Public servants need to understand pain

IF you are one of life's worriers, then this has been a pretty good week to be feeling depressed after all the gloom and doom that has come out in various reports.

IF you are one of life's worriers, then this has been a pretty good week to be feeling depressed after all the gloom and doom that has come out in various reports.

For those of us working in the private sector the news seems to be bleak across the board - including the media sector. You may have heard of cutbacks announced this week at Archant, the publisher of The Evening Star.

But as the current recession takes hold, it does seem as if there is a divide opening up between the private and public sector.

While the number of jobs in the private sector seems set to contract throughout 2009 with predictions that jobless figures could go up to more than three million, public sector employees seem more secure.

That isn't to say they are all safe - there are fears that local authorities could lay off staff in an attempt to keep council tax rises low - but many government departments are trying to preserve jobs and even create new posts.

This is a double-edged sword, of course. On the one hand it is good to create jobs to provide work for some of those who are made redundant.

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If the private sector is shedding jobs by the hundreds of thousands, it doesn't help those looking for work if they are joined by equal numbers of public sector employees.

On the other hand, the money that is needed to pay for all these public servants has to come from somewhere and if the private sector is not earning as much to pay in tax, that has to come from increased borrowing - and a burden on us taxpayers for years to come.

It's a tough balancing act for the government and the economy as a whole - and no one seems to know now whether the balance is currently right or not.

One thing that public servants need to realise at present is that they are in a comparatively fortunate position in relation to those in the private sector who are living in fear that their jobs could be lost.

There has been some criticism of MPs who continue to behave as if they've got a job for life (providing they don't represent a marginal constituency) and there is a need for those lucky enough to be insulated against the recession to realise how lucky they are.

Lady Vadera did these public servants no good at all this week by talking about “green shoots of recovery” when the outlook for the country is looking very gloomy.

We need to hear that public servants understand the pain people are fearing - not bland statements that things can only get better from ministers apparently divorced from reality.

I was speaking to one public servant the other day who had come home from a foreign holiday over the new year while the rest of us were shivering here.

I managed to resist the temptation to remind him that many of us are contemplating a “staycation” at home this year - but there is a real sense that even those who do keep their jobs will be nervous about spending large amounts of money on non-essential items like holidays at the present time.

I'm sure it won't just be teachers, police officers, firefighters, and government administrators who jet off to Spain or Greece this year - but if you are one of the lucky secure ones, just spare a thought for those who do feel anxious about the future . . . even if ultimately things don't turn out as bad as some people fear!

THEY say it's an ill wind - and if there is a tiny chink of good news about the recession, it must be the fall in the number of flights from British airports, including Stansted.

For that reason I can't really understand the government's decision to allow a third runway to be built at Heathrow - everyone agrees that aviation is set to become a major factor in creating greenhouse gases yet ministers who claim to be concerned about the future of the planet allow such an expansion which will create more flights.

I remain convinced that cheap flights throwing out millions of tonnes of noxious carbon dioxide high into the atmosphere is totally unacceptable.

If you want to visit America, Africa, Asia, or Australasia then clearly that flight is necessary - but I still feel it is environmental vandalism to create a demand to visit short-haul destinations just to boost business.

Where is this sudden great demand to fly from Stansted to Bergerac or Tampere? Will the world come to an end if these routes no longer operate?

The expansion of Heathrow is slightly different - it does at least serve international flights that have a purpose. It is the gateway to Britain for the world.

But if the government is determined to allow the expansion it has to ensure infrastructure projects are carried out at the same time - new rail lines linking the airport not only to London but to other parts of the country.

That way Heathrow can be confirmed as the way in to southern Britain . . . and the pressure should be taken off other airports like Stansted.

WHEN I heard that the promoters of the Mint Quarter were admitting that the development might not be built until 2015, I found the news disappointing, although not at all surprising.

As the person who originally wrote about the Cloisters coming to the town back in 1992, I have always felt slightly proprietorial about the development that is now officially called the Mint Quarter.

I know it's now proposed for 2015, and surely the economy will be on the up again by then. But in all honesty I have little faith that it will ever be built.

Until I hear that cast-iron tenants have been signed up and see the cranes moving in on the site I simply won't believe that the Mint Quarter will ever happen.

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