Archive article from The Socialist Issue 336
Gershon's "Cunning Plan" For The Public Sector
SIR PETER Gershon, the head honcho of 'government commerce' and Britain's most highly paid civil servant, has come up with a cunning plan. He wants to sack tens of thousands of public-sector workers, particularly civil servants.
These will be replaced by an army of 'specialists' who like superman or superwoman can be sent to any part of the public sector - hospitals, schools, police stations or JobCentres - and deliver 'expert' front-line services to the general public.
Gershon has already shown his financial and management expertise in the private sector. He was managing Director of Marconi from 1994 to 1999, when he oversaw the company's collapse, with £5 billion losses and the sacking of 6,000 workers.
In a pre-Christmas present for Blair and Brown, Gershon held a teach-in for them in Downing Street. His interim plans include merging the 1,800 central government high street offices like JobCentres and benefit offices with the 3,000-plus local government high street offices dealing with housing, council tax and other council matters.
Jobs for the chop
If he gets his way, this will mean tens of thousand of public sector jobs will be for the chop. But this would only be the beginning. He wants to spend the 'savings' he estimates at up to £15 billion a year on creating and training 'specialist' workers who would be sent to take over the classroom from teachers, replace nurses in the NHS and to do police casework in their spare time.
The Financial Times calls this: "as big a change in the way the government does business as the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s".
Gershon estimates that the £8 billion spent by the government on policy making, regulation and inspection is a waste of money. He also calls for a cut in the £7 billion spent ensuring that private contractors doing government work have to comply with basic minimum standards, such as on health and safety.
This he says is a waste of money, including the 5,000 civil servants involved in checking that the regulations are being observed.
Gershon thinks that these compliance regulations are an obstacle to big business getting its hands on some of the £120 billion a year spent by the government to provide services to its citizens. They, apparently, are a great burden on the private sector - read big-business' profits.
Compliance regulations such as on safety, the TUPE regulations on the transfer of staff to private companies and the minimum wage regulations costs big business, according to The Financial Times, much more than the £8 billion spent by the government.
Gershon's remit is so wide that he is also proposing wholesale changes to every public sector department. He wants private insurance companies to take over the running of vehicle tax collection.
Higher level teaching assistants would replace teachers. "Para-professionals" (whatever they are) would be drafted in to become case managers for the police and medical and nursing support staff.
The Financial Times summarises another aspect of Gershon's proposals: "The new JobCentre Plus offices should be transformed into a one-stop 'high street retail network' for people of working age. This would handle tax-credit queries and benefit claims, answer queries on housing benefit and council tax, and administer grants for free school meals and uniforms. A single means test would replace the myriad existing ones."
Anybody who has used the new council-run one stop shops will tell you it's difficult enough now getting the overworked and underpaid staff to deal with anything more than typing in your name and address.
Every over-worked civil servant and local council front-line worker, as revealed almost every week in the pages of this paper, will tell you they can hardly cope with the huge amount of enquiries already. And they do this for appallingly low pay.
Gershon's plans would reduce the provision of public services to Victorian levels for the mass of the population. But this doesn't matter as long as his pals in big business can rake in maximum profits.
Every public-sector trade union has to take this threat to the jobs and working conditions of hundreds of thousands of their members extremely seriously. Never before has the need for co-ordinated action across the whole of the public sector been more urgent.
Gershon's proposals are completely in line with New Labour's mantra of "private - good, public - bad". Lying behind this thinking is the idea that the private sector is able to deliver services to the public more efficiently than the public sector.
But privatisation over the last twenty years or more has been a complete disaster. The coffers of big business are bulging at the expense of the mass of ordinary people.
In the NHS, in the education services and in local government and above all the national rail system, it has been a catalogue of crisis and catastrophe for the workers in those industries and the working class in general.
New Labour continue to rush headlong towards the next stage of privatisation. The public sector unions must get their act together and co-ordinate a massive campaign of opposition to the Gershon proposals.
The first thing they must do is explain to their members, in a skilful and accessible way, what is at stake. At the same time they must make it clear to the New Labour government that they will oppose these vicious anti-working class proposals all the way.
The unions should give Brown and Blair a proper teach-in - not in the language of top civil servants but in mass trade-union action. This should include a united campaign of demonstrations and industrial action if necessary.
And a campaign to defend the public sector, to bring back all those parts that have been sold off and looted by big business into the public sector.
In modern society, a properly funded and democratically accountable public sector is the difference between a civilised existence for millions of working people and the hell of an unrestrained capitalist market - a market that seeks to maximise the profits of big business and let the needs of the masses go to hell.