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Civil services told to shrink in growth bid

Published on July 24, 2006

24 July 2006

AMSTERDAM – Dutch employers’ organisations VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland say the Netherlands has the potential to become the headliner of the European economy, but they warn that Dutch civil service will have to drastically reorganise to make it possible.

Government could save between 2 and 2.5 billion euros by scrapping 40,000 policy-oriented jobs, the employers say.

“That’s a reduction of ten per cent, since there are 400,000 civil servants,” said VNO-NCW chairman Bernard Wientjes. “This would kill a number of birds with one stone. Fewer rules, lower government costs. And the redundant civil servants would easily find places in the business world because of the greying of the economy and the tight labour market.”

Bureaucracy will have to be considerably reduced and the number of ministries and the number of civil servants significantly reduced, the organisations say. Education will also have to improve, they say in a manifesto, ‘The Netherlands must win’, about the forthcoming governing period between 2007 and 2011.

The employers say that the Dutch can be proud of the business instinct they have demonstrated for centuries and also that the Netherlands is the fifth-largest investor in the world, despite being a small country. The country’s position on the world market is four times larger than what would be expected from the size of population, they say.

But the employers warn that there is no budget for a focus on new policy. The main priorities now, they say, are a reduction of the tax burden and more economizing on government spending.

The relationship between the government on the one hand and citizens and entrepreneurs on the other is characterized by mistrust, the VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland say, with more rules and permits required to regulate it. But trust should be the basis of the relationship, they say in a strongly worded statement.

“At least half of every thousand permit systems could just be scrapped,” says Wientjes. “There are thirteen hospital supervisors, for instance. That’s an unbelievable number.”

Public sector union Abvakabo FNV responded angrily to the employers’ vision of the future. “Rules are thought up by politicians, civil servants just carry them out,” said a spokeswoman for Abvakabo. “Wientjes talks very condescendingly about them.”

She said that hundreds of millions of euros in cost cuts had been achieved by reducing the number of civil servants on the state payroll.

Referring to the upcoming national election in November, the employers said that a new government will also have to make do with fewer ministries. One ministry would be sufficient to cover the ground presently covered by the ministries of housing, spatial planning and the environment and of roads and water, they say, while the economy would be more efficiently regulated if the ministries of Economic Affairs, Social Affairs and part of the ministry of Finance were fused. The ministries of Home Affairs and Justice could also be brought together, they say.

Dutch education has been plagued by reforms and over-burdened by top-heavy management and by bureaucracy, the employees say. The problems cannot be effectively solved by throwing more money at them, they argue; the only option is cost reductions.

“We need a firm set of guidelines on overheads. Teaching staff have to be allowed to do their work, which is the transfer of knowledge and skills,” the statement added.

MKB-Nederland chairman Loek Hermans said that outstanding teachers should be rewarded with higher salaries. The present reward structure was far too inflexible.

“Anyone who wants to make a career in education stops teaching and becomes a deputy head teacher or a head teacher. We have to stop that. You should also be able to develop a career standing in front of the class.”

[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2006]

Subject: Dutch news