Alden talks serious CS reform
CNS): The opposition leader has revealed a taste of what might be to come if he is to lead a future government. In the legislative Assembly Wednesday evening Alden McLaughlin spent a considerable part of his reply to the premier’s budget address on what he said were the fundamental underlying issues relating to the size of government, which he said had to be a priority for any new administration. Although he acknowledged that the size of government had been an issue for several administrations, he still criticised the UDP for neglecting to at least start addressing the problem during the last three and a half years.
McLaughlin said that he was not advocating immediate major cuts in numbers and salaries or removing existing benefits. He said the government had to develop a medium term plan to deal with this issue, otherwise it would continue to haunt each administration and could eventually lead to something far worse than the premier’s community enhancement fee.
He spoke of the need to engage the civil service and gain their support for public sector reform, which already had the backing of the private sector. He said he was pleased to see in the memo circulated by the deputy governor that there was some focus on the issue but he said he had seen little government buy-in of political will from the current administration to lead policy changes that would help cut the size of the ever-growing public sector.
For four budget cycles, he said, the present government had adopted “band aid approaches” and refused to take any action towards the fundamental problem.
“There has been lots of talk about changes in the civil service but very little action,” McLaughlin said.
He pointed to the memo the premier had circulated earlier in the year at the start of the budget process asking the civil service to keep total core government spending down to $497 million, which turned out to be totally unrealistic since civil servants cannot cut budgets very far without policy changes from the elected ministers.
“Expenditures are driven by government policy,” he noted.
He said government had to identify the optimum size of the civil service and pointed out that the problem had grown because there had never been a master plan devised to address the unchecked growth. McLaughlin said the PPM had envisioned the need for a plan to deal with what is a huge and growing problem.
“This administration has demonstrated no will, no desire, no initiative, no ability to put together any such plan,” said the opposition leader. “If these issues are not addressed and we continue down the road of the band aid approach that this government has adopted to fixing government’s fiscal problems, we are going to finally reach the point, in very short order, where radical decisions, even more radical than the payroll tax, are going to be employed.”
He said it was clear with an election only ten months away the government was simply not interested in any long term issues but it was critical that those in charge of the country think about the medium and long term.
“It is plain to us that the unsustainable cost of government and the unfunded pension and health liabilities are a huge problem for the country,” he said, as he pointed out that if public sector workers wanted to see their pensions and have access to health care in the future it was a problem for them too and in their interests to play a part in the reform.
In addition, he said, they have an interest, like everyone else, in ensuring that the local economy doesn’t collapse. As a result, McLaughlin said, he and his party were confident that if the service was led by the right kind of elected government the reform could happen without pushing them into poverty.
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