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Lord Willetts is President of the Resolution Foundation. He is a former Minister for Universities and Science.

The cost and size of the state is rising. The Government is rightly trying to get a grip on it. Some of the issues are strategic – it is turning into a state for old people, with an increasing proportion of day to day spending going on benefits and health care for the elderly. We have an obligation to them, but many themselves worry about the costs they impose on younger taxpayers.

The Government wants to get back to a public sector of the size and shape that existed pre-Covid and perhaps even pre-Brexit, which is a challenge when there are such powerful interests involved. The inimitable Jacob Rees-Mogg is playing a key role on this task.

There is certainly the endless battle to be fought with cumbersome bureaucracy and red tape. It does look to me as if the process of decision taking in government has become more complex and slow. As the power of the centre grows so it is harder for departments to make progress on an issue which is not a priority for Number 10. Every significant announcement– and many more besides – needs a slot on the grid, and getting this seems harder and more time-consuming than ever.

Brexit may help us to escape some of the absurd rules and regulations imposed by the EU. But most of our regulations from planning to the labour market are home-grown. Indeed, we hid behind Brussels when the real pressures were domestic and political.

However, I saw for myself in science and innovation that Brussels was responsible for a crippling interpretation of the precautionary principle. It held back GM foods – in alliance with the Daily Mail campaign on Frankenstein foods. It was wary of cell and gene therapies. A taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform last year in which George Freeman participated came up with some excellent proposals to promote innovative technologies: I hope Jacob is dusting that down to see what can be done.

But as well as this there are the perennial challenges of holding down the running costs of government. When I was working as a junior official in the Treasury many years ago, a formidable older official spotted that I was taking the notes of a meeting on clean fresh notepaper. She took me aside and explained that drafts should be written on the back of used papers to save money. Early in her career she had been private secretary to Stafford Cripps and those values lived on.

Now the heir of Stafford Cripps is Rees Mogg who has apparently been attacked by Nadine Dorries for his “Dickensian” approach to getting officials back into the office.

He may be missing the opportunity provided by the way in which we responded to Covid. Suddenly, old clunky ways of doing things had to be abandoned. There is real danger that a retro agenda of trying to get us back to the world as it was pre-Covid will jeopardise those gains.

Face to face delivery of public services is the prime example. There are political pressures to get back to things as they were. But sometimes online – which can itself be direct and personal – is the most efficient way to do things. We don’t always need to see the doctor in person, for example.

It can be efficient if students follow lectures on line – playing them back again if there is a difficult point they need to grasp, and speeding up when it is familiar territory. One professor told me recently that when students finally met her physically, they said her voice was lower than they expected. She realised they had been playing her lectures at faster speed. I’m not sure about that – perhaps it might count as a gain in productivity. As with health care, the best model is probably blended perhaps with lectures on line and then more interactive discussion of them in person.

Jacob also wishes to see workers back in their offices. Businesses are wrestling with this too. Sometimes we do need personal meetings. New recruits in particular gain if they can meet people and absorb the culture of the work-place. But equally some official work can now be done from home. And there is evidence that working some time at home is bringing more mothers of young children into the labour market – a real help with skills shortages.

Seizing Covid opportunities is not just turning the clock back. I hope Jacob will look at all the ways in which things have been done differently because of Covid, and keep them when there are clear efficiency gains.