Investment in Infrastructure

railComment from Boris Johnson:  Whose jobs could we do without? ... the legions of officials whose responsibilities have been generated by the cascade of bad law from Whitehall and Brussels and all the other officals whose non-job is to service them

  Cuts! We're gonna have cuts! All three parties are now engaged in a competitive slash-fest. David Cameron was the first to level with the public, pointing out that the state of public finances made retrenchment inevitable. After weeks of weedy wibbling about efficiencies and economies, Gordon Brown has at last allowed the Old English word to pass his lips – short, sharp and honest. And now dear Nick Clegg has staggered wild-eyed before us, waving his chainsaw above his head and demanding "deep and savage" cuts in spending.
The electorate understands the need for cuts. The politicians claim to be determined to deliver. But what shall they cut? Well, there are the usual suspects: ID cards and the odd warship, and our old friend "waste". But those savings will be nothing like enough, and in any case they have long since been discounted in the arithmetic. The obvious answer is to look at the armies of public-sector officials, whose salaries make up 85 per cent of government spending.
Whose jobs could we do without? Hmm? I know what you are thinking. Since 1997, the ranks of the public sector have been swelled with what the TaxPayers' Alliance would call the politically correct non-job. Boris in an emotional strain continues:  "I don't just mean the outreach workers and diversity officers whose recruitment has caused such chronic spluttering into the cornflakes. I mean the legions of officials whose responsibilities have been generated by the cascade of bad law from Whitehall and Brussels, and then all the other officials whose non-job is to service those non-jobs – the folks in HR and IT and payroll and secretarial and legal and planning, all happily filling their days in meetings and PowerPoint presentations, job accreting to job in a vast snowball of public-sector employment, until we get to the point where a place like Newcastle has 75 per cent of its workforce in the pay of the state. There, you might think, is where the axe should fall. You might think we should try cutting some of the non-jobs that have been advertised, in the last decade, in the pages of the Guardian. Well, perhaps we should. Thanks in large part to the EU, British employment law is getting stricter and stricter. We don't have the easy-come, easy-go approach of the Americans. We make it exceedingly difficult to hire and fire – and the danger now is that this extreme labour market rigidity will force our politicians to bring down their choppers in exactly the wrong place. You can see the problem. When you make a human being redundant, you risk causing a deep personal sadness. You are adding to the unemployment register. You are forced to have a difficult conversation with someone you may even think of as a friend. You will end up feeling in need of a stiff drink. To cap it all, the process is so hugely expensive that you wonder – rightly – whether it will produce any savings at all. Why? For the very simple reason that if you postpone a vital upgrade of a road, the road won't break down in sobs and tell you that its wife is about to leave it. If you axe a new high-speed railway line, the railway line won't answer back, and it certainly won't threaten industrial action. Above all, it costs nothing in the short term to make these savings. There are no immediate costs associated with sacking a sewer or postponing a power plant. The cost is over the medium and long term – and there the cost is huge. This country desperately needs new infrastructure. The road network is deteriorating. We need new low-carbon power stations – whether nuclear or renewable. We need high-speed rail, Crossrail, an upgraded Tube and, with Heathrow running at 99 per cent capacity, we need a new and visionary solution to our aviation needs, and one that does not involve more planes stacked over London. If, as seems likely, we still cannot bridge the gap, then we need to find new and creative ways of funding that infrastructure. We should be looking at new ways to provide incentives to pension funds, and foreign investment funds – notably from the Middle East – to take a stake in projects that offer steady, long-term yields. As the politicians competitively rev their chainsaws, I beg them to remember this key point: that it is only by investing for the long-term in infrastructure that you can create the strong entrepreneurial economy that can pay for strong public services. It would be catastrophic if these projects were cancelled or deferred to pay for the myriad non-jobs in the appointments pages of the Guardian." For the full article see The Daily Telegraph today here

18 thoughts on “Investment in Infrastructure”

  1. Hey Boris Dude, and how about the mayoralty of London and the mass staffing of City Hall? These could be areas for reflection.

  2. This makes huge sense – public sector employment mushrooming has gone on too long and I hope that Party Conference will make a big point of all this in early October.

  3. Crossrail is the new high frequency, convenient and accessible railway for London and the South East. From 2017 Crossrail will travel from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east via new twin tunnels under central London. It will link Heathrow Airport, the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf.
    Crossrail will make travelling in the region easier and quicker. It will reduce crowding on London’s transport network. It will operate with main line size trains, carrying more than 1500 passengers in each train during peak periods.

    Crossrail will deliver substantial economic benefits in London, the South-East and across the UK. The estimated benefit of Crossrail to the UK economy is at least £36 billion (TfL figures, May 2006).

    Royal Assent was given to the Crossrail Act in July 2008 giving Crossrail Ltd the authority to build the railway.

    Preliminary works have commenced and are continuing during 2009. Main construction will start in 2010.

  4. Who can we get rid of?
    Bankers.
    Anyone involved in marketing.
    Politicians.
    Most accountants.
    The monarchy.
    Although we will need more people to build the very long wall against which to line up the bankers and their friends when the revolution comes.

