In a crisis there are two responses. You can put your head in the sand and let the crisis take its course or you can roll up your sleeves and do as much as possible to overcome it. In the first you are in the hands of fate, in the second you determine your own destiny.
We are in the middle of a serious economic crisis: we have not seen the likes of it in a generation. The UK is running a budget deficit of 13 per cent of GDP or to put it more starkly, the public sector is spending 35 per cent more than it receives. This is higher than any other G20 country, higher than Greece or Iceland. In addition, the budget estimate for debt in 2010 is now over £1 trillion, add this to the UK’s pension deficit and contingent debts such as PFI and total UK Government liabilities are approaching 200 per cent of GDP. This compares to the levels of debt reached in the UK in 1843, 1923, 1933 or 1946. It is a serious crisis that will hit businesses, the public sector, the third sector, our communities and jobs.
However, this current crisis is no bigger than those that previous
generations have managed to overcome. Rather than waiting for it to blow over and accept that we are likely to emerge a relatively poorer country, we should rise to the challenge and see it as an opportunity to address some of the long term flaws in our current society and public services.
This will require us to accept changes to how we run our organisations and relate to our communities. It will require clear direction and strong leadership. We will have to accept that, at least for a time, there will be less money, but we should not see that as necessarily meaning less of the things we care about. We need to be able to do more for less money and that can only be achieved by new structural reform.
Never has the time been better for a Think Tank. We need new ideas for Scotland, well researched and promoted so that the leaders across the community have the evidence for proper debate and to give them confidence to embrace their challenges and accept reform. Our aim must be to get back to a balanced budget and reduce the total level of public liabilities to below 100 per cent within a decade.
However, we must do this in a way that still protects the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, ensures opportunity and choice and maintains, if not improves, our public services and infrastructure. I do not believe that this is an impossible task. But it is one that requires new thinking, clearer vision, communication and bravery – all the hallmarks of good leadership.
To achieve it, we must address the questions that many politicians prefer to avoid such as; how do we ensure that everyone in our society is given greater opportunity to succeed? How do we give more responsibility back to our communities from the very centralised government we experience at present? How do we create more choice, competition and efficiency within our public sector services such as health and education? And how do we reduce the dependence on quangos which represent 43 per cent of public sector spending in Scotland?
I cannot say that Reform Scotland has the answers to all these questions. However, our objective is to try to look at all the areas of the public sector to provide evidence-based recommendations on how we can bring people together to find policies that will work for Scotland.
We have a lot to do and we are incredibly grateful for all those that give us their time, intellectual and moral support and generous donations.
We hope and believe that the work we have done and are planning to do, as described in our report, is making a difference in Scotland.
Chairman, Reform Scotland