Don't believe everything they tell you
The skirmishing is nearly over and Cam's government is confronting the reality of public sector job cuts. Yesterday Theresa May stepped up to the plate, facing down the boys in blue with their hysterical claims of imminent social breakdown, and leaving them in no doubt that the cuts are going to happen. Their job is to deal with it. To find ways of working more much more efficiently with fewer staff.
It's going to be a bloody couple of years right across the public sector, and we're going to hear many more scare stories of breakdown and giant snakes roaming the streets of our great cities.
So let's just remind ourselves of a few key facts about public sector employment. In particular, let's remind ourselves of how much it grew over the last 13 years (see latest ONS stats here):
As we can see, from 1997 to 2010, the public sector payroll grew by 0.9m, or 17%. Now, 0.2m of that comprised the staff of our newly nationalised banks, and arguably we should omit them (on the grounds that it is a "temporary" nationalisation). But even when we do that, the growth in public sector employment still comes to around 13%.
So where has this growth been?
Well, over half of it (excluding the banks) has been in the NHS. Since 1997, the NHS has increased its staff numbers by an astonishing 35% - from 1.2m up to 1.6m.
A further 300,000 have joined the education payroll. Education staff have increased from 1.1m up to 1.4m, a rise of 27%.
The police - the guys screaming at Theresa? Their payroll increased by a cool 28%, from 230,000 up to nearly 300,000.
In fact, the only identified areas where there was a decline over the period were construction - which was largely accounted for by outsourcing (including staff transfers) - and, yes you guessed it, HM Forces. So the bit of the public services which by common consent has shouldered the biggest burden over the last 13 years is one of the few bits that has been cut.
The key point here is that most areas of the public sector got substantial employment increases under Labour. Fat has almost certainly increased. And for several key areas, including the police, even a 25% cut would still leave payrolls about the same as they were in 1997. And IIRC, there weren't too many giant snakes roaming around back then.
So where should the cuts fall?
The following chart shows current staff numbers across the main public sector "industries":
Just take a moment to study that chart.
Now ask yourself where would a rational cutter start?
Yes, that's right - with the areas which employ the most people. And right up at the top is that fourth biggest employer in the world - the NHS. The bit that had the biggest staff increase under Labour, and where great wobbling layers of fat now block every corridor.
Which brings us back to an issue we've blogged many times - whatever may have been said in the past, the NHS really can't be exempted from the cuts. It accounts for over a quarter of the public payroll, and however it's dressed up, it's going to have to make a contribution.