Why the Taxpayers' Alliance is wrong to oppose public sector experiments

Mark Thompson has recently highlighted how frequently the Taxpayers’ Alliance is quoted in the media. Mark gives some reasons for this, but it’s a question highlighted again by a BBC report:

Tim Newark, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, accused the council of “experimenting” with public money.

This is a rather strange comment because  what’s the alternative to “experimenting” with public money? It’s to only do things that you are nearly certain will work. Anything else, well that is an experiment.

Yet we’re surrounded by challenges that the public sector has faced for years: how to provide good quality health care without costs spiralling upwards, how to raise literacy levels amongst the the most deprived communities, how to cut repeated offending amongst criminals and so on.

In each case, if there was a sure, solid answer we’d have cracked the problem years ago. Far from experimenting being a bad thing, it’s vital. The alternatives are either to think that doing what we’ve always done will somehow start working – or just to give up in despair and believe that nothing can be done better. It’s incredibly arrogant to think that either all our public spending patterns are perfect (and so no need to experiment with any changes) or to think that your plans for changing them are so 100% certain surefire winners that no experimentation is involved in them.

Back in the real world, trying out different approaches is a good move, not a bad move.

It’s also rather ironic for the Taxpayers’ Alliance to be against “experimenting” with public money given that their overall approach to public spending would, if implemented, be a massive break with the past. In other words, it too would be an experiment. Somehow I doubt they really meant to say that it would be wrong to put into practice their own policies…


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