National politics Public sector waste

Tax and spend

Tax and spend is going to be the biggest issue in our politics between now and the next election which will happen at the latest possible time in May 2010. The BBC is reporting today that even Darling/Brown know that they have to cut public spending.

Darling is a joke. In November’s Pre-Budget Report he sneaked in without fanfare “inclusion of a £5.0 billion allowance for Additional Value for Money Savings in 2010-11”. Even with this total finger in the air never, never saving that does not kick in until next financial year, effectively safely after the next election, public debt as measured by the Maastricht Treaty definition will hit £1 trillion by March 2011 – only two years away, see previous posting. And these figures will be revised downwards on Wednesday as they are wildly optimistic.

Apparently Darling is going to square the circle by adding another £10 billion of savings that kick in the year after that in 2011/12. No doubt there will be little detail of how these savings will be achieved. Darling’s £15 billion savings are grossly inadequate. According to the BBC “He will say the money can be found by making Whitehall more efficient”. This is just a fantasy.

More realistic estimates of the gap to be filled range from £40 billion, according to the IFS, to £100 billion, according to Malcolm Offord’s Bankrupt Britain report.

Today the Reform think tank is launching its report “Back to black” which spells out how to save £30 billion. None of their suggestions are easy. But, they are serious.

Meanwhile the erstwhile favourite think tank of New Labour, IPPR, has lost its mind in proposing a totally irresponsible wish list all funded by higher taxes in their new paper published today “Time for Another People’s Budget:

  • A substantial increase in personal tax allowances
  • Extra spending to achieve the Government’s child poverty reduction target
  • Extra spending on low-carbon technology
  • An immediate restoration of the link between pensions and earnings.

As my contribution to the debate I have been working with the ConservativeHome blog on a project called the Star Chamber which we launched yesterday. The idea is to look in detail at various savings proposals in order to gauge their public acceptability. Many of the proposals will be controversial. Some will be easy and popular. Some will be unacceptable but we won’t find out which are which without the debate.

National politics Public sector waste

Government cars – how to save £10 million

Ed Vaizey, the shadow minister for culture, was musing about the cost of ministerial cars today, here:

It would not surprise me at all to learn that the Government Car Service cost between £50 million and £100 million.

The story was picked up by Iain Dale and Labour ex-minister Tom Harris has been defending ministerial cars, here:

Yes, a ministerial car is a perk. So let’s hear it for perks! Because if you’ve just had a 12- or a 14- hour day and you’re leaving the Commons after the last vote, it’s wonderful to be able to slide into the seat of a car and relax while you’re taken home, knowing you’ll be lucky to get six hours sleep before your ministerial diary kicks in the next morning. I don’t grudge that privilege to any serving minister and I wouldn’t begrudge any future Tory minister, either.

None of them really seem to be doing their homework though. Funnily enough you can pull all the numbers you need out of the Annual Report of the Government Car and Despatch Agency, here. Government mail and car services are handily structured as a Department of Transport Executive Agency and they publish separate figures.

In 2007/8 they had 171 cars and 168 drivers and they cost £14.0 million to run. That is about £82K per car but I guess they don’t have all the cars and the drivers on the road at the same time so they probably have nearer to 150 cars out there operating and the effective cost per car is slightly higher than £82K but probably not quite as much as £100K. They bought £1.0 million worth of new cars and employed five managers who earnt over £50K in 2007/8. All employees are on civil service pensions. Nice work if you can get it.

It sounds like you could keep 50 odd cars for the real big knobs, lose 120 or so and save £10 million. They also have large premises at 46 Ponton Road in Vauxhall which would probably make a nice capital receipt thank you.

Ed Vaizey rather weakly says:

I am not advocating, by the way, coming in and sacking every driver.

I am sorry Ed we are not going to sort out our country’s financial mess without sacking quite a few government drivers. No doubt people will think that is a harsh position but can we get a grip please?

Update: Ooops. Got my Labour MPs called Tom mixed up.