  5. It’s obvious. 100,000 additional civil servants since 1997. Hundreds of thousands working for quangoes. Huge increases in non-medical staff in the NHS. Most of these people feed off, and in turn generate, regulation and interference. Meanwhile, those who actually understand things and make services work are undervalued, underpaid and oppressed. The problem is, how do you persuade the UK’s over-numerous ruling class to give up some of its privileges? They had the same problem in Russia before 1917.

  6. @Vicus Scurra “Although we will need more people to build the very long wall against which to line up the bankers and their friends when the revolution comes.”

    Perhaps we should rebuild and man Hadrian’s Wall? It might solve several problems at a stroke.

  7. Tiresias – I cant see any of these changes happening in our lifetime – it will take at least till the next century

  8. it is interesting that it appears so few have responded to this article of boris’.
    it may be because many would be beneficiaries of ‘one less railway’ – with resources continuing to be passed in their direction.
    so, obviously, many don’t want to pipe up and so shoot themselves in the foot. “let’s lie low”

    there are conflicting numbers re size and cost of govt payroll as well as of ‘value added’ by such numbers. but, in a democracy numbers count when voting for ‘your own heave ho’ or for ‘no railway that will threaten industrial action’.

    it will be watched with interest and some trepidation.

  9. Splendid article by Boris. And spookily I find myself agreeing with Vicus too.

    I would fine-tune my agreement a litle though:

    HR and IT depts are essential due to basic need; all the legislation from Brussels and the fact that everyone now has a PC and someone has to install, upgrade, maintain, patrol and fix them. Can’t get rid of those, Boris. And behind every succesful man is a superb secretary.

    What I think we should get rid of are ‘diversity officers’, State sponsored interpreters (if you want to live here speak english or sod off) and all the real non-jobs that don’t do anything useful. Recruitment and IT is useful.

    But there is one point Boris missed – NuLab gave back the cap. Wouldn’t that be a good place to start saving, by reinstating it?

  10. The expansion of public administration has been continuing for centuries, if not millennia. Up to now, it has had space to expand into, being small to start with and supported by growth in the productive economy. Now, however, like a baby cuckoo, it is reaching the point where it overfills the nest and its poor surrogate parents struggle to feed it. This problem has never previously had to be addressed. Unless we can find a method for containing public administration our economy will collapse and it will become impossible actually to do anything.

  11. Philipa

    >And spookily I find myself agreeing with Vicus too

    whatever got into your water today?! that is unheard of – perhaps there is some sense behind his aura of ‘peace and love rules ok’ after all

  12. I agree with the sentiment of this article but where’s the delivery on the ground? I cycle across fiveways junction on the a23 every day and have to use the footways to survive. The other day I was fined by one of the Mayor’s PCSO’s for this -why spend money on this and not on providing facilities for cyclists instead?

  13. Boris was saying on – probably Fox News – whilst in NY that we shouldn’t regulate bankers, and as the Tories are apparently keen to drop the FSA perhaps this sort of bureaucracy and red-tape would be a good place to start.

    After all, what could possibly go wrong with giving bankers free reign to do as they will.

  14. As one of those “legions of officials whose responsibilities have been generated by the cascade of bad law from Whitehall and Brussels” I couldn’t agree with you more. Rules and policies cost money. We’re spending 50% of GDP on public services now and we can’t deal with the rules and policies we’ve got already. I’d love a government that just spent a few years getting rid of rules and policies instead of making more of them. You’ll never get the EU to work like that though and I’ll eat my hat if a tory government does.

    I particularly liked:

    “… all happily filling their days in meetings and PowerPoint presentations, job accreting to job in a vast snowball of public-sector employment”

    Yep, that’s about the measure of it, except when you cut a town hall budget, it’s these middle manager networkers that decide what to cut on the front line. Next they’ll start bleating about how you’re cutting meals on wheels and want residents to pay to have their bin emptied. They won’t cut their own jobs.

    So make sure you get the accountants in, but unless you’re prepared to force through the 15 – 25% workforce reductions they will inevitably recommend (and most empire building council directors will most certainly not be) then it’s just another complete waste of time and more money. Seen it done before, accountants said we were 25% overstaffed so they hired more people to implement the other recommendations of the report.

    I guess the only answer is just a headline reduction in the revenue support grant for every town hall and quango at Cabinet level, then let the bureaucrats fight over what’s left in the pot, if you’re brave enough that is.

    “…We should be looking at new ways to provide incentives to pension funds, and foreign investment funds – notably from the Middle East – to take a stake in projects that offer steady, long-term yields.”

    I was just saying to someone the other day that the best way to create more affordable rental accommodation would be to encourage the big pensions pots to become landlords. They could go for the gap in the market where you’re not rich enough to buy, renting a decent pad at market rates is a squeeze and don’t want to breed your way into social housing. The tax breaks they would get as pension pots would mean they could wipe the floor with the competition and provide young people with good housing whilst diversifying their risk away from just equities. A solution to the public sector pensions crisis?

    “You are forced to have a difficult conversation with someone you may even think of as a friend.”

    That’s the real crux of it in the town halls, most of them have been working together for 20 years or more. Some of them just take it for granted that their job is worthwhile, others realised it’s a load of bollocks, some sorry fools think the world would implode into some kind of apocolipse if they didn’t write those reports and PowerPoint presentations. It doesn’t matter though, no one is going to push to sack their friend of 20 years regardless how much it would improve efficiency to do so.

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