The Evening Standard 15 September 2010
DAVID Cameron and George Osborne should hold their nerve over the threatened wave of strikes — the sabrerattling from public sector unions shows they are on the right track.
Unions are naturally worried that their members will lose jobs or pay. But most public sector costs are in the workforce, and these must fall to make the public sector affordable again. In any case the coalition will only win political support if as well as making cuts its programme succeeds in changing the way public services work so they deliver as much (or more) while costing less.
Some of the loudest wails have come from the police but Britain has the most expensive law and order in the developed world as a share of GDP; no exception should be made here.
Speaking last week in London, Ruth Richardson, New Zealand’s reforming finance minister, described “the scourge of special interests who will argue for preserving the privilege of the few at the expense of the many”. Ministers have made a rod for their own backs by ring-fencing certain areas of spending — not just the NHS but child benefit, international aid and so on. How much easier and more truthful it would have been to argue savings must be made in every budget. Andrew Haldenby, director, Reform. I WATCHED the firebrands at the TUC calling for co-ordinated action against the cuts. What was telling was that the two principal union leaders urging this, Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka, have in recent times called strikes in which less than 50 per cent of their membership took part in the ballot, but officials insisted there was a legal mandate to strike because half of those who did vote backed strike action.
Surely, in the name of democracy this government should amend the law to stipulate that only where 50 per cent + 1 of a union’s entire membership votes in favour of industrial action is it legal.
This would stop an active minority in unions with an unrepresentative agenda from bullying the majority. Second, any vote that did approve a strike would carry real weight.
With strikes harder to achieve it might even make some union leaders more reasonable in their demands. Pete Dobson MATTHEW d’Ancona claims David Cameron’s cause of radical deficit reduction is just. This illusion will be shattered when bankers’ bonuses go through the roof while thousands of families and individuals have their roofs snatched from over their heads by courts imposing evictions because they cannot pay rent arrears caused by proposed housing benefit caps.
Very high rents came about through the deregulation of lending and of rent controls, which inevitably increased the payment of housing benefit in an under-supplied housing market. The 1979 government started this process and the 1997 government let it rip. In addressing these errors we should not be making the poorest households poorer but spreading the burden to those more able to carry the load.
Rev P Nicolson, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.