Ealing and Northfield Public sector waste

Councillors’ allowances

No doubt there will be lots of comment on today’s piece in the Evening Standard looking at councillors’ allowances. The table above is reproduced from the Evening Standard. I hope they will consider that fair use!

The article talks about Freedom of Information requests but you can pull the same stuff off the council’s website here so I think they are exaggerating a bit. I would be surprised if any councils don’t publish this stuff as a matter of course.

These allowances are a big expense for any council and I personally am a bit conflicted about them. I have done a lot of volunteering in my time and I would still be a councillor if there were no allowances. I know there are some people who couldn’t be a councillor if there was not some kind of allowance. They were introduced I understand because there were problems with expenses. The allowances are taxable and councillors claim no expenses as a rule. Every time they drive anywhere on council business, park, use an envelope, put a stamp on it the cash comes out of this taxable allowance. It doesn’t use it all up but by the time you have paid tax and expenses you don’t have much cash to show for it. I don’t want to sound like an old sexist (I am sure this is equally true for women councillors) but it would be much harder to justify the amount of time I spend on council and residents’ business to my wife if I didn’t have an allowance.

From this table it does look like the three Labour mayors of Newham, Lewisham and Hackney look after themselves very well. Our leader, Jason Stacey, is a bargain. He gave up a very good job to become a full time leader. You only have to look at some of the timestamps on his e-mails to know what kind of hours he works. On top of the long hours he is actually a real star. £40K really is a steal.

Public sector waste

Musical message from Hammersmith and Fulham

I am not sure that Ealing is ready for this but here is a bit of fun from Hammermsith and Fulham:

Public sector waste

New appeal for more cash for councillors

The Telegraph and ConservativeHome were yesterday covering proposals to pay councillors more. The piece of work, from a government appointed commission called the Councillors Commission, is due to go to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, today.

The proposals apparently include more pay, communications allowances, redundancy pay when councillors are voted out and pensions.

The way that councillors allowances have been transformed from recompense of actual expenses incurred to a mini-salary is not very popular with the electorate and many would see it as a mistake. To take this process further forward would compound the error.

This set of ideas is not new. Back in January an outfit called the New Local Government Network (NLGN) was talking about more pay and pensions, see their press release here and their pamphlet here.

The so-called think tank NLGN seems to be a parking place where Labour party hacks are kept on ice until they are needed. For instance, their director, Chris Leslie, went off to run Gordon Brown’s non-campaign in the summer.

The original report was discussed on the Today programme back then and the since disgraced, convicted and disqualified ex-Labour councillor Miranda Grell went on the show to bat for NLGN and their ideas. She was totally blown off the stage by crusty, retiring independent Robin Page, see previous posting.

Self service has replaced public service. … Now I see self-servers and they want the allowances to match the size of their own egos. And they see Council Tax as a hole in the wall and they can just take the money out.

As we see in Parliament as you pay people more money you don’t necessarily get a better quality of MP or councillor. To call them a golden generation is an absolute joke.

Anyway the latest proposals come from a DCLG commission which is again dominated by Labour types. The chairman of the commission is one Jane Roberts, ex Camden Labour councillor and all round quangocrat. She is also a board member of NLGN so all becomes clear.

Public sector waste

Labour don’t understand money

Last week’s quotes from Labour’s ignorant Treasury team in response to the Tories’ competitiveness proposals (the Wolfson report) were put into context for me this morning by this report in the Sunday Telegraph.

Last week chancellor Alistair Darling was talking about Redwood’s proposals and describing them as “taking £21 billion out of the economy”. This statement is pure economic nonsense. In theory the Wolfson proposals might take money out of the public sector and put it into the private sector. Many would argue that this would improve the economy by redirecting resources to the productive sector way from the state. Whatever your views about this it is clear that Darling is a nincompoop. His Chief Secretary to the Treasury is equally dumb saying: “This confirms the Tories have lurched to the right. In order to shore up his weakened position, David Cameron has been forced to cave in to the right wing of his party”.

