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Brook Whelan: We need an effective state - not a big one, not a small one

Picture 1 Brook Whelan is a Councillor in Bath and North East Somerset.

There has been much political debate over recent decades over the size of the state and about the need to make government smaller and more responsive to local people.

During this time, the need for competent and effective government has been largely overlooked by both supporters and opponents of big government.

When the British people see the government is unable to buy in all the military capabilities it wants, they will see the state as being weak. At a local level, when people have complained about a development that has not been given planning approval, and they are told that there are not enough planning enforcement officers around for them to go and investigate, again they will view the state as being weak.

This failure to bring about a strong and effective state is a major factor in the increasing amount of apathy felt by voters today. When voters see such failure on the part of government, little wonder why they are reluctant to go and vote on election day.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, is already making excellent progress in this direction with his enthusiasm and commitment to reducing the costs of government administration. One excellent policy that he is putting in place is that any IT project over a certain cost has to be signed off by him before it can continue.

The recent spending cuts announced by the Coalition Government are of course the immediate political and economic priority for the short to medium term. They are the only way in which to get the country out of this economic mess, and I fully support their efforts in doing this. We really are clearing up Labour's mess.

Once we get our economy back on its feet however, we really need to put much more effort in to delivering strong and effective government for the long term. It does not matter if it is big or small government; as long as it is effective and is making a difference, then that is all that matters.

We need to get people to start looking up to the Government, and to reverse this feeling of apathy and sceptism felt by people. This means the Government must put more focus on income generation and ensure that there are sufficient financial resources behind the delivery of public services.

I would compare this to what the banks are going through at the moment where they are increasing their bank capital reserves. The Chancellor of the day should be required to set aside a certain amount of national income each year so that future governments are not announcing new policies or initiatives, and cobbling the money together afterwards.

The state should have the ability to plough in as many resources as it chooses into the policy area in question. A strong and effective state will have sufficiently large financial reserves behind it so that affordability is never an issue.

This is not the same as throwing money at public services. It is about the state having that ability to do so whether it chooses to or not. The current checks and parliamentary scrutiny would still be there so the Government would still have to seek value for money when spending taxpayers' money.

The Government must never be in the position of not being able to afford what it wants. If the Government is looking to buy new military equipment, or set up new employment schemes or recruit more nurses, provided that the relevant checks and parliamentary scrutiny have been done, then it should be able to dip into this fund and just get on with it.

Just to be clear, this new approach to government can only be put in place once the economy has recovered and the deficit has been eliminated.

This is not about being big government or small government, it is about being effective government, which is what most of us have gone into poltics for.


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