Sometimes you get the impression that some people have got so used to wasting other people's money that they can't see anything else it could be used for. An irate letter in yesterday's Middlesbourgh Evening Gazette from Cllr David McLuckie, Chairman of the Cleveland Police Authority, is a case in point.
Cllr McLuckie wrote in hugh dudgeon to claim that we had "totally distorted" revelations that £36,000 had been wasted by Cleveland Police on two pieces of stained glass artwork for their police stations.
His first point seems to be that the stations themselves cost £33.4 million, so £36,000 is a drop in the ocean. Well, I'm sorry that he's got so used to splashing taxpayers' cash around that he thinks that the entire council tax bills of 36 families are insignificant. I wonder if he'd like to sit 36 families down and explain that their money has gone down the drain?
His second, more fundamental point is that:
"The suggestion from the chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance that the money should have been spent on officers is ludicrous because public spending regulations would have made that impossible...Presumably he also does not understand that the rules on public finance would not allow money allocated for major capital or building projects to be used to meet the costs of employing officers."
It's sad that the good Councillor has got so little imagination. In overall accounting terms, just because something is in the capital budgets account does not, I repeat not, mean it has to be spent even if it's on a capital building project that is useless in the fight against crime like in this instance. If these stained glass installations had never been commissioned the money would have ended up back in the central coffers, free to be spent on police officers, genuinely needed capital projects, or even - brace yourself - used to keep taxes down next year.
It's also depressing that Councillor McLuckie seems to think the status quo must always remain the status quo. How about a system that if a project comes in under budget, that money can be reallocated directly to the front line? Would that really be so harmful?