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.
Comment 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
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