Wednesday, February 8, 2017

France - land of the bureaucrats? Not true!

There are many myths about France and among them that the country is over-run by fonctionnaires (public officials employed by the State). However a more serious analysis of the figures shows that France falls somewhere in the middle range compared with the rest of Europe - and has roughly the same number state employees as Great Britain for much the same size population.

A simple analysis shows that some 2.4 million are employed by central government - bearing in mind they have to cope with 360 different taxes, 410,000 norms and regulations, or 103 diffrent types of social aid*. Nearly two million are employed by local authorities at regional and local level (there are nearly 37,000 communes); and just over 1 million work in hospitals and the public health sector.

What do they get in return? I wrote recently about the daily sweeping and washing down of streets in the town centre where I live and I can testify to the efficiency of health services - same-day appointments with ones GP or within days with specialist services such as a blood test, X-ray or appointment with a specialist at the local hospital.......with strict adherence to appointment times.

The system however does throw up some anomalies however, such as delays in civil and some criminal courts. Even in the case of former President Sarkozy: only now is he being prosecuted (he is appealing) for alleged offenses regarding the funding of his election campaign over a decade ago. Even more curious that his former Prime Minister François Fillon is calling for a reduction of 500,000 fonctionnaires as part of his current election campaign (somewhat tarnished by allegations about sums paid to his wife as his 'parliamentaty assistant'.........).

Although they enjoy a certain job security and comparatively generous pension arrangements, compared with Britain for example, research** shows that at the lower and middle grades, the salaries of  fonctionnaires are more or less on a par with those in the private sector; while at the senior level they tend to lag behind.

Finally Britain leads in Europe with the privatisation of many public services, which the same research admits can aid the introduction of frehs talent and new ideas but requires close supervision by (established) fonctionnaires. That said, the French had recourse to 'outside' private sources for 30% of its functions in 2015 (compared to Britain's +50 per cent).

* 'On va dans le mur'  by Agnès Verdier-Molinié, Albin Michel, 2015
** 'Alternatives Economiques'  February 2017, pp 64-72

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