The good news for prison warders is that they have been identified as a priority group. So they have been promised special treatment. They will only get a pay cut of 1.2% in real terms. Their pay packets will rise by 1.7%. Inflation is however running at 2.9% thanks to Brexit. Theresa thinks those numbers are going to deal with a recruitment crisis and a drop in morale amongst a workforce.
Good luck with that. Asking people to lock up the poor in overcrowded and dangerous conditions and then move them about 9 or 10 times during a short sentence doesn’t create job satisfaction. Nor does it help if you have to watch inmates acquire horrible drug addictions that will make crime outside worse. Or if your more experienced colleagues have left the service in disgust and you are left to fight near impossible problems with an inexperienced team. In these circumstances offering staff another year of reduced living standards is not entirely likely to produce mass satisfaction and the end of a serious recruitment crisis.
The police have been treated a little bit better. Or lied to a little bit more carefully. They get a pay rise of 2%. Which means a real cut of 0.9%. But one per cent of the pay rise isn’t consolidated. It is simply a one off bonus. So actually their core pay is cut by 1.9%. Worse still is where the money comes from. The entire cost of the extra increase is coming from existing budgets. Put simply May has just announced a 1% cut in police budgets and is trying to put the blame on police staff for daring to request that their pay stands still after almost a decade of reductions.
This is the best that anyone in the public sector can now expect to happen to their pay. The government will announce that it has given you a smaller than usual pay cut. But it has not paid for it. So your managers have to take the money away from frontline services or find efficiency savings.
It is never a bad idea to run things more efficiently and the way services operate can always be improved. But that is not what most “efficiency” savings are. They are simply reductions in budgets that are taking place at a time of rising demand.
The NHS is facing a huge problem of an increasingly elderly population and increasingly sophisticated technology becoming available. That ought to be good news but it creates obvious pressures on costs. To give an example. Like many men of my age I have prostate cancer. That sounds a lot more dramatic than it is. The standard treatment is to do nothing because there is a very high chance it will never develop into a problem. But if you don’t monitor it and you only find out it has started to become problematic when the condition has become painful there is a good chance you’ll die of it.
So the NHS has spent a lot of money monitoring my heath with blood tests, MRI scans and biopsies and my very nice immigrant doctor has come to the conclusion that some very clever targeted treatment will inconvenience me for a few months but keep me alive.
Some people argue that this kind of additional cost for helpful early monitoring and treatment is really a saving because it avoids more expensive treatment later on. That is nonsense. Everyone dies of something and when I get over this problem I am very much hoping that I will be around to be a drag on health service expenditure for a rather long time. That will be great for me but not for NHS expenditure.
All those extra monitoring and additional operations for people like me mean costs are bound to go up not down - regardless of how clever the health service managers are. No one wants efficiency savings to mean that their relative can’t have the latest treatment. Yet NHS managers are being left to face a horrible challenge. They have budgeted to give their staff a real term cut in pay of 1.9%. Not surprisingly valuable staff are leaving and being poached – sometimes by private services that sell the very same staff back to the NHS at inflated prices to cover the gap caused by their departure. If government offers those staff a rare year in which their pay stays static then there will be a 1.9% shortfall in NHS income across the board. At a time of rising costs.
It is simply not possible to cut NHS back office costs 8 years in a row and achieve all your savings from increased efficiency when core costs are rising along with patient needs. Real terms cuts in the budget per operation have been a reality throughout this period. It is useful and necessary services that are under threat not consultants’ bills for work on the latest top down re-organisation.
Theresa May must know this. She can do the maths. Or at least we all better hope that she can. We must therefore assume that she is making conscious choices. A brave honest Prime Minister would tell us all that we have to pay rather more in taxation in order to fund the NHS and other public services. A cowardly and incompetent one would fail to balance the budget and try and cover up the failure by asking public sector workers to take another pay cut and managers to take the blame for service failures.
In case anyone worries that any display of budgetary bravery would create an excessive burden of taxation for rich individuals I suggest they study the trading figures for Amazon and the tax bill that they paid. Corner shops are paying a higher proportion of their income in tax than some large corporations.
There is a very simple way to deal with out of control tax dodging that is destroying our public services. Let a jury decide whether the tax paid by a company is excessively out of line with its sales in the UK and impose punishing fines on offenders.
Honesty over the need for more taxes and determination to fight off tricky tax lawyers is the only sustainable way to provide properly funded public services. All that is required is the government to have the will to act. Don’t hold your breath.