Welfare and public service- (02.01.04)

One of the main areas for debate that econo-my.com expects for 2004 is the welfare state and the future for public services. A revived Conservative party is looking for an over-riding mission statement for the future and it would appear to have found one. The concept is that applying targets for improving the public services means that the public have now come to expect too much from them. They can never be as efficient as delivering services as the private sector can in terms of choice so people will alway remain unsatisfied or become too dependent on welfare services. The publication of Julian Le Grand's book Motivation, Agency and Public Policy, whilst not directly part of this idea, will certainly be used in support of this.. Expect to see policies that would reduce public spending, expect individual self sufficiency whilst promoting choice through welfare vouchers to return, probably repackaged in a new language of reverse hypothecation. This is the idea that reduced service spending would result in specific rebates to taxpayers; the opposite of a hypothecated tax in reality.

It is suprising therefore that there is not more focus on university tuition fees. If the Conservatives were truly committed to a public service and welfare revolution then variable tuition fees would appear to sit perfectly with this type of policy. Middle class reliance on subsidy for tertiary education is at the expense of vocational training for others in society. Continued opposition to tuition fees therefore questions whether any politicians will take the risk to wean their supporters of public service dependency if they believe that addiction is harmful.

The reality is that whilst it is clear that people expect more from public services (in particular health and education rights) this could be seen as success in expecting good public services rather than accepting that private provision is necessary. This may have a negative economic effect in the long term if you ignore the social and economic benefits from improved health and eduction, but the case for this has yet to be proven.