The stormy present

As I write this, the world outside my office window has grown dark, the sky has clouded over and it has started to absolutely thunder down with rain. While in the distance – and I’m not kidding here – a series of police cars and ambulances has roared past along the main road, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Anyone looking for a metaphor to summarise the current financial state of the UK public sector need look no further.

It’s evident that the Government is extremely concerned about the growing deficit between the income generated from taxes and the expenditure incurred in providing public services. It seems very much that taxes are set to rise. And it seems equally likely that the funding available for the provision of public services – hospitals, social care, police officers, teachers and the like – is going to fall. Possibly quite substantially.

For a sector that has been subjected to various austerity measures for as long as most of us can remember, and that has wrung out pretty much every last ounce of inefficiency and waste, this is a difficult and troubling position to be in. Because any further cuts will mean not ‘doing more with less’, as the efficiency mantra goes, but simply doing less.

And worse still, there’s not a lot we can really do about it. We can brace for impact, as it were, by keeping costs down, cutting things back to the bare minimum and building as much resilience as possible into service delivery. But we’re beyond the difficult decisions now. We’re onto the heartbreaking ones.

I may, of course, be being overly pessimistic about all of this. But experience, together with the faces of my clients when we talk about such matters, tells me that I’m probably not. And the double whammy of rising demand for public services at a time of reduced resources for service delivery is something that keeps all public service professionals awake at night.

We await the next few weeks with bated breath. Hang on in there, friends.

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