Public Sector Employment (Debate) 13th July 2011

Mark Drakeford: In my contribution this afternoon, I want to focus on the first part of the motion, which refers to the importance of public sector employment to communities throughout Wales. I want to do that because the Prime Minister in his lecture to us yesterday got this exactly wrong. He began by making a point that is widely accepted, that is, that the private sector in Wales needs to grow. He then fell into the basic neoconservative error of asserting that the private sector is too small because the public sector is too big. That mantra of ‘private good, public bad’ is never far below the surface of the present Westminster coalition Government, but its premise is mistaken both economically and socially.   

Economically, the argument fails to understand the impact that public sector employment has on the wider economy. A report by the University of Manchester only two years ago concluded that, for a period stretching back well into the Thatcher area, the growth in private sector employment in the United Kingdom has largely been the product of public expenditure decisions—state sponsored and state supported, as the report says.   
Once you get below the surface of that, you understand that the teacher employed in a local authority school in Wales is a public sector employee and, according to the Prime Minister’s definition, an obstacle in the path of the Welsh economy. However, a teacher in a private school is counted by the Office for National Statistics as a private sector employee, and is thus in receipt of the Prime Minister’s approval, despite the fact that, as the University of Manchester report demonstrates, such schools are highly dependant on fiscal favours from the state, do nothing to pay for the training infrastructure upon which they depend for staff, and, in many cases, could not continue to trade were it not for the fees paid directly to them from the public purse.   
Far from squeezing out the private sector, public expenditure and the public sector employment that it provides is crucial in supporting economic growth across Wales. If investment is squeezed out of public services, growth is imperilled, not promoted.   
The prescription that we were offered yesterday was not only mistaken economically, but socially destructive. I am always struck by the way in which those who have never needed to rely on the services provided by public sector employees are so confident that the rest of us can do without them. As a leader of a Cabinet of millionaires, it is perhaps not surprising that the Prime Minister was so dismissive of the work of public sector workers in Wales.   
Nick Ramsay: We need to clarify that the Prime Minister has spoken on many occasions about the valuable work of people in the public sector, particularly in the national health service. He has said that he could not have survived without having it to rely on over the last few years. That point needs to be put on the record.   
Mark Drakeford: It is all very well for the Prime Minister to pay lip service to the work of public service workers when it suits him to do so, but, on Monday, he published a White Paper that talks about the wholesale privatisation of public services, including the health service and others, putting public services and public sector workers in jeopardy.   
We judge people by what they do rather than by what they say. The UK Government attaches no value to the work of people in public services—in health, education, social care, and in supporting the work of this Assembly—but we know that people rely on them day in, day out, and that they provide the bedrock of Welsh communities and support the lives of people within them. If today’s motion goes some way towards redressing the impression given here yesterday, it will have achieved something worth while. I am grateful for the chance to have played some small part in putting the record straight.