Taking Arms Against A Sea Of Waste

£150 to you

George Osborne's Treasury has apparently put together a waste dossier.

We say apparently because, although it has been leaked to journalists, it has not been officially published so we humble taxpayers can take a look for ourselves - not an encouraging start for the promised era of public spending transparency.

Anyway, the Sunday Times reported its copy thus:

"A Treasury audit of Whitehall spending, which was carried out over the past week, has revealed how officials spend £125m a year on taxis, £320m on hotels and £70m on flights.

The audit also reveals that the government spends £580m a year on office furniture, £1 billion on advertising and £700m on other marketing and media.

[The] audit has revealed widespread waste where different British government agencies operate out of separate sites in the same city. For example, £20m could be saved by merging four offices in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, occupied by the high commission, the Border Agency, the Department for International Development and the British Council.

Even ministries whose overall budgets will be ringfenced are having to find cost savings, which will be reinvested in frontline services. The Department of Health, for example, is expected to end its £275,000 funding of dance classes and competitions."

Which all sounds like things that never will be missed. So good.

And in truth, BOM readers don't really need to see the Treasury report on waste - we've been tracking this stuff for years. We've also had access to regular input from actual real live public servants, some of whom - it may surprise you to hear - are just as appalled as we are about how taxpayers' money gets squandered.

As it happens, one emailed last night. We're witholding his ID, but he says:

"I work in a government department and cannot believe the amounts of money being spent. For example we recently had to convert a small office and a small store room in to a single conference room. It required the removal of a partition wall, a bit of paint and a bit of wiring. It costs £250,000.

This week we found out that the little metal "desk tidies" that we use to file forms, etc on our desks cost £200 apiece, and every desk has two of them! How can they cost so much?

A bolt was fitted to our finance office door - a basic bolt, nothing more than what you would put on a shed. The cost? £150!

Then we had to refit a floor of another office for new claims (because of the recession). The total floor space was probably (and I'm estimating) around 1100 sq ft. A bit of paint, about a dozen desk and dozen computers. Cost, £1 million. How? [For a clue see this blog]

My problem with any new government is they'll appoint people at the very top who know nothing about the workings of their departments. The frontline do know how money can be saved, but I am in a minority of those people who realise and accept that massive savings can be made."

Our correspondent has just put his finger on something very VERY important. The truth is that most of our government bosses don't have a clue what's going on below decks.


Mr Osborne certainly wants to cut waste - of that there can be no doubt.

But so did Mr Darling.

And so did Mr Brown before him.

And Mr Clarke before him.

And Mr Lamont before him.

Etc etc.

The trouble is, they don't really have the knowledge to do it.

Even worse than that, big government is by its very nature wasteful (see this blog for how the Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board found things in 1662).

Which is why we believe the only long long-term solution to government waste is to break up government itself. Choice and competition are key to managing waste.

Bosses need to be driven to investigate what's happening below decks by the sure and certain knowledge that if they don't, they will be swept aside by competitors whose bosses have.

Yes of course - we can't do that for defence, or law and order, or a few other things.

But we can do it for education.

We can do it for healthcare.

And we can do it for a raft of other public services.

And we should.

PS When Osborne announces his £6bn immediate waste savings tomorrow, we'll be checking them off against the TPA/IOD list of spending cuts published last September. You might want to do the same (see this blog).
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