Without the financial sector being bullishly (if not foolishly) confident, the service (construction) and public sectors were always going to be unsustainable in their inflated form. What I'm saying about Britain in general was even more the case with Northern Ireland, with its even more disproportionately large public sector caused by lack of private sector investment due to years of businesses being blown up and potential young entrepreneurs leaving this place in their droves (I suppose it is also applicable to the Republic of Ireland to a certain extent, although their buy-in to the financial boom was against the background of never having a large industrial base to begin with).
Now, me giving anyone a potted history of the recent economic history of our country is a bit rich given that I can barely balance my own chequebook, but it serves as the background for the following comments, and my current sense of internal conflict.
I am inherently socialist in my outlook. I believe that society is judged by how well it looks after the poor and the marginalised, and that the best way for that to happen is not by a patchy charitable sector, but an efficient public sector, available to all, and in the case of health and education, free at the point of need. This should be funded by progressive taxation, where people pay in proportion to their wealth, and, in the case of education, might include an additional levy on those who have benefitted from the economic uplift that third level education can provide. That way rich people will then pay more but they will also still retain more. The rich will still be richer, just not disproportionately so.
However, that is not the world we live in. Our taxation system is the most Byzantine in the world, where, yes the poorest are removed from income tax altogether, but those just above the taxation threshold pay a disproportionate amount. This is exacerbated by the taxes that everyone pays via VAT, fuel duty etc. Whilst the economic conservatives may believe that this is fair in that everyone is then paying in proportion to what they consume (usually the same people who believed that the poll tax was fair because everyone paid the same), it disproportionately affects the poor, for whom the purchase of essentials includes a high level of indirect taxation. And don't get me started on the "well if the poor didn't drink, smoke and gamble so much" brigade...
We have a government (and a general population) who aren't really prepared to pay for the public sector. I recently came across this piece from America on what not to do if you hate taxes. The details may differ this side of the Atlantic, but the principle is the same, indeed there are probably many more than 102 things, given our more developed welfare state. But without wholesale taxation reform and a "can't pay/won't pay government and society in general, the public sector was bound to be squeezed in the current economic downturn. The public sector IS disproportionately large here (or rather the private, or to be even more specific, manufacturing sector is disproportionately small) and there are parts of it that are outrageously bureaucratic, over-staffed, unproductive and risk-averse. However, let us remember that those who work in the public sector did not create the economic mess we are in (just as they didn't create the economic boom that went before). As the many FB status updates put it "Remember when Teachers, Civil Servants, Policemen, Ambulance staff, Nurses, Midwives, Doctors and Fireman crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither."
ps I had no sooner posted this than my attention was drawn to a piece on Jeremy Clarkson's very humorous suggestion (!) that strikers be shot. That settles it... if clarkson is opposed to the strikers I'm definitely on their side... althought the fact that he focuses on their "gilt edged pensions" somewhat makes my point about the public relations disaster this strike has been.