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OPINION1 July 2010

The cold light of morning

Opinion

As I write this column we are hours away from the delivery of the coalition’s emergency budget. I may be goingout on a limb here, but I suspect that it isn’t going to be a giveaway. We aren’t anticipating any fine detail onpublic spending cuts at this point, but the future does not look too rosy for those who are employed by, or sellservices to, government. Welcome to the age of the hairshirt.

As I write this column we are hours away from the delivery of the coalition’s emergency budget. I may be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that it isn’t going to be a giveaway. We aren’t anticipating any fine detail on public spending cuts at this point, but the future does not look too rosy for those who are employed by, or sell services to, government. Welcome to the age of the hairshirt.

As a nation we are experiencing something akin to a hangover. We’ve partied hard and now it’s time to knock back the raw egg and Worcester sauce. The prospect of that may not be appetising but most us are braced for a cure of some description.

While the full range of cures is yet to be revealed we do know that the government has already targeted its own communication activities. It was one of the first announcements made by the government when laying out its list of initial cuts. Under the banner sits advertising, marketing and research. The £160m saving announced is no more than hors d’oeuvre to the cuts ahead. Things, as someone once said, can only get bitter.

Martin Boon, ICM’s head of social and government research, says, “We can hold on to the hope that research is so ingrained within the public sector that many departments can’t do without it.” He then goes on to say, “But the warnings are clear – this may only be the start and research could be an easy target.” I tend to agree with the latter sentiment. Research has been in this government’s crosshairs from day one.

There’s not much use in seeking sympathy from the electorate. First, they are soon to have troubles of their own. Second, there has always been a cynical attitude to the government’s testing of opinion and communication of information. Respondents who have taken part in government research projects may tell a different story. They will wave the flag for the importance of representation and participation,
but in the wider scheme of things those voices are most likely to be drowned out.

One irony. In setting out its intention to cut, the government also set out its intention to consult with the electorate. Sounds like a very lucrative deliberation gig for someone out there. But for everyone else?

Few sectors, individuals or businesses are going to enjoy the next few years. While the social research agencies are assuming the crash position, their commercial cousins aren’t exactly set for a goldrush. In the cold light of morning this is the new research reality.

@RESEARCH LIVE

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