Time to mend the roof if you want stability

Stability, stability, stability. If he says it often enough, the Chancellor thinks people will believe it.

The stability mantra comes from the same stable that gave us the whopper about making the Bank of England independent. They meant they were dismantling the Bank’s role in the debt and money markets by nationalising the issue of government obligations and transferring daily supervision of the banks’ financial operations to the FSA.

It comes from the team that sold great quantities of the nation’s gold reserves at the bottom of the gold market.

It comes from a government that has presided over a huge rise in the numbers of civil servants, quango staff and regulators of all kinds who spend large sums on private sector consultants to advise them on how to do their jobs.

It comes from a government which married Prudence for their first couple of years and did relatively well on the back of it, but divorced her in the new century in favour of an avalanche of public spending.

It comes from a government that slid £16 billion of supplementary estimates through on Monday – admitting their financial controls and budgets had broken down again this year – only to stage manage media interest in a few hundred million of more desirable expenditure presented as the important crux of the budget.

This is a budget of the spinners, by the spinners, for the spinners.

David Cameron’s response was hard hitting and down to earth. He drew attention to the high taxes, the surging borrowing, and the unpleasant inflation that the budget encompasses. He said Labour should have put something aside in the good times for the not so good times. They should have mended the roof when the sun was shining, for now it is blowing a gale.

So what would mending the roof entail? Above all, it should entail getting the public sector into the way of thinking that it has to do more with less, or in the case of health and education to raise standards by more than the increase in cash.

Mending the roof means controlling the massive overheads. Why do we need regional unelected regional government in England? Its unpopularity in the North East referendum should be proof enough to alert politicians that it would be best swept away.

Why do we need a huge national identity bank and ID cards? Let’s stop the spending on that doomed project now.

Why do we need 750,000 civil servants, when previous governments could run things perfectly well with 200,000 fewer? Shouldn’t we impose a staff freeze immediately, so natural wastage can start to get the administration back into shape?

Why is the absentee rate so much higher in the public sector than in many private companies? Shouldn’t Ministers start managing this, and motivating their staff better so more turn up?

Why won’t the government produce a plan to get the £25 billion it has lent Northern Rock back to an agreed timetable?

Why has the public sector taken so little action to improve building insulation, install heating and lighting sensors and controls so they only operate when needed, and to put in more fuel efficient lighting?

Why can’t the government curb the inefficiencies of its nationalised industry, Network Rail? Why can’t it find new revenue streams to avoid the closures and the costs at the Post Office?

Wherever you look at this government’s public sector you see the same lack of leadership from Ministers, and the same casual approach to taxpayers money. Senior executives receive large bonuses and substantial incomes for performance which many service users think is inadequate.

It is indeed time to mend the roof – and to fix the rest of the building – as the storms sweep in. This credit crunch is not just about some dubious mortgages in Florida or the illiquidity of some US banks. This is also about overborrowing here in the UK, about a run on a UK mortgage bank, and about a government struggling to control its finances with an urge to put its taxes and charges up to pay some of the bills.

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11 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    The thing that summed up the whole attitude of the government, and their inability to deal with the problems of their own creation was Mr Balls seated commentary. I am ashamed to say, I was surprised.

    The press reported today that tax payers gave Mr Balls and his wife c.£580K last year. I do not regard this as value for money.

  2. Bazman
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Reply: I WOULD SAY WE NEED TO CUT OUT WASTEFUL AND UNDESIRABLE SPENDING, WHICH THIS GOVERNMENT GOES IN FOR ON A GARGANTUAN SCALE.
    Or do you just mean cuts in services and spending John?
    I have no doubt a lot of individuals and companies are making a fortune at the taxpayers expense with their shoddy work, over inflated bills and little check on their work.
    I would like to hear how a Conservative government would archive these efficiencies in the real world.

    Reply:NO I DONT MEAN CUTS IN IMPORTANT SERVICES, I DESCRIBED EXACTLY WHAT AND HOW.

  3. niconoclast
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    'At the end of the day' politicians can do what they want and we have no control over them.They indulge in vicarious philanthropism -with our money! Many people are slowly realising that re Democracy they have been sold a pup. If only they stayed at home election day the politicians would finally get the message.Either that or vote libertairian.

  4. Laurence
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Well, for once, Mr. Redwood, I agree with every word you say! But do you imagine the NuLabour loons will listen? And I would like to know just how differently Cameron would really do things if he gets in. You see – like the majority of people in this country now, I don't trust the 'mainstream' parties one little bit any more.

  5. APL
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    JR: "He drew attention to the high taxes, the surging borrowing, and the unpleasant inflation that the budget encompasses."

    Was it true that Ed Balls reply to Cameron referring to high taxes was "so what"?

    (Followed by adverse comments on the extent of Mr and Mrs Balls salary and expense payments from the taxpayer which were not quite accurate)

    REPLY I do not know myself . Clearly David Cameron thought he heard "So what?" and he was one of the closest to Mr Balls. Supporters of Mr Balls say he said "So weak" which sounds rather different.I was in bed with a raging temperature listening on the radio so I could not pick up the aside."So weak" is not as natural a jibe as "So what?" – you might expect "feeble" or "pathetic" if that is your view. Ultimately it comes down to who do you believe?

  6. HJ
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    John said: "Why do we need regional unelected regional government in England? Its unpopularity in the North East referendum should be proof enough to alert politicians that it would be best swept away."

    John must be mistaken. I'm sure that the North East voters must have voted in favour otherwise they wouldn't have one:
    http://www.northeastassembly.gov.uk

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I was pleased to read your views on what should be done. However, may I suggest that there is a need to state positively and clearly what you would have done rather than present it in the form of questions as to why the government won't do these things. This may seem to be nit-picking but I think it goes to the heart of commanding public attention and then support. The country is desperate for a credible alternative to this rotten and discredited Labour government. Most people, who don't take as much detailed interest as the readers of your blog, need to be given clear messages about how the Conservatives would rectify the mess that Brown has created. I fear that is not coming across strongly and clearly enough from your front bench team.

  8. jay
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Apparently bullion dealers now refer to the bottom of the gold market as 'browns bottom' in honour of our glorious leader infallible sense of timing

  9. mikestallard
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I do hope that your temperature has now got back to normal. I hugely enjoy your blog which is frank and clued up. This article is no exception to that either.
    And you forecasted as much.

    The EU is surely to blame for the following: Regional Government, ID cards and Raitrack. All the government is doing is obeying Brussels. The railways are in for a huge plan, so meanwhile there is planning blight. http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/lo
    One of the worst things this government has done is to ruin the Civil Service. Notice how Civil Serf website has been taken down with a little self righteous speech by the Minister of something (I forget what exactly). But all the new employees are going to vote Labour and that is what it is all about.
    The BBC let it slip today that Northern Rock was not included in the budget figures. It has been completely forgotten. The figures are fiddled so often now (inflation figures, league tables for schools?) that one more won't make any difference.
    About the ministers: Simon Heffer put it very well this morning, I thought, in the Telegraph: The drunk has the keys to the cellar.

    But – look at the MEPs blogs and see how much worse the MEPs get it and rejoice!

  10. mikestallard
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    http://web.mac.com/judystallard/iWeb/Gallery/Welc

    I got so angry that I painted the included picture.

  11. NigelC
    Posted March 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    HJ,
    I hope you are being ironic. Every region has a Regional Assembly despite the no vote in the North East. They were imposed and have been running the regional planning process, amongst other things, for years at enormous cost to us the taxpayer.
    The North East, rightly in my view, rejected a directly elected Assembly

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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