Today the Telegraph tells us that the Quango state is costing us £170 billion a year, or five times the defence budget.

You don’t have to be some kind of wild-eyed slash and burn merchant to work out you could fund the Tories’ proposals out of some good housekeeping in the Quangos. These are the people that are spending £338 million per annum through the COI, keeping nice West End offices and generally acting like our money is theirs to spend on any baubles that take their fancy. No wonder more and more people go play at

Public sector waste

Greenwich council’s Dome hospitality box

When I started this blog I thought that I would come across more stories like this one from Friday’s Daily Mail. I am not a big fan of the Mail but sometimes their waste stories are worth repeating.

When council bosses in Greenwich announced £24 million of budget cuts, local taxpayers thought it would be case of belt-tightening all round.

So it might surprise them to learn that £95,000 of their cash has been spent on a luxury box at the Millennium Dome.

Councillors and staff will have one year’s exclusive use of the 15-seat glassfronted suite at the controversial building in South-East London.

From the comfort of sofas, they will be able to watch concerts by Justin Timberlake, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Prince.

The lease starts on Saturday – just in time for Sunday’s Bon Jovi concert, which is the first at the arena renamed as the O2.

A council report said the corporate box – one of 96 at the venue – would be used for business meetings and to celebrate the achievements of staff and community groups. But Blair Gibbs, campaign manager of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Pensioners and hardworking families in Greenwich are paying for these corporate perks through their high council taxes and they are right to be disgusted.

‘This sort of self-indulgent and unnecessary spending really does border on corruption. The council officials who think they can use our council taxes to buy themselves VIP perks like this should be named and shamed.’

Spencer Dury, Tory opposition leader on Greenwich Council, said the decision showed a ‘very confused set of priorities’.

‘Can you imagine we are making something like £20 million of cuts and we are now spending £95,000 on a corporate box?’ he said.

‘I can’t see that this is a legitimate use of tax payers’ money.’

Last November the Labour-controlled council started a four-year programme of ‘efficiency savings’. Homes for the elderly were among the facilities threatened with closure in the £24million cull.

A Greenwich council spokesman said it already spent money on corporate hospitality and that some of this cash would be diverted to pay for the box.

He said officials planned to sell back unused seats to recoup some of the cost.

‘The arrangement is for one year and will be reviewed by councillors after nine months before a decision is taken on whether to renew the lease,’ he added.

Communications disease Public sector waste

Wasteful professor

Eleven MillionThe Children’s Commissioner is a fool. Certainly he is foolish with money.

Scanning a few blogs this morning I picked up this story in the Mail on Sunday.

The MoS reports that:

The Children’s Commissioner has been criticised for spending £93,000 of taxpayers’ money on a rebranding exercise. Opponents say the new name – 11 Million – is meaningless and money which should have been spent helping children has been wasted. Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who was appointed two years ago to head the newly created Office of the Children’s Commissioner, hired PR firm The Team to create the new identity.

The article goes on to say that in 2001 The Team was paid £110,000 for designing a glossy brochure outlining the Government’s ten-year strategy on education. They also did the design for the Children’s Commissioners last Annual Report and Accounts which was also a very expensive document that will have cost something similar. The document is a typical example of expensive corporate masturbation paid for with public money. 68 pages of full colour, fancily designed tosh with some 11 full page photos and lots of expensive graphics designed to look like children’s writing but in fact laboriously created by pony-tail wearing graphic designers at The Team. At least there were no pictures on the bespectacled CC himself. You can find at least four pictures of him on their expensive and tricksy new website.

This expensive shower launched their new brand and five-year strategy (another 71 pages of full colour, graphic design, etc) at an evening reception at HM Treasury last Wednesday. See their press release. I hope that they all enjoyed their bubbly and nibbles. I don’t suppose that this will stop the next Victoria Climbie. The launch was overseen by the super-incompetent Beverley Hughes, Minister for Children and Young People, who has already been forced to resign from government once.

