Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A Professor writes...

Posted on This is My Truth on 16 February

His may not be a name widely known outside the Cardiff Bay bubble, but Mark Drakeford has been a key figure in Welsh Government over the last decade. On Saturday he's likely to be selected as the Labour candidate for Cardiff West at the next Assembly elections - succeeding the man he's been advising.

A very thoughtful man, he was the one who effectivley made Rhodri Morgan's Governments hang together - ideologically and organisationally. The Professor of social policy at Cardiff University gave a short lecture to the Labour Grassroots ginger group at the end of January which I have just come across on the web

It is an interesting read on a number of levels, but the point that struck me particularly was his fear that without strong political leadership over how to deal with spending cuts the civil service will lead the way in crudely slashing schemes they were never keen on in the first place. Or as Prof Drakeford put it "unless we are prepared with our own democratically driven way of dealing with reduced budgets, the machine will take it over".

He warns there will be:

- An assault on the entitlement agenda: much despised as low populism, rather than the production of strong social capital which we know it to be;

- An assault on jobs: a firm belief that the public sector is bloated here in Wales, with lots of easy opportunities to slim back and make room for the private entrepreneurial spirits which we have held back for so long;

- An assault on public services: those creators of dependency and sullen apathy which save people from the consequences of their own behaviour and teach them that, no matter what havoc they wreak in their own lives, and those of others, the state will always be along to bale them out.

In particular he foresees a temptation to engage in displacement activity by going after local authorities: "there are voices, at the Assembly, who believe that the solution will be found in an attack on local government in Wales", he warned. I half agree with his advocacy of PR for Local Government allied with a new settlement centred on "binding agreement around a small number of key outcomes". But can't help observe that this has been done in Scotland without much effect on the culture of Local Government. Anyway, that's an aside.

Here is a man who intimately knows the way the Assembly Government works, at both a political and official level. His warning about the 'machine' taking over is a sober one. There are undeniable failings of delivery right across the Government in Wales. Ministers need to deal with that and not let their officials get away with sloppy work. But capacity problems pose challenges and there is clearly a fear that when the spending cuts bite and the fog of war descends, the civil service will have the perfect cover to cut the big schemes they never wanted (free bus passes, free prescriptions) rather than deal with the inefficiencies and inadequacies throughout the system.

So we must rely on "our own democratically driven way" to ensure the response to the cuts is driven by political priorities and not administrative prejudices. But Mark Drakeford doesn't seem confident that this will happen...

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