Who will rebuild Christchurch? Of course the physical work will be done by skilled tradespeople, thousands of them, over many years. My question is about who will plan, oversee and administer the process.
Even if you believe (I don’t) that the invisible hand of the market is going to swoop down and accomplish miracles, there is going to be a huge amount of work for Government to do, both at a local and a national level. Who is going to do this work? Public servants. Lots of them. The kind of “back room bureaucrats” that the Nats love to hate.
Like it or not, governments are nothing but a pack of yammering voices without the public service to give meaning and effect to their policies. As the same Tory war on the public sector is conducted in Britain, this point has been very well made in a recent article in The Guardian:
The whole premise of this government, of its NHS policy, of the “big society”, of the “free schools” initiative is that the public sector sucks. The private sector, according to the Tories, beats it for efficiency every time, can be just as compassionate and, at the top, “rewards enterprise”. Meanwhile the top of the public sector merely “pays people more than the prime minister”.
… In difficult times, deft powermongers deliver up whipping boys for the disgruntled. By picking on civil servants, Cameron has made an excellent choice: they work for him, so it’s hard for them to complain; they enforce government policies so if policies fail, he can blame the enforcement; yet if they succeed, he can keep the credit.
As a policy, however, it’s meaningless. He can’t act separately from bureaucrats, he has to act through them. Everything he does – every transparency initiative, every “big society” clarification document, every restructuring of the NHS or the welfare system, creates work for bureaucrats. He also said in the speech: “There’s only one strategy for growth we can have now and that is rolling up our sleeves and doing everything possible to make it easier for businesses to grow”, without acknowledging that it’s the bureaucrats’ sleeves he’s talking about, not his own or those of his party faithful.
Cameron also doesn’t realise, or is wilfully ignoring, how important our large and basically effective bureaucracy is to our place in the front rank of free nations. Without the civil service, acts of Parliament are only words and elections just millions of little slips of paper, like they are in Afghanistan. Civil servants don’t merely oil the wheels, they’re the axles that join them.
Exactly the same arguments apply here. Christchurch is not going to get rebuilt without a significant increase the public service. In short, the needs of rebuilding Christchurch are on a collision course with the ideology of the current government. The Nats are going to need to learn some new ways of thinking.