This article was written for the News & Star.
Before any election – national or local – there is always a huge amount of attention on public sector investment and the amount of taxpayer money spent on the provision of public services.
This is understandable. One of the main roles of government is to spend money providing these important services – whilst always ensuring value to the taxpayer. It is a balancing act that all governments have to contend with, and much party-political difference really just boils down to how this balance is managed.
In contrast, however, I am always surprised at how little the private sector is discussed as an issue in politics. Around 82% of people in the country are employed in the private sector, and ultimately, it is the private sector (not the government!) that pays for public sector services.
Politicians (of all colours) should be talking about how to support our private sector and how to create the right environment for our businesses to thrive – and after all, a strong public sector can only exist when there is a strong private sector.
Obviously, our national economy relies on the private sector – but the importance of the private sector goes beyond even economic considerations. The private sector is hugely innovative, provides many of the services and products that we use day to day, and remains vital to the success of our country. It really should be more of a political issue than it often is.
The private sector itself has a vital role in providing services. Those working in these industries can often be overlooked and can be unsung heroes. During the pandemic, for example, health workers and other emergency workers were rightly praised for the hard work they undertook – but we sometimes forget that there were millions also working within the private sector to ensure basic needs were met. Take the food sector, for example. In Carlisle (given the number of food and drink factories in the city) we know better than most how these industries kept on running throughout the pandemic. Delivery drivers taking raw products to the factory, the factory workers themselves, supermarket delivery drivers, and supermarket workers all ensured that the country was fed right through the pandemic.
And I don’t think we should overlook the importance that a strong private sector has in a democratic society. The private sector can be used to hold a government to account. The obvious way is through free and independent press services, but an innovative and functional private sector can provide other platforms to ensure government honesty, transparency, and efficiency.
When the next General Election is called, there will of course be a lot of discussion on public service provision. And that is only right. But I do hope that the main parties also have a robust debate about supporting, fostering, and growing our incredibly important private sector.