January 2010 – How did the public sector fare?

AnnieM, February 2, 2010

As we ease ourselves into the second month of 2010, let’s take a look at the main issues that have dominated the public sector headlines so far.

Imminent cuts in public service

This is not going away anytime soon.  While the three main political parties argue about how deep the cuts are going to infiltrate (currently, the Conservatives favour cutting public expenditure,  Labour favour cutting pay and slashing bonuses and the Liberal Democrats favour long term pay freezes and cutting back on future pension schemes), public sector workers all over the UK are bracing themselves for a difficult year.

Speaking on BBC One’s Politics Show recently, David Cameron, Leader of the Conservatives is alleged to have hinted that his party would make huge cuts in public spending if they form the next government. He has since denied these claims but insists that 2010 is the year to start reducing public spending in order to reduce the UK’s budget deficit which is believed to be the worst in the developed world. Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, has warned that public sector staff will have to accept pay cuts if they want to keep their jobs.  And if Darling’s grim predictions of a possible repeat recession later in the year are proved correct, the next government will have to make some tough decisions.

Social worker shortage

Partly due to the recession and the inter-related increase in domestic problems, social worker workloads are at an all time high. In light of childcare tragedies that have hit the profession in the last few years (Baby P, the Doncaster brothers scandal, to name but a few) less people are willing to enter a career so fraught with scapegoat culture and high-stress levels and many already in it are looking to leave. However, subsequent blogs on Jobsgopublic.com will address why this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

‘Wellderly’: increasing the retirement age

If the recent plans unveiled by Harriet Harman, Government Minister for Women and Equality, are met with approval, senior citizens over 65 (the so-called ‘wellderly’) could continue to work well into their 70s or 80s. The plans went public during London’s Age UK event in early January. While some criticise the plans as attempts to deal with the skills gap left by retired generations and to disguise the fact that pension coffers are rapidly emptying (therefore the plans would keep pension costs down), the government insists it is purely to tackle ageism and utilise the skills workforce rather than lose it. Those of you who are regular viewers of BBC’s The Thick of It (think Nicola Murray and her ‘fourth sector’ plans) will perhaps see the funny side.

University places shortage

Despite government accusations of ‘scaremongering’, the HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) has warned that budget cuts in the higher education sectors would leave thousands of prospective students without a university place. According to the HEFCE, 160,000 students who applied last year missed out on university places which will increase competition for university places this year as last year’s rejected and this year’s potential students fight for fewer places.

All in all, it’s been a trying month for the public sector with all political parties desperately trying to unveil seemingly recession-ending policies whilst criticising their opponents’ plans. This will only intensify in the next few months in the lead up to the general election and it remains to be seen who will ascend to the government throne. But until then, don’t take the budget cuts too seriously just yet. Nothing is certain until the fat lady sings. And at the moment, she’s nowhere to be seen, let alone heard.