The current debate between the Parties on how to tackle the deficit has an air of unreality and, indeed deception. Of course in a massive state bureaucracy there is always scope for savings. But both Parties are avoiding the issue of where they will make actual cuts.
And this is a real danger for our sector. We have warned about the danger of tackling the deficit through salami slice cuts to programmes and yet it now seems that is where we are heading. That is our danger. Because bureaucracies first law of preservation is to cut others first. Save your own jobs as priority. So work with the third sector, grants programmes or support for non urgent interventions or promotion and advocacy get ditched. This has always been the story of previous public spending cuts rounds.
Yet what is now needed is a more radical approach which looks at how services are delivered and how others in the third or private sectors could do it more cost effectively. That is the essence of the "Big Offer" the sector makes to a new Government.
It is illustrated well by the recent report of The King's Fund which shows real improvements to the health service in the last decade but marked failures in tackling the growing problems of obesity and alcohol abuse. And these are areas where the third sector, if empowered and properly resourced, could excel and make a difference. Whilst the NHS is dominated by acute care and politicians are afraid to divert resources and hand over control to third sector agencies we will make no progress.
This Election should be a debate about fundamental reform to the way we provide public services, but so far no Party has been prepared to say that one of the answers to cutting the deficit is to cut the public service. The state has so often proved poor at delivering high quality, cost effective service. It's time they gave the third sector a chance.
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