Letter: Productivity divide at the heart of Britain's woes

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Independent in its coverage was almost unique among the numerous press reports on the launch of the Civil Service White Paper, in realising the significance of the astonishing, albeit low-key, climbdown on one of the cornerstones of government policy ('Market testing initiative is given a quiet burial', 13 July).

Despite the enormous resources poured into the market testing programme, and the barrage of ministerial press releases claiming savings running into hundreds of millions of pounds, the process has been a disastrous failure. After two years, ministers were apparently shocked to find what we always knew to be true, that the efficiency gains made by the Civil Service since 1979 have put it into good enough organisational shape to win most of the bids where in-house teams of civil servants have been allowed to compete for contracts. That was most definitely not the purpose of market testing, which was always ideological, rather than a value-for-money attempt at improving services.

The Government now intends moving the goalposts once again by placing new emphasis on directly privatising state functions. If these services have been shown, through market testing, to be so efficient that it would actually be more expensive to carry them out in the private sector, it is an absolute travesty to opt for full-blown privatisation.

This Government ought to stop its dogma-driven experiments with our public services. Not since the Roman emperor Caligula made his horse a king has there been anything quite so stupid as John Major attempting to put contractors in charge of the Civil Service.

Yours sincerely,

BARRY A. REAMSBOTTOM

Secretary, Civil and Public

Services Association

London, SW11

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