NI’s public sector is too big, and pay gap is too large

That Northern Ireland’s public sector is too big is taken as read by most people. Lots of things which are “taken as read” are not actually true. However, this one is.

I have a friend who did not go into the public sector. Instead, he was one of four people who set up a haulage firm which now employs almost 200 people – 50 people each – in addition to other employed indirectly because of its existence.

Had he gone into the public sector, it is possible that he would have earned well; conceivably, in cash terms, maybe even better than he has. Yet he would not have added those jobs. He would have been fine, but tens more would have had to find employment elsewhere – and, quite possibly, they would have struggled.

This letter denying the public sector is too large completely misses the point. It claims that the public sector is large because, basically, we are poorer; actually, we are poorer because too few of us create wealth, which can only be done in the private sector. It also claims that public sector pay cannot be compared to private sector pay because of the “make-up” of each sector. Well, precisely – if the public sector wasn’t the obvious place to go for a decent living here, more people would try their luck in the private sector. That is how a market economy works!

There is not a single jurisdiction in the world which relies as much on the public sector as Northern Ireland, and there is a reason for that. You cannot go on simply adding jobs out of thin air. Eventually you have to create wealth – and you do that through private-sector companies innovating and exporting, not through bureaucrats telling you they can’t send you the logo you need to put on your event form because that’s someone else’s job and they’re off today.

Even more important than this, of course, is the daft equation between “public sector jobs” on one hand and “public services” on the other. The example in the previous paragraph is actually from real life. There would be literally no disadvantage to public services if the person sending it simply were not employed. There would be no disadvantage either if all the NI Executive Departments’ finance functions were merged into one unit; no disadvantage if each Department had one press officer (instead of eleven or so earning more on average than the average journalist); no disadvantage if OFMDFM had 300 fewer staff as it never does achieve anything anyway; as well as no disadvantage of course if we had a total of ten Special Advisers (not 18), nine Permanent Secretaries (not 14), and 90 MLAs (not 108). Oh, and, by the way, we could probably manage with around half the 117 “quangos” we currently have for a population of under 2 million; not to mention one Teacher Training College merged into a University training 400 students per year rather than two independent training 580 each at a premium…

During the “Troubles”, it literally became the purpose of the public sector in Northern Ireland to provide employment, not just deliver public services. As we approach two decades of “peace”, however, we no longer get that by-ball. Like most normal societies, it is now for the public sector to deliver public services efficiently within budget we are as rate- and taxpayers prepared to pay; and for the rest of us to create jobs and employment through entrepreneurship and investment.

Welcome the Real World, kids.

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3 thoughts on “NI’s public sector is too big, and pay gap is too large

  1. L.B. says:

    From an outsider-looking-in perspective, I’ve long thought there’s a culture of dependence here, to the point where ordinary, naturally enterprising people feel impotent.

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