Is it not time for the public sector to tell its critics: get your tanks off our lawn? Ill-informed comments about "gold-plated" salaries and pensions risk creating a bunker mentality among demoralised public servants when more will be expected of them than ever before. Realistic estimates suggest that Scottish local authorities will have to shed between 10,000 and 15,000 staff out of their 275,000 workforce over the next three or four years. Managing that process will test the system to its limits, even with voluntary redundancies and fancy schemes such as "vacancy management".
Before any of that happens, we need to set the record straight. There is nothing "gold-plated" about local government, apart from a few fat cats at the top whose comfort skews public perception. The average local government pensioner gets pound;4,000 a year, and even most teachers on the final salary scheme can expect not much more than pound;10,000. Salaries for the majority of council office staff have, in effect, been frozen (if not regressed) for years when inflation is taken into account. And the much- trumpeted mantra that only "frontline" staff and services should be protected from cuts ignores the point that they need many of their "backroom" colleagues to be able to do their jobs.
It is time, too, to challenge the false dichotomy between the public and private sectors, as though the former is the only drain on the taxpayer (banks spring to mind). The fact remains that many communities in Scotland are kept going by what we should call public "investment" and, indeed, many private employers would not survive without the spending power of local authorities on goods and services. There is a perfectly sensible debate to be had about the appropriate size of the public sector, but let it take place against an informed and unprejudiced background.
Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).