Sir Peter Bazalgette, the chair of the Arts Council England, yesterday told a Centre for Policy Studies conference that the Government should continue give taxpayers’ cash to his organisation because the money is necessary to spend on ‘risky’ art projects. In other words, there are projects that profit-seeking companies and arts charities funded by charges and donations would see as a waste of their scarce resources. But this poor value for money isn’t a concern if it’s only taxpayers who will have to pay. Continue Reading
Thanet District Council in Kent has come under pressure to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for local Manston Airport, which closed on 15th May, with the loss of 144 jobs. This marks a low point in the airport’s recent turbulent history, which had seen it host a James Bond movie and target 6 million passengers a year.
Manston Airport’s closure has proved contentious. A petition launched by Roger Gale MP has already attracted attention, and even Nigel Farage has waded in, describing the closure as “economic vandalism”. This support for the reopening of Manston Airport has culminated in the council’s consideration of a CPO.
That Manston Airport has closed is disappointing, not least for those who worked there. But it isn’t surprising. The airport has seen a series of owners, and none succeeded in making it viable. It is reported that Manston Airport had been losing £10,000 a day before its closure. Thanet taxpayers would therefore face a bill for £3.65 million a year if it were to reopen – and that’s before factoring in its price tag and necessary investment.
It would not be the first public body to purchase an airport with taxpayers’ money. Prestwick and Cardiff airports were bought by the Scottish and Welsh Governments respectively. Both have gone on to eat up millions of pounds. These examples should serve as a warning to Thanet District Council – a local authority not known for its aviation expertise – to focus on essential services.
If that’s not enough, then it should remember its other bad investments. Dreamland, a derelict theme park, was subject to a CPO in 2011. £6.8 million of taxpayers’ money has since been ploughed into the site without generating a single penny in return. The port at Ramsgate, meanwhile, has seen its revenue plummet under council ownership – yet still consumes millions of pounds in investment.
Central Government learnt the hard way in the 1970s that ‘picking winners’ becomes a game of subsidising losers. Thanet District Council, unfortunately, is yet to accept this. Losing Manston Airport would be sad, but throwing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at a white elephant would be tragic.
Fury continues to grow at Salisbury Council’s lack of coordinated thinking when it comes to encouraging shoppers into the city centre. With occupancy rates of less than 25 per cent at its Culver Street car park, the council have been reduced to slashing the price of parking there and now is offering free parking after 3pm everyday. For some traders this is a welcome concession, but for others it is too little too late and involves yet more taxpayers’ money being spent on a forlorn attempt to make the council’s white elephant car park more attractive to drivers. Continue Reading
Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) chairman Maurice Saatchi has called for small businesses to be exempt from Corporation Tax and investments in small businesses to be exempt from Capital Gains Tax. The policy is being launched at their Liberty 2014 conference to mark the group’s 40th anniversary. Continue Reading
Earlier today, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) held its second evidence session on the ‘Accountability of Quangos and Public Bodies’. Our Chief Executive Jonathan Isaby gave evidence as a witness. Jonathan attacked the waste of several taxpayer-funded bodies performing similar roles. He later questioned why so many taxpayer-funded bodies, such as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), were not listed as quangos, despite receiving taxpayers’ money.
As was highlighted during the session, the issues of accountability and value for taxpayers’ money are clearly linked. In the case of IPSA, a body created to deal with MPs’ pay and expenses in the wake of the expenses scandal, a lack of accountability has seen its Chief Executive pocket a salary of £120,000. This farce would be funny if it weren’t funded entirely by hard-working taxpayers.
This situation is recreated throughout the quangocracy. In January we reported the explosion in the number of six-figure salaries taken home by quango chiefs and mandarins in taxpayer-funded bodies with not always obvious aims. Allowing this gravy train to carry on unaccounted for would be a disgrace. Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is being spent – especially when it is being wasted.
There is of course no one-size-fits-all solution to the governance question. Some matters need to be held at arm’s length from government. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hidden away from public scrutiny. Officials should never be given the opportunity to lavish taxpayers’ money on themselves.
There is no balance to be struck on accountability: the public deserves to know how its money is spent. The government must ensure that taxpayer-funded bodies perform their roles efficiently under the watchful eye of public scrutiny. Wasteful reproduction must be scrapped, pay packets must be appropriate for the work performed – and taxpayers must be respected.
Jonathan’s evidence session can be seen here.