By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, March 24, 2017
Despite ongoing improvements in all kinds of technology, massive investments in Information systems and pay increases well above inflation, we continue to see falling productivity in government operations. Nowhere is this more evident than here, where large increases in spending by the previous NDP government produced bottom of the barrel results – particularly in healthcare, education and social services.
Despite massive increases in spending, the public sector unions, academia, and left-wing commentators rattle on about the sanctity of high government spending – arguing that borrowed money is cheap so why not run billion dollar deficits indefinitely. They equate service with staffing levels – usually trying to obfuscate any and all performance measurements that would lead to the simple question: is ever-more money and more staff needed to improve service, or is there something else going on?
Recently the Frontier Centre determined that Manitoba’s provincial and municipal public sector staffing levels are 34% higher than the average in Canada. Just what does this mean for the vast majority of Manitobans, slugging it out in the private sector, often for lower pay and fewer benefits while paying high taxes for mediocre public services? FC’s report concluded that if Manitoba had the national average for government employment there would be 35,000 fewer public service workers. If this was the case, taxpayers could save about $2 billion a year, more than enough to wipe out a $1 billion deficit and allowing for substantial tax relief.
The release of the think-tank’s sober report was met with cries of foul play and “you don’t understand” by labour and left-wing academia, groups some main stream media sought for such negative comments.
In the private sector, virtually every company attempts to control costs and improve the quality of their product or service. Consider the transformation of MTS. It went from a simple provider of land-line services to a company also delivering smart phones, email, internet and TV. During this period of increasing services, its staffing levels fell from about 3700 to 2700 (excluding Allstream). While when MTS was under government ownership, you had to wait a week or so for the commencement of telephone service. Now, much more services are provided in minutes and at competitive costs. A privatized MTS had to up its game in the face of both fierce competition and rapid technological change.
Contrast that customer-driven dynamic with the morose monopolies of Manitoba’s continuing low- performing public sector.
The tip of the iceberg explaining this dysfunction: civil servants have too little authority to do their work, buried under mountains of paper work, paralyzed by layers of supervisors and management, and burdened by more sign-offs than ever before.
Sadly, there has been no incentive among the public sector unions or management to change this situation. Government managers are rewarded for having larger budgets and staffs, not for reducing costs and providing excellent services. Similarly, the public sector unions maximize union dues via giant ever-growing bargaining units, with complicated job classification systems that artificially drove up compensation.
Manitoba’s byzantine NDP public sector model screams for real reform. A carbon tax, relatively tiny staff reductions, more healthcare centralization and a late but delayed pay freeze are not the answer, Mr. Pallister.
Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).
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