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.
I was fortunate enough this week to spend a sunny morning outdoors, and doing the best thing one can do outdoors: hitting the pavements to spread awareness of our latest campaign War on Waste. After an obligatory team photo, five of us left TPA HQ for South West London in our brand-new T-shirts, with rather nice co-ordinating TPA-branded hemp bags to carry our mounds of leaflets. Our first campaigning stop turned out to be St. James’ tube station. In the queue to top up my Oyster I stood behind an American family whose little daughter appeared to be called Reagan. It occurred to me that parents who name their child after a President would be very susceptible to the TPA’s messages of reducing government waste and taxes. After chatting for a few moments about how they were from Chicago (like Milton Friedman, no less!) I pressed a leaflet upon them, leaving them for our next stop with good luck wishes in our ears.
We got out at Gloucester Rd. and began to pound the streets. The public generally reacted well to the campaign, thinking that cutting government waste is a common sense policy which politicians across the spectrum should aim for. Every taxpayer, will after all, benefit from a reduction in taxes if less government money is spent on llamas and fig trees.
Walking through a leafy square of white stucco houses, a voice called down from scaffolding on a house above us. Looking up it was a builder working on the external plasterwork, cheering us on. How novel, I thought, to be shouted at by a builder about taxes.
After a full morning of trekking around, chatting to people and dropping leaflets in the hot sunshine, we all flopped for lunch together, feeling thirsty, stronger for carrying all those leaflets, and cheered by the knowledge that the TPA’s mission is well thought of by so many people.
The Government’s Efficiency and Reform Group this week revealed progress in tackling wasteful spending, finding an additional £14.3bn in savings for the 2013/14 financial year. This builds on savings of £3.75bn (2010/11), £5.5bn (2011/12) and £10bn (2012/13).
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and his team should be commended. Over previous decades, wasteful spending has skyrocketed. The public sector has too often spent over the odds, blowing taxpayers’ money on ridiculously expensive stationery, on poorly-managed contracts, on an army of consultants, on far too much. That money should have instead been spent on essential services – or simply not spent at all, and left in the pockets of taxpayers.
So news of successful moves to tackle inefficiency is welcome. Finally, some common sense is being applied to running central government.
But for this to translate to a better deal for taxpayers, this can only be the opening battle of a war on waste. Taxpayers worked 148 days this year just to cover their tax bill. Yet they still find wasteful government spending contributing to our enormous public debt, and eliminating waste is the first step in lowering people’s taxes across the country. That’s the thinking behind our War on Waste Roadshow, taking our message of transparency and accountability to 30 towns and cities across the country.
There is no doubting that, as Francis Maude himself has admitted, there is plenty more to do. An attitude that abhors waste and chases efficiency has to be the norm rather than the exception throughout the public sector if the Government is to deliver the value for money that taxpayers deserve.
Taxpayers’ anger at the wasteful ways of parish councils has reached a peak in West Yorkshire. ‘With a budget of £293,545 and 23 councillors to support,’ says a local TPA supporter, ‘Holme Valley Parish Council (HVPC) has been in the news for more than just wasting money, but for expropriating the land property of local taxpayers in order to sell it back to them for thousands of pounds.’ Continue Reading
Nick Clegg announced two new fiscal rules that Liberal Democrats would implement should they form a new coalition after the 2015 General Election. The Deputy Prime Minister told an audience at Bloomberg that they will “significantly reduce” national debt as a proportion of national income each year until it reached “sustainable levels”, so long as growth is positive. The second rule would be to only run cyclically-adjusted balanced budgets after ignoring capital spending “that enhances economic growth or financial stability”.
So what do these rules mean? Continue Reading