Maurice McTigue is a New Zealander, and was a member of that country's government as they tackled their own problems of bloated government. He has recently been talking about the experience, and his speech is well worth reading in full (HTP Peter Q). It is hugely encouraging for those of us who want the same here.
First, he explains how they managed to cut public sector employment with none of the dire consequences predicted by the Big Government doomsters:
"When we started this process with the Department of Transportation, it had 5,600 employees. When we finished, it had 53. When we started with the Forest Service, it had 17,000 employees. When we finished, it had 17. When we applied it to the Ministry of Works, it had 28,000 employees. I used to be Minister of Works, and ended up being the only employee. In the latter case, most of what the department did was construction and engineering, and there are plenty of people who can do that without government involvement. And if you say to me, “But you killed all those jobs!”—well, that’s just not true. The government stopped employing people in those jobs, but the need for the jobs didn’t disappear. I visited some of the forestry workers some months after they’d lost their government jobs, and they were quite happy. They told me that they were now earning about three times what they used to earn—on top of which, they were surprised to learn that they could do about 60 percent more than they used to! The same lesson applies to the other jobs I mentioned."
McTigue goes on to talk about how they reformed the schools system. And given the epic struggle Mr Gove is currently having to push through his Free Schools reforms, it's worth quoting in full:
"We eliminated all of the Boards of Education in the country. Every single school came under the control of a board of trustees elected by the parents of the children at that school, and by nobody else. We gave schools a block of money based on the number of students that went to them, with no strings attached. At the same time, we told the parents that they had an absolute right to choose where their children would go to school. It is absolutely obnoxious to me that anybody would tell parents that they must send their children to a bad school. We converted 4,500 schools to this new system all on the same day.
But we went even further: We made it possible for privately owned schools to be funded in exactly the same way as publicly owned schools, giving parents the ability to spend their education dollars wherever they chose. Again, everybody predicted that there would be a major exodus of students from the public to the private schools, because the private schools showed an academic advantage of 14 to 15 percent. It didn’t happen, however, because the differential between schools disappeared in about 18-24 months. Why? Because all of a sudden teachers realized that if they lost their students, they would lose their funding; and if they lost their funding, they would lose their jobs. Eighty-five percent of our students went to public schools at the beginning of this process. That fell to only about 84 percent over the first year or so of our reforms. But three years later, 87 percent of the students were going to public schools. More importantly, we moved from being about 14 or 15 percent below our international peers to being about 14 or 15 percent above our international peers in terms of educational attainment."
Now that is radical. Not only did they go for a Big Bang reform, making all schools independent pretty well overnight, they also allowed parents to take their school vouchers and buy schooling in the private sector. Which is way beyond what Gove is contemplating.
And the result? New Zealand schools are now firmly established as top ten performers in the international attainment league tables, comfortably beating our schools right across the board.
As the supporters of Big Government here continue their Luddite war against public sector reform, we should take heart from New Zealand. By focusing on outputs rather than inputs, and by being bold, they achieved a huge improvement in efficiency without laying waste to anything.
Yes, it can be done.