What does the 2015 Conservative manifesto mean for the civil service?
In the second of CSW's in-depth assessments of the party manifestos, Mark Rowe picks apart the Tory document to find out what the party has in store for the civil service
Should the Conservatives retain power - either as the majority party or once more in coalition - the civil service will find itself implementing an extremely long 'to-do' list of political policies, as well as continuing to adjust to the Tory philosophy of how it must operate.
Key legislation for grand schemes in their infancy needs to be seen through, such as the Scotland Act to devolve more powers to Holyrood, and the amalgamation of health and social care. Civil servants will be required to unpick and process major new initiatives, including the West Lothian question, so-called English votes for English laws, and the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Plans for elected metropolitan mayors are also in the manifesto, as is investment in the North of England.
At the same time, the Conservative manifesto makes it clear that the party intends to press ahead with and reinforce its traditional philosophy of decentralising power and paring back the civil service.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the civil service awaits on the horizon: should David Cameron's pledge for an in-out EU referendum come to pass then civil servants in every department will be heavily involved in unpicking the implications of a vote to leave the EU.
Meanwhile, the Conservative manifesto leaves no doubt that the cultural changes the civil service has been through over the past five years will continue. The manifesto makes clear that the party considers its mission "to cut down on government waste" to be far from complete. The Conservatives, if re-elected, plan a further £10 billion annual savings by 2017-18 and £15- 20 billion in 2019-20. They would reduce government spending by 1% each year in real terms for the first two full financial years of the next parliament, the same rate as over the last five years, equivalent to saving £1 a year in every £100 that government spends.
The manifesto says: "in the next five years, we will ensure this efficiency revolution continues." To avoid any ambiguity, the party adds that it is "determined to measure success not by how much money is spent, but how much it improves people’s lives". Whitehall, it says, is now leaner and smaller than at any time since the Second World War. Over the past five years, the government says it has halved the running costs of the Department for Education, abolished or merged more than 300 quangos, moved paperwork online, and "shone a bright light on government spending" – requiring all central government spending over £25,000 to be published online.
At the same time, the manifesto reiterates the respect that it says ministers hold for the civil service, declaring that the Conservatives "value our outstanding public servants" and that "Britain's impartial, professional and highly capable Civil Service is admired around the world and one of our nation's strengths."
Plans for reform of the political system will also await the in-trays of the relevant civil servants: the Conservatives manifesto says the party intends to make votes of more equal value through long overdue boundary reforms, reducing the number of MPs to 600 and ensuring the Electoral Commission does more to tackle voting fraud.
Other organisational management tasks focus on manifesto plans to legislate to ensure trade unions use a transparent opt-in process for subscriptions to political parties, and seek agreement on a comprehensive package of party funding reform. The manifesto also says the government's support of public service mutuals – organisations that are owned by their staff and deliver public services - will continue, and the party would guarantee a ‘right to mutualise’ within the public sector.
The party says it would end taxpayer-funded six-figure payoffs for the best paid public sector workers, continue to sell unneeded government property and co-locate services wherever possible, and continue to roll out cross-government technology platforms - such as GOV.UK - to cut costs and improve productivity.
In one area at least, civil servants' workload may prove lighter than anticipated: plans for an elected element to the House of Lords have been placed in a file marked 'later' and are described as "not a priority in the next Parliament."
Key policy pledges:
- Commit to increasing NHS spending in England in real terms by a minimum of £8 billion
- Provide 7-day, 8am to 8pm, access to GPs, universally available by 2020
- Implement a national diabetes prevention programme
- Increasing funding for mental health care
Education and training
- Ensure a good primary school place available for every child
- Introduce higher standards for literacy and numeracy in primary schools. Introduce re-sits for those who fail to reach these
- Invest at least £7 billion to provide good school places
- Open at least 500 new free schools. Turn every failing and 'coasting' secondary school into an academy
- Train an extra 17,500 maths and physics teachers
- Lift the cap on university places
- Create 3m new apprenticeships
- Replace the Jobseeker’s Allowance for young people with a six-month Youth Allowance
- Invest £38 billion in the railway network
- Proceed with Crossrail 2, connecting Surrey and Hertfordshire
- Invest £15 billion in roads
- Double the number of bicycle journeys and invest £200 million to make cycling safer
Tax and benefits
- Raise the 40p income tax threshold to £50,000
- Raise inheritance tax threshold to £1 million
- Take everyone earning less than £12,500 out of income tax
- Legislate for a tax-free minimum wage
- Lower total household benefits to £23,000
- Expand Universal Credit
- Provide 30 hours free childcare to parents of three and four year-olds
- In-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017
- Insist that EU migrants must live and work in the UK for four years claiming tax credits and child benefit
- Introduce a four-year residency requirement before EU migrants become eligible for a council house
- Introduce income thresholds and English language tests for non-EU spouses to join EU citizens
- Maintain the cap of skilled economic migration from outside the EU at 20,700.
- Extend the right to buy to housing association tenants
- Build 200,000 starter homes at 20 per cent below the market price
- Increase the basic state pension by at least 2.5 per cent
- Legislate to provide further freedom for pension savings and for passing them on tax-free
- Cap liabilities for residential care fees
- Build a "Northern Powerhouse"
- Electrify the main rail routes, provide new trains for the North and upgrade regional motorway and A roads
- Develop scientific and technical institutes in the North
- Develop High Speed 3 to join up the North.
- Provide rural Britain with near universal superfast broadband and secure 3,000 rural Post Offices.
- Set up a Great British Food Unit to promote British food abroad
- Provide a free vote on the Hunting Act
- Scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights
International aid and trade
- Continue to spend 0.7 per cent of national income as aid
- Conclude trade deals with the US, India and Japan
- Strengthen economic links with China, doubling support for British firms selling goods there and championing an EU-China trade deal
- Maintain the size of the regular armed services and not reduce the army to below 82,000
- Commitment to expand reservists to 35,000
- Retain Trident
- Invest at least £160 billion in new military equipment
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