We must plan to do more for less, says Jonathan Todd

“Facing a new world with new challenges, we need to think again about how we can best serve the people we seek to represent”.

So argues an email which Ed Miliband sent to Labour party members last night. As Ed acknowledged in his conference speech yesterday, one of this new world’s realities, even if we were to now have a Labour government, is the necessity of cuts; and one of the challenges, therefore, is to deliver more for less.

Deficit reduction, however, has simply brought into sharper focus an inescapable trend. An ageing society makes ever less viable established means of financing and delivering pensions, health and social care. Innovation will remain a precondition of improved public services beyond the correction of the structural deficit, which all major parties are committed to achieving over this parliament. Successful adaptation to our cold fiscal climate isn’t simply about muddling through coming years but of making sustainable for the long-term, given profound demographic shifts, vital public services.

Ed accepting that there would have been cuts under Labour was hardly the stuff of Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech. Gordon Brown isn’t, pace the right-wing media, Joseph Stalin and Alistair Darling’s deficit reduction plan was passed into law by the Labour government.

Labour controlled councils have been preparing for the inevitability of straitened times for some 18 months. Yet, the Tories want to claim that Labour lacks a plan for controlling the deficit and remains capable of committing only to spending increases. They point to the spending commitments made by Labour leadership candidates during their campaigns and the lack of firm proposals for cuts needed to flesh out the Darling plan.

It would be helpful, therefore, if Labour were able to advocate itemised cuts by the time of the comprehensive spending review. Sadly, our polling on competence and unity has nosedived in recent years. The latter won’t be helped if David Miliband does decide to leave the frontbench. The former requires that Labour exude an ability to adapt to fiscal reality.

A truly credible platform, whether at national, city or local level, requires not just resistance to the depth and speed of George Osborne’s cuts, but a demonstrable ability to achieve better public service outcomes on more limited resources. The lack of this ability will be taken by many to mean that Labour can only offer diminished public service standards and potentially rising taxes.

People will expect standards to decline under Labour if we appear unable to adapt to severely constrained budgets; and they will expect tax to rise if our only prescription for better services is more money. A hard-pressed public would begrudge additional taxation and be disappointed, if not downright angry, should we be unable to find new ways of maintaining public service quality.

We can avoid this outcome, however, as we are capable of finding these new ways. And while we should argue for a fairer tax system, we can do so while avoiding adding to the overall tax burden beyond those additions which are necessary to fulfil our deficit reduction plan. Nonetheless, such services are likely to require a changed relationship between the citizen and the state. To avoid leaving the public disenchanted by poor public services in future, we should now be starting an engagement about how this relationship can and should evolve.

These issues were under-discussed in the leadership election. Perhaps they will be raised during Ed’s Q+A on the conference floor this afternoon. He won’t, though, be in a position to put his ideas into practice unless he gets into Downing Street. In contrast, Labour leaders in local government already have the power to reform the way they deliver services. Hopefully, the ranks of these leaders will soon be swelled by a raft of new city mayors.

Steve Reed of Lambeth, as the pioneer of the co-operative council model, is one of the most dynamic of these leaders. The co-operative council embraces all of the best elements of reform: bottom-up; co-production; empowered citizens; pro-social behaviour; culture change; and much more rich gravy besides. This may sound like a wonk’s recipe list but they are the stuff of improved services and community transformation.

Nonetheless, like some of the best meals, the full flavour of the ingredients takes time to interact and be revealed. The wheels of bureaucracy invariably turn painfully slowly and the wheels of enduring cultural change within communities – the genius genie in the bottle of innovations like co-operative councils – more slowly still. So, let us use the power that we have in local government – a majority of London local authorities, for example – to release this genie as quickly as possible.

If we do this now, we are more likely to have a strong record of delivering more for less to point to the next time these councils are up for election. More importantly, we’ll have made these communities as resistant as we possibly can to the inequities that Osborne will inflict upon them.

