By Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager
The UK has spent seven weeks in lockdown. Public expenditure is soaring, millions have lost their jobs and large swathes of the public find themselves furloughed and relying on the government to pay their salary. These unprecedented measures have been understandable and justifiable in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, but the country now anxiously awaits the confirmation that we are on the mend. The path back to prudent finances will involve a great deal of belt-tightening for households and institutions nationwide, not least the government itself.
Exposing and challenging wasteful public expenditure is a cornerstone of the TaxPayers’ Alliance efforts to fight for taxpayers. While we need public services more than ever, cases in which the money that underpins these services is frivolously squandered are all too common. Over the years, our War on Waste campaign has highlighted billions of pounds worth of waste in the public sector, and our recent research will not settle the nerves of anyone hoping for this trend to be curbed.
Speaking to the Petersberg Climate Dialogue last month via video conference, the Business Secretary Alok Sharma called for a “green and resilient recovery” as a means of simultaneously rebooting the economy and tackling climate change. Whilst the minister emphasised the importance of economic prudence and environmental conscientiousness, our recent Anti-eco civil service research paper suggests the department are not always practicing what they preach. It revealed egregious spending on particularly environmentally unfriendly practices at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). As we enter summer, a pertinent example would be the nearly £200,000 spent on heating during the summer of 2018 - the joint hottest on record. The paper also reveals that such expenditure is not exclusive to BEIS. Since 2014, departments across Whitehall have spent over £15 million on taxis and summer heating alone. If the government wants to take this seriously, this waste would be a great place to start.
Waste comes in many forms. Our most recent publication has revealed a huge number of instances in which Whitehall departments have spent taxpayers money on promoting personal pet social causes, including the installation of gender neutral bathrooms and the purchasing of LGBT+ flags and lanyards. This is not a question of whether these causes are good or bad, but rather why taxpayers are overpaying for their promotion. For example, a total of £6,342 was spent on LGBT+ lanyards, with departments paying between £3.53 and 49 pence per lanyard. But a plain lanyard online costs as little as 13 pence. Since 2013, government departments have also spent over £57,000 on gender-neutral toilets, which by all accounts aren’t even being used. Mandarins should not let the pursuit of right-on social causes see value for money go out of the window.
Sooner rather than later, we all will have to start footing the bill for the tragic crisis that has enveloped the country this year. As the national debt spirals towards 100 per cent of GDP, the calls for tax hikes to balance the books will be plentiful and loud. However, our research continues to show, as it has for the past 16 years, that there is an abundance of government waste that could be trimmed to ease the burden on the taxpayers. This is why the War on Waste is now more important than ever. If the government were to follow up by waging its own war on waste, it would be able to show that we are truly all in this together.