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As I write this, a friend of mine is reapplying for his job in a government quango. He isn’t sure he really wants it.

If he’s successful, and all the signs are that he’s a highly valued member of his unit, he will gain extra responsibilities and a smaller team to share the work between.

Given that this organisation is already struggling with its workload, the likelihood is that some of its services will be quietly dropped.

My friend isn’t alone. In local authorities across the country, the word ‘Gershon’ is being plastered like daubed crosses on medieval plague houses. You have now entered a 5% efficiency savings zone: beware unforeseen consequences.

Civil servants are feeling the same pinch: Defra is the latest to face a gaping chasm in its budget, so instead of taking the lead on climate change its energies are consumed in deciding which projects will get the chop.

The same icy wind is blowing through the voluntary sector. Hundreds of projects face a future in which the only certainty is that more must be done with less.

Many staff have already received their redundancy notices. The contract culture, far from being the magic key that opens the door to smarter services and a bigger bang for the buck, is turning into a grim game of musical chairs in which the winners are those who know how to elbow aside their competitors.

That doesn’t mean the winners are sharks and charlatans. Most are dedicated people who offer valuable and cost-effective services.

The problem is that others who also offer dedication and value won’t make it – but the costs don’t show up in the public accounts. And we wonder why we often see such small results for such great efforts.

Last week Paul Evans, the former urban policy chief at the ODPM, said how liberating it was to be able to express what he really thought.

‘Don’t believe the government when it says it’s going to give you the power to do things yourself,’ he commented.

‘What it means is it hasn’t got the money, and it’s giving you the opportunity not to have the money as well.’

We need people like him to tell the real story about what’s happening to public services.

But, even more, we need people at the heart of government now who’ll speak out when the emperor has no clothes.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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