-how can it suddenly become unnecessary ?”


    “………but at lower cost. ”

    You’re surely not saying that will not be possible are you Peter?!

    Today’s media has a couple of gems :-

    Apparently some high up BBC exec is being paid a salary, plus separate fees for “presenting” , whilst also drawing his BBC pension.
    For “selected ” staff at the BBC early ( discounted) pension can be drawn at age 50, whilst still being paid to continue in the job…and get this-continuing to accrue pension rights.

    In 2006 Jack Straw, David Heath, Nick Harvey and Theresa May were all at a meeting. The minutes claim that all four were “adamant” that info about the ACA claims “should remain private”
    The minutes include the following :-

    “”Mr Straw and Mr Harvey both cited examples of expenditure (essential renovations and repairs) which if disclosed would be the cause of unwarranted focus.”


    Both of these gems were obtained under the FoI Act.

    The Sunday Times YG Poll shows that 73% think MPs are “still dishonest”.

    I would love to see a Poll on what people think about the managers in the BBC, the management of their local council, and Britain’s Civil Service.

  36. Colin,

    Are you suggesting that unlike the private sector, people in the public sector should be banned from employment after they have retired.

    I don’t know who the presenter was but if he was on less than the likes of Jonathan Ross they maybe it was a good deal.

    There are lots of ex police and service personal on pensions that work in the public sector should they be banned from doing so.

    I suspect that david attenbourgh has taken his pension buthe is still one of the best natural history presenters in the world.

    Maybe we should Ban him and get someone cheaper from the Big brother cast offs. Mind you given that Big Brother is made by Endemol in the private sector Big Brother has beens probably earn more than most presenters at the BBC.

    As to MP’s not wanting there “remuneration” disclosed thats so unlike the private sector where Bankers go out of there way to tell us what their bonuses are and what they did to get them, let alone the reasons behind the pensions they grant themselves.


  37. Peter,

    There is a fundamental difference between private sector suppliers and public sector suppliers which your discourse above with Colin and other appears to have overlooked.

    In the private sector, I have a choice of suppliers. Some offer me a no-frills low cost product / service, others offer me a better product / service but at a higher price. Some offer me the lower quality but also demand the higher price, while a few manage the higher quality and the lower price. As a consumer I can choose to take the first offering, or spend my time shopping around till I find that elusive low-proved better product which represents value.

    A good example of the private sector variety is the aviation sector. But, in the public sector context we are effectively being charged BA club-class prices for Ryanair level services.

    In the public sector I have a monopoly provider who decides for me what services he will provide, and what extraneous add-ons he will add to push up the price. Many of these extra “benefits” are of little interest to the “consumer”, but we have no option to exclude them from our package.

    Despite my best efforts, I find that it is very difficult to remove these unnecessary appendages which push up the cost, and hence price, of our local servcies because they all appear to be justified by central government diktat.

    That is why the debate over what the public sector provides and at what cost is so central to the decision we as a country need to make.

    There is enormous waste in the public sector. It is not because the people working in those services are lazy or inefficient, but because central government has imposed on public services a whole host of additional functions and targets, of no real benefit to the public, which makes them inherently more costly.

    That extraordinary waste of national resources cannot be tackled by us poor councillors trying to run each local district on a shoe-string. It needs a complete change of direction from the centre.

  38. Paul,

    “In the public sector I have a monopoly provider who decides for me what services he will provide, and what extraneous add-ons he will add to push up the price.”

    No I don’t think you do.

    There is nothing to stop a private company building and running a high speed rail link or indeed a motorway. If it wanted to a private firm could offer to replace the army or indeed take over providing benefits.

    that they don’t is because you can’t make money from them or that you couldn’t get people to pay for it.

    Much of public service whether it be infrastructure or services fills a gap where the public want provision but the private sector can’t or won’t provide.

    In these situation as the majority want a service and only the state will provide it then you tend to get a state service and what is more a one sizes fits all because although the majority want it in order to provide it for so many with limited resources it tends to be inflexible.

    Politicians like to talk about individual tailored services but it tends to cost more. They also like to say it should be more customer focused like a private company but private sector companies charge a premium for personal service that the public won’t.

    Its back to the dilemma that as well as the public expecting the state to provide what the private sector won’t (often things the public want but which they can’t afford to buy for themselves like private education or health care) with not enough resource that we have a large public sector that no one is happy with.

    The state can’t meet the expectations of the public with the resources available from the public so the public response is;

    “The state has failed” as opposed to “We ask to much of the state.”

    I think the state should limit itself more to only what the state needs to do because it is needed but not commercially viable or that no one else will do. I have no problem with it being an enabler and buying services or functions from the private sector either.

    I always find it amusing that the likes of the CBI are always telling government to cut back spending and business taxation while also urging them to support infrastructure projects or taking services out of house to the private sector.

    Government spending is bad it seems except when its on things like motorways that private companies build or care homes that private companies run.