To give you some background the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is a Department for Education and Skills Non-Departmental Public Body. Another word is quango. It was set up from the Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice for all children and young people and represent their views, opinions, interests and rights to the people who make decisions that affect them. Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green was appointed as the first ever Children’s Commissioner for England in July 2005. Before that he was a paediatrician for 30 years.

Last year’s annual report is quite illuminating:

  • by their own admission 57% of their operating expenditure goes on “communications and participation”
  • last year they spent £1.421 million refurbishing their premises at Number 1 London Bridge. Why do they need riverside premises overlooking the City of London?
  • last year they paid £95,000 per head to employ 12 people
  • their income is made up almost entirely of government grant, some £1.65 million
  • Aynsley-Green does not do all of this exhausting marketing for free obviously. He is not in this for charity. He gives himself a salary of £135K.
  • the structure chart shows that three people are employed solely to run around after the three senior execs, an Executive Office Manager, an Administration Officer and a Diary Manager.

Nice and cosy

Coincidentally The Team are located conveniently 5 minutes walk away on Southwark Street. Clearly Aynsley-Green does not want to be too far away from his expensive marketing minders. Another coincidence is The Team’s address at number 11 Southwark Street so how they must have all laughed at the pitch for this silly re-branding exercise.

Ex-Mayor Livingstone Public sector waste Road pricing

The Congestion Charge has all been wasted

Today is the London Congestion Charge’s 4th birthday. The Conservative Home website has published an article from me that shows how pretty much all of the £927 million collected over the four years has been wasted on out of control costs.

Ex-Mayor Livingstone Public sector waste Road pricing

Killer question

Last night’s Standard and today’s Telegraph (follow link) both cover Peter Roberts’ road pricing e-petition. At the time of writing it stood at 179,411.

If you think that the London Congestion Charge is any kind of model for road pricing, even local schemes, then for me the killer question is the one asked of the London Mayor by Andrew Pelling, AM on 15th November 2006 (follow link).

Andrew Pelling:

How many years do you predict it will take for both the original area and the western extension to pay for the set-up and subsequent administration costs? How long before the expense invested by Londoners is repaid by income?

Ken Livingstone:

It is important to note that the income from Congestion Charging may only be used to offset operating costs. The costs of set up have to be borne from TfL funding. However if we were to take all costs, including set up and operating costs, for the Central Congestion Charging Scheme, income exceeded expenditure by March 2005. Using the same approach, the net revenue will exceed the set-up costs for the Western Extension by the time of go-live on 19th February 2007.The net revenues, allowing for the cost of operation, must be spent on activities that support my Transport Strategy. This includes new buses, cycling, walking, road safety and other initiatives.

In case you don’t understand Livingstone’s answer, which is not written to promote clarity, let me explain. The London CC has been running since February 17th 2003. By 19th February 2007, when the Western Extension goes live, the scheme will have been operating for four whole years and will have taken the best part of £1 billion off Londoners. This cost makes no allowance for all the inconvenience, anger and heartache that Londoners will have faced understanding the scheme and dealing with fines, etc when they make minor mistakes. Bar the odd £10 million all of this cash will have been consumed in costs as follows:

Original set-up costs for scheme £161.7 million
Western Extension set-up costs £123.1 million
First part year of operation £76.4 million
Second year of operation £140.1 million
Third year of operation £119.7 million
Fourth year of operation £143.9 million
Fifth part year of operation (estimate) £160 million

TOTAL £924.9 million

To make myself clear: the Congestion Charge is all cost and no benefit. Every time the Mayor or TfL talk about spending surpluses on buses or whatever they are lying. After 4 complete years of operation the track record is that ALL the cash gets spent on out of control costs.

Please sign Peter’s petition and work for a Conservative Mayor who will end the CC which is set to take £300 million a year off Londoners and just waste it all until somebody stops Livingstone and the wasteful idiots at TfL.