2010 PC – pre-coalition – may be a little blurred in my memory but the events After Coalition are seared into my consciousness with a vivid clarity which will be hard to lose.
Seasoned folks in my organisation – and others – thought coalition government would slow change down. That the much heralded fact that ‘no-one won this election’ would engender some caution. Instead the government got going with all the relish of Augustus Gloop in Mr Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Deficit reduction? Yummy, munch! Bonfire of quangos? Mmmm, slurp! Biting off £6.25 billion of public spending in 2010/11 much of it already committed? Yes please, burrrpppp!
The coalition seemed to us public servants to have an unquenchable hunger to chew up and spit out almost anything it came into contact with. Particularly, of course, wasters like me who work in public service.
The coalition set out a menu of dishes whose ingredients had barely been hinted at in their manifestos.
The Programme for Government was launched in May with a call for the public to get involved and there were some 9,500 comments. It’s hard to tell what, if any, impact any of the comments had on government policy. That’s the trouble with inviting the public into policy making – they may disagree with you.
Each swing of the axe brought another part of the forest of public service that I had grown up with crashing to the forest floor. And this was just the cutting of small clearings. The larger deforestation planned in CSR2010 is yet to begin.
This is not a political blog. Governments get chosen by the electorate and get to implement the programmes they stood for. I’ve been long enough in public service to profoundly respect that convention. But I cannot shrink from describing the confusion, despair and deep gloom that settled over the public services as the year wore on.
In many ways I have begun to count myself very fortunate indeed. I have certainty, of a sort, about what is happening to me. For many that certainty is a long way off. Christmas will have been spent by many families wondering all sorts of things about the future.
I started blogging in August because I felt our story, the story of those of us in the frontline of the war on the deficit, was not really being told. That has changed a lot with some excellent bloggers and contributions from others caught up in these events coming forward to fill in the gaps left by political rhetoric.
In recent days I have been tickled to see a series of stories about the ‘achievements’ of the new government. Because politicians in all parties generally lack any significant executive experience they are prone to mistake making a ministerial announcement or issuing a news release with something actually happening somewhere out in the country. That cycle doesn’t seem set to change this time around either.
Public servants might be forgiven for reaching the view that despite not losing the election as badly as Labour the two governing parties are still in campaign mode. It’s felt though that the campaign has largely been against us rather than for something.
Early casualties, like me, learned quickly than even when politicians don’t know what they do want they can be very clear about what they don’t want.
And on that note I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics from the Augustus Gloop song which could, in some ways, pass for anthem extolling the virtues of the ‘creative chaos’ some politicians now seem so keen on in our public services.
Although, of course, we must admit
He will be altered quite a bit
Slowly, wheels go round and round,
And cogs begin to grind and pound;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we’re absolutely sure
Then out he comes! And now! By grace!
A miracle has taken place
A miracle has taken place
Let’s keep hoping for that miracle …