Friday, March 13, 2009

Back to the future? Public services after the next election

The pundits are thinking about the election due in or before next summer – the above advert was commissioned by the Independent for an article about what the 2010 election advertising might look like. Boards and managers should be looking forward too. They need to think through what the aftermath may be for them. Now is the time to start adding some policy risks to risk registers and maps.

It does look like a Conservative government is a real prospect. Since the New Year the opposition has opened up a big lead over the government. While opinion polls are very volatile and a lot can happen, spread betting odds point to a Conservative majority.

What does that mean? Of course, since 1997 Labour has continued with some pre-1997 reforms and innovations. For instance, City Technology Colleges as Academies; PFI as PFI; the NHS “internal market” as choice, competition and contestability in the health sector and beyond. Likewise some Conservative policies like Michael Gove’s on school choice are to some extent pursuing Tony Blair’s own plans.

If the Conservatives are elected, they are likely to indulge in institution re-arranging. However, there has been plenty of merging of quangoes and the demerging of ministries under Labour so we should be used to that. (It’s probably time to invest in the letterhead and nameplate industries.)

Arguably the biggest change and uncertainty would be around spending plans. Public services have had year on year real increases in resources. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ Green Budget (pdf available) total public spending has risen from just over 36% of national income in 1999/2000 to almost 42% in and after 2006/7. (The Labour government maintained the Conservative spending plans for their first two years in office.)

What now with public spending? It’s going to be tough whoever wins the 2010 election. But it would appear that the Conservatives are turning up the rhetoric on this issue.

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