So the crusader of the Sunday Express yesterday squeaked not roared. They produced a story which was no story because their Tory masters told them to. To recap, as you won’t have bought the paper (neither did I), Erica and I between us earn about £93,000 from all sources including building society interest; Erica charged more than £2,000 on one day to the Audit Commission (that was actually the date of the invoice it was for 6 days work plus expenses plus VAT!) and I used to be an estate agent (30 years ago when no-one would give me a job because I was a councillor).
They looked hard for dirt but there was none because like most people in the public sector we are pleased to be a part of a sector that is public and transparent and with high standards of probity. Long may it last – soon may central government be able to say the same.
Some might think that I would be cowed by the Shapps approach – some might be wrong. Nothing will stop me championing the public sector because I know this; every day millions of people get up and go to work not just for the money but because they want to make a difference to the lives of people. The public sector welcomes people into the world and escorts them out of it. Between the two inevitable events they are there to help and assist in any way possible.
Some people don’t see the public sector all that much – or they don’t think they do. But without the public sector our society would disintegrate, cleaning the streets, keeping the schools going, tidying the parks are almost universal services. For some however there is a massive dependency on the state. The incontinent elderly; the mentally ill; those with learning difficulties; the brain damaged after a car accident, people who are justly not very clever and destined to a life of poverty. That might not be you or your family now but it could be in the future.
Many people who work in the public sector work miracles on almost a daily basis bringing hope, life and vitality to those who desperately need it. They do jobs that neither Mr Shapps nor I would have the stomach or fortitude for. The difference between me and some Tories (not all -there are many honourable Tories) is that I do not denigrate people for doing that work. We know that amongst the 4 million people working for the public sector there must be some skivers, some villains and some rogues. But the vast, vast majority of people in the sector are marvellous people who need support not condemnation.
I know that because of the state of the economy we cannot, at least in the short term, afford to employ all those people, but we should not pretend that their jobs are none jobs. We should help them leave with dignity, help them find alternative work and try to get rid of the massive debts that this government has to deal with so that we can hopefully re-employ some of them in future.
There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about the public, private or third sectors. Each of them is good at some things and poor at others. I have always been self employed; have been a councillor for 28 years and chair and am on boards in the third sector. So I know that there is equality in performance between these sectors because I am part of each sector. The problem is that if we think of things in simplistic Tory terms of the private sector being the only well performing sector we will miss the opportunity to find new relationships between the 3 sectors to drive up performance and outputs.
So let me now give the Sunday Express another story. When I finish this blog I am setting off for Mexico. The Foreign Office are paying and I am part of the diminished trade mission to Mexico. I will be working extremely hard whilst I am there on a series of visits arranged by the Embassy to promote links between Mexican and UK local government. I will be meeting 20 people who will be visiting the UK later in the year to look at how the public and private sectors deal with waste management. We hope to sell them some public and private sector services and equipment. I will also be seeking new markets for our services in two parts of Mexico.
This meant that I left home half through Sunday and won’t get back until next Saturday is over. I am not grumbling about this but I don’t expect to get slagged off by Tories for giving up so much of my own family life. I even offered to go on the whole instead of Mr Clegg; I am after all the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Local Government. That offer was declined by Nick himself – I think he was jealous of my good looks!