    The problem with a smaller state is that no matter how economically desirable it is come every election the same public that wants less government and red tape also wants more and better schools and hospitals a better deal for our boys in Afghanistan and more “bobbies on the Beat”.

    As long as politicians give in to those demands to get elected we will have pretty much what we have now. To date those politicians who have honestly tried to address it haven’t been able to get elected or haven’t lasted long in office.

    I see a lot of things my council does that I question but whether they be from central government or as a response to local demand they are mainly things that can be tracked back to politicians responding to the public and those elected had a mandate to introduce them even if they don’t seem that necessary and are therefore politically difficult to remove.

    I think I’ve asked this question before but if not here I go again;

    “What if, even without the credit crunch, at some time in the last decade the public sector expanded beyond what the economy could bare, but the public won’t accept the fact?”



  39. Peter,

    “What if, even without the credit crunch, at some time in the last decade the public sector expanded beyond what the economy could bear, but the public won’t accept the fact?”


    I would argue that we did indeed pass that point some time ago, both in terms of affordability and public acceptance, and that this did indeed pre-date the credit crunch. Indeed, it was probably a contributory factor to the credit crunch.

    I know it is widely argued that the credit crunch is a global phenomenon – or at least a phenomenon aross developed economies around the world – but that does not make the point any less true ! We Brits are not alone in wanting to have our public service cake and eat it too (in terms of low taxes).

    In fact, one could even argue that the credit crunch is a welcome event because it has forced both public and governments to face up to the fact that you cannot expand government spending, or even the economy itself, ad infinitum.

    Anyway, enough of the diversionary tactic and back to my central point which you nimbly sought to side-step with a syllogism.

    Whether I choose to use public services or not, I am still presented with the bill. So yes, I am faced with a monopoly provider dictating the price of making the service available to me. Adapting my analogy above, I must pay for one return Club Class ticket each month whether I choose to fly with BA, Easyjet, take the train, or just stay at home.

    Your motorway example meets the Yes Minster COGS test. There are lots of reasons why a private company can’t simply go out and build a toll motorway. After all, even when they do it as part of a concession contract from government, they still face “unfair” competition from the state subsidised road a few miles away – just ask the investors in the M6 relief road..

    “As long as politicians give in to those demands to get elected we will have pretty much what we have now. To date those politicians who have honestly tried to address it haven’t been able to get elected or haven’t lasted long in office.”

    Maybe Cameron & Osborne’s honesty at conference may finally prove this wrong. But it probably explains the apparent rise in Lab support over the conference season.

    Oops, how clumsy of me to finish my post on a comment directly related to current polls !


  40. The cost of The Clerk to my Parish Council amounts to some 55% of the total Parish precept.

    This is an incredible on cost to the few services provided by the PC.

    The Clerk’s time includes many attendances at conferences & training course organised by Local Authority quangos.
    A web site is maintained on which such vital data as extracts from the local papers are posted.In addition all PC minutes are recorded-duplicating the PC data displayed on the Post Office notice board & the periodic Newsletter produced by the PC.

    All of this activity is pointless, unrequested, & unnecessary, but it keeps The Clerk employed.

    I believe that this mindset & it’s attendant pointless activity, and wasted cost must be replicated on a vast scale up through the layers of so called Local Government, and through the Civil Service.

    I believe our Public Administration infrastructure has become bloated & self serving and I think many exposed to the realities of employment in the private sector will be voting to do something about it.

    As to Peter’s question, Howard Davies asked it yesterday in The e.

    The article cointained this quote :-

    “Polling data shows that 48pc of the public are against any spending cuts and only 20pc see the need for retrenchment. Britons appear to assume that the fantastic growth in public spending over the last decade has become an entitlement….. Even professors in higher education are balloting to strike, demanding a continuation of boom-time pay raises. You have the best minds in the country planning to go on strike for 8pc. People are miles away from understanding what is needed.”

  41. Colin,

    Thanks for reminding me how close we came to having a Parish Council foisted on us in Potters Bar.

    I stuck my neck out in campaigning against it, and even had tio take the District Council officers to task for misinformation in the explanatory leaflet which went out with ballot papers.

    Fortunately, the good people of Potters Bar comprehensively defeated the proposal in the local referendum (yes – democracy does work).

    I believe one of the clinchers was that people realised that once established, it would be next to impossible to get rid of it ,and leave them paying the (ever increasing) bills forever.

    Now all we need to do is organise a referendum to abolish our Regional Authority – only that is not allowed even though nobody asked for or elected it.

  42. I strongly agree with your opinion about the Regional Authority. In the case of Kent, Guildford is actually more remote than Westminster. And the South East region is in particular a huge (in several senses of the word) gerrymander.

    I don’t think Parish Councils are a “bad thing”, though. Some work better than others, but at their best they do deal with things very locally , with decisions taken by Councillors everybody knows. Actually, there are things that could be devolved from District Councils to parishes.

1 2 3