Getting the old basics right

by Stephen Tall on May 31, 2006

An interesting article in today’s Financial Times from Derek Wood, Tony Blair’s former economic adviser, analysing Britain’s private and public sector productivity.

Addressing the question of what governments can do to improve productivity, he pinpoints the three key aims that should be Gordon Brown’s if and when he’s promoted to the Premiership:

Gordon Brown can take credit for setting up a robust framework for monetary policy and a sensible competition regime. Beyond that, the government should stop trying to micromanage the economy and concentrate on three things. The first is to put in place a modern transport infrastructure. Second, it must ensure that those in schools and higher education are properly educated – literate, numerate, articulate and with reasoning ability. Finally, it must raise productivity in the public services to get better value for money and keep the overall level of spending under control.

Labour’s record on the first is mixed: they were given a poor hand but have not played it too well either. More depressing has been the watering down of already-modest educational reforms that will not only restrict the opportunities for children but undermine assets vital for Britain’s economic future. Also dispiriting has been the attempt to ascribe the problems of the National Health Service to government reforms rather than their timidity.

Mr Brown has talked about “renewal” and “new challenges” as though the old ones had been resolved. There is no need for a new agenda until the old one is complete: pushing ahead with reform and raising productivity in the public sector is vital for the prosperity of Britain.

This is an agenda the Liberal Democrats cannot afford to ignore.

I read in today’s thegrauniad that Ming Campbell is due to make a keynote speech next week, setting out the domestic ambitions for his leadership of the Party. Transport, education and public service reform (and we should add the environment) will all, I hope, feature up top.