Last week, in an effort to cut costs, the Metropolitan Police endorsed plans to recruit future police from its pool of unpaid volunteers. This means that if you want to join the police force you will first have to work for 18 months for free.
This will save between £12,000 and £20,000 per officer. And if they can design their own uniform, bring their own truncheon and build their own hat from papier mache, that might save another £75 each too. How are you going to support yourself?Well, get a paper round or maybe your parents can help. Or you could always turn to crime?
Meanwhile, a hike in university tuition fees of up to £10,000 a year is being discussed, a prospect that the British Medical Association points out would mean medical students can expect end of course debt of more than £100,000. You won’t need four A grade A levels to get in any more, you will just need a dukedom or very rich parents.
‘Telling people who want to work in public services to sacrifice everything they have for the opportunity is corrupt, excluding and vaguely Victorian’
On the surface this sort of disinvestment in public services is about economics. The problem with the police, the fire service, doctors and nurses is it is so hard to see where the profit comes from, isn’t it? I mean, if you sell fast food you know how to make a profit. You buy cheap meat and cheap buns, you hire cheap labour, make them wear cheap hats, cover it all with cheap relish and sell it for more than it all costs. Soon you have enough money to hire a bloke dressed as a clown or an old bloke who doesn’t like chickens and you sell even more. And that is to be lauded.
There is no profit to be had from nursing or policing and goodness knows we have tried. Of course one health trust or police force can “sell” some special skill or service to another but it’s not really profit, it’s just shuffling funds around and trying to look like a business, which appears to be the only appreciable thing we have.
The fact that people who want to work in public service are being essentially told to show how much they want it by sacrificing everything they have for the opportunity is obviously corrupt, excluding and vaguely Victorian.
But, beyond that, shouldn’t we be very worried about the quality of our future public service recruits? If our prime criteria are no longer the qualities, appropriateness or skills of our candidates but rather their ability to work for free or cough up £100 grand for the course, aren’t we creating a second class public service?
What if nursing is next? If bursaries come up for review and funding is directed back wholly to students and their families? We already know that many students have to work to support themselves, making an already challenging course even more daunting. But from a governmental point of view, where saving money is an excuse to downgrade public service, what is the worst thing that can happen? Fewer recruits? Fewer band 5 or 6 nurses?
Police, doctors, nurses, teachers: this assault is on all public services. It isn’t really about money, it is about value. And it is only just beginning.