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Blog by Henry Kippin, 2020 Public Services Hub at the RSA

Confirmation that the UK is now officially back into recession must be pretty shattering news for a government that has based a big part of its political strategy on avoiding a double-dip.  Statistical confirmation merely supports what many in the construction, manufacturing and high street sectors already knew – that we are now in a sustained period of low-to-no growth.  The Guardian today talks of ‘little sign of recovery before 2014’.

The blame game is in full swing.  Opposition blame the Coalition for a rapid adjustment policy that has stripped demand and stunted recovery.  Coalition blames Labour for the inheritance of a huge debt burden and an economy in decline.  Both blame the Eurozone economies – but at different times, and for different reasons.  Both are stuck between fingering blame on the financial sector and hoping it will drive economic recovery, and the green shoots of a more sustainable and collaborative growth model risk being trampled by the urge to create quick and effective economic incentives.

Buried under the economy and Leveson this week was a report from the Public Administration Select Committee , which called for an annual ‘statement of national strategy’ in the absence of a ‘critical and unfulfilled’ strategic direction for government.  The implication being that – in the rush to decentralise, liberalise and retreat from clunking fists and deliverology, there is little coherent thinking on the long term direction for the economy and public services.

There has certainly been a lack of coherence (from both government and opposition) in this area.  As we write in a forthcoming report, “public services need to be reformed to meet the demands of the long-term, under the fiscal constraints of today.  Economic growth needs to be re-kindled – but in a more sustainable form that carries public confidence and delivers fairer returns.  These are the two big policy challenges of our time.  Yet they are not being considered together, and risk pulling in conflicting directions.”

In a new 2020PSH report (launched on 10th May at the RSA) we suggest a few ways of pulling these agendas together.  But a vital part of this is taking a view of the public sector and public services as an intrinsic part of the growth strategy – not as a structural barrier to be peeled back.  This means thinking hard about public service productivity: what we mean by it, and how we can use public spending to drive sustainable growth and employment in future.  We think our social productivity approach (which emphasises strong public-private-social relationships) is a way in to this, and will be picking this up in a new programme on public service productivity in the summer.

Henry Kippin @h_kippin


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