Leo Pliatzky

Leo Pliatzky is a former Permanent Secretary of the Department of Trade and before that he was a Second Permanent Secretary in the Treasury. He is now a visiting professor at the City University.

What can be done

Leo Pliatzky, 2 August 1984

The 1983-84 series of Reith Lectures was given by Sir Douglas Wass, who retired from the Civil Service in March 1983. He had served in the Treasury since 1946, and had been Permanent Secretary to the Treasury since 1974. The task which he set himself in the lectures was to examine the efficiency and responsiveness of central government in Britain. Knowing that it can be quite hard to find anything weighty enough to put into a single memorial lecture, my first reaction was to wonder whether there are enough subjects of general interest, and a sufficient supply of people with something new and important to say about them, to warrant a whole series of broadcast lectures every year. BBC Television has, each year, a single Dimbleby Lecture. It was one of these which Roy Jenkins used to put forward the ideas which led to the creation of the Social Democratic Party and the SDP-Liberal Alliance. One cannot imagine his lecture being spread over six broadcasts. The effect of doing so would have been to reduce, not enhance, the impact. However, the Reith Lectures have certainly acquired a following, and in a fair number of cases the book of the broadcasts has had a substantial sale. Douglas Wass sustained an audience estimated at 250,000 for each broadcast on Radio 4 and 150,000 for each repeat on Radio 3, with an unknown number of further listeners on the Overseas Service. His reasoned approach and fluent, non-academic prose went down well.

Ministers and Officials

Leo Pliatzky, 22 May 1980

This addition to the publisher’s ‘Modern Governments’ series is essentially a textbook for students, but it can be recommended to the general reader also as a well-informed and well-written guide to the constitution, the apparatus of government, Parliament, the political parties and the pressure groups. The expert on particular aspects of the subject would not look to a work of this kind in order to add to his knowledge: but he won’t find his expertise offended. The only half-criticism which I have on a point in my own field of expertise concerns the statement: ‘Some estimates would put the share of government in spending at about 60 per cent of GNP.’ It was the Treasury itself which at one time gave currency to this misconceived figure, but for the past few years the Government’s White Papers have adopted a corrected basis more in line with, though still a little wider than, the definitions used by the OECD. On this basis, public expenditure last year was 42 per cent of GDP at market prices. This point does not, however, materially affect the description of the size and growth of the public sector.

Doing something

Barry Supple, 3 June 1982

In April 1935, with the staple industries stagnating and over two million people out of work, Harold Macmillan rose in the Commons to press for a radical policy of industrial reconstruction and...

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