Ed should celebrate and encourage this local innovation, while holding a strong enough line on deficit reduction to prevent fiscal credibility being a bar to him and his chancellor. Whomever that may turn out to be.

Jonathan Todd is a consultant at Europe Economics and was a Parliamentary candidate at the 2010 general election

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4 Responses to “We must plan to do more for less, says Jonathan Todd”

  1. U Nimpressed says:

    ah yes We must prepare to do more with less.. well most of us.

  2. Louis Cypher says:

    “Facing a new world with new challenges, we need to think again about how we can best serve the people we seek to represent”. Right on baby. It’s called, erm, Socialism. I’m sorry but the bus that says ‘Parliamentary Road…’ has broken down. Reforming capitalism does nothing but widen that sodding gap between the rich and poor (read that National Equality Panel Report from January this year. The gap is the biggest it has been for 40, yes 40, years – under LABOUR!).

    I am one of thousands of public sector workers who is shitting a brick about the prospect at the Age of Austerity. I already work my nuts off for the paltry salary that I get – and I earn better than many. “…deliver more for less.” What? People have been doing that for decades in both the public and the private sectors. Furthermore, this crap about a “…changed relationship between the citizen and the state.” What is Todd on? It’s just so much grey mush. Where is the fight in people’s belly’s? Where are the politicians of conviction in Labour? He bangs on about people getting angry if taxes go up. Hello. They are already bloody angry at the prospect of a decimated Welfare State. It’s not just those that are in direct receipt of a state transfer payment that are going to come unstuck. It’s the vast majority of us who use the NHS, send our kids to schools, and have mums and dads/grandparents (if they are unlucky enough to still be around under the Tories and their neutered slavish puppies) on a state pension. Let alone all those state workers who are going to lose their jobs.

    Do me a favour, grow a pair. Get fired up. Stop hiding behind the fear of being unelected. Reacquaint yourselves with the Trade Union movement. The Party was born out of its bowels anyway. I need you too. My Gran needs you too. The vast majority of ordinary people in Britain need you too.

  3. AmberStar says:

    Yes, Labour should do More for Less – MORE FIGHTING for LESS CUTS. 😎

  4. AnneJGP says:

    Alistair Darling’s deficit reduction plan was passed into law by the Labour government

    As I understand it, what was passed into law was simply a goal: to reduce the deficit by half over the 5-year parliament. That’s not a plan. A plan shows how you’re going to achieve the goal.

    The prospect of the country funding our day-to-day essential services by international borrowing frightens me. The sooner we reach a point where we are living within our means, the happier I’ll be.

    Any deficit reduction plan has to be somewhere on a sliding scale between these 2 extremes:

    (1) Suppose we were simply unable to borrow any more money at all. We would, of course, still have to pay interest on our existing debt (unless we defaulted). The cuts & job losses & tax rises and all-round suffering would be truly horrific. This is why leaving ourselves open to the mere possibility frightens me.

    (2) We could go on borrowing for day-to-day living as though the rest of the world owes us a living, without a thought for paying any of it back.

    So where on that sliding scale are we to position ourselves? What are we to do? Obviously it’s a judgement call and no-one wants to cause un-necessary suffering for anyone.

    Before the election I was looking to the Labour government for answers. I heard Mr Brown on television telling Andrew Marr that we were the first country in the world to have a Deficit Reduction Plan. That would have been really good news if only he had backed up his words with the information which a plan contains.

    The Labour government had access to all the available figures and didn’t produce the required plan – or, at least, chose not to tell the public what was in the plan. And now Labour has lost the ability to implement its own judgement call on the matter.

    A goal isn’t a plan, and a re-labelling exercise doesn’t make it one. Labour needs now come up with a real plan they can offer as an alternative.

    I welcomed Ed Milliband’s realism in saying that he would have to make cuts too and will not just oppose each & every one for the sake of it. I look forward to his team putting together a real alternative and explaining it to us.

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