Controlling public sector costs

Yesterday was an important day in the battle to change attitudes towards public spending. MPs started to repay amounts they had claimed legally which the public thought unreasonable, as well as amounts that should not have been claimed. The day brought in more than £100,000 of returns. The boss of Network Rail who is paid a high salary realised that to take a bonus as well would be wrong in the circumstances, though not all his senior collegaues shared his wisdom. This heavily subsidised business which has cost taxpayers a fortune in recent years needs to improve its efficiency much more before bonuses are paid to people at the top.

David Cameron confirmed tighter rules for Conservative MPs expense claims which should bring them down this year compared to last, and renewed his calls for fewer MPs. Labour Ministers showed they now understand the public mood about excessive expense claims.

Unfortunately Ministers still have not grasped the need to control the large sums and the large projects under their control. We still have not heard them stop the ID computer and other very expensive computer schemes. Recent answers to my questions show the consultancy bandwaggon rolls on. And yesterday the taxpayer was told he had to stand behind another £1,000,000,000 of Olympics spending that was meant to be privately funded. Maybe they should review the total costs of the project and find ways of saving some money.

We cannot afford many more days when the net increase in spending is still almost a billion pounds, even after the refunds to the taxpayer.

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17 Comments

  1. Lola
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    In re MP pay, pensions and perks row it is now beginning to dawn on The Public that much of the same largesse is also available to civil servants and quangocrats. I have had several chance converstations in recent days with a taxi driver, a newsagent, a cafe owner and his staff, an overseas visitor, a fish stall owner, and others all of whom commented not only upon the scandal of MPs remuneration system but how the same scams were probably being paid to civil servants, especially the pensions available to the latter, and quangocrats.

    Now, I know, and they know, that there are many civil servants that do a good job, but, and it is a big but, there are too many of them, they are unlikely to lose their jobs, their pay goes up all the time and they pay no income tax as that is either (a) just a rebate to the rest of us or (b) netted off against the pensions cost.

    We also feel victimised by the massive bureaucracy that now exists for its own ends and not to serve us. The full force of law crashes down on us at the slightest trangression of the bizarre system of rules and regulations that has been constructed over the last 12 years. We are scared. We have no power. And that is Wrong. Governments and their bureaucracies should be scared of us, The Voter, not the other way about.

  2. alan jutson
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Cut Public spending.!!!
    That would admit that the original Policy was perhaps incorrect.
    Mr Brown does not admit to wrong or errors very often.
    Its all about Independent inquiries if there is any doubt.
    He does You Tube, not U Turns.
    Labour do not understand the concept of value, they just “invest”.
    There is only one thing worse than a Socialist with money.
    That is a Socialist with someone elses money.
    The spending will continue until they are voted out.

  3. Simon D
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    You are right we cannot afford it. We are living through a massive slow motion car crash and the impact of the Government’s inability to adjust to our new circumstances and adopt the right policies (living within our means) will have terrible consequences for the British public. We are piling up Government debt beyond reason,

    All the opposition parties should attack Gordon Brown for doing it. In addition the opposition needs to explain the requirement for Governmental frugality, honestly and without equivocation. If the Government does not take heed, the markets (those investors who currently are prepared to hold sterling) will exact a terrible price.

    We all know what to do and, equally, we all know why it can’t be done. The British public and media want it both ways. They would like to avoid currency collapse, unemployment and hyper-inflation but do not want to hear about Government spending and borrowing cuts, especially cuts by those nasty, wicked Tories with their moats and country houses with tennis courts.

    We are not America and I feel an encounter with the IMF is now very high on the agenda prior to Brown being booted out by the electorate in May 2009. We are in for a very rough ride on the roller coaster.

  4. Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    It is really good to know that our host has repaid nothing because he did not need to.
    Well done!

  5. Stuart Fairney
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    How can we expect financial control from people who claim they forgot they paid off their mortgage? I know of precisely one person who has ever made that claim, though there is another who claims her husband deals with the mortgage and they know nothing like a good little 1950’s style housewife.

    • Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Each case is different and needs to be judged on its merits and after consideration of the evidence and circumstances.

  6. Deborah
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    The Olympics is a racket. It should be returned to its noble roots Athens.

  7. backofanenvelope
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The Olympics should be funded from the National Lottery. All NL money should be diverted to the Olympics till it is paid for. The Treasury could do its bit by waiving the tax take from the NL.

    It should be made clear to everyone that this is a mess created by the Labour Party.

  8. Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    More than once the Government has stated its determination to cut out waste in the public sector; so starting with the top of the tree I have a suggestion.

    In my previous business life some twenty members of sales and other staff often needed to stay away from home from time to time. There were other expenses too of course such as running the company car, telephone etc. Our rule was however was that all such staff had to regularly submit their schedules, known to us as ‘journey plans’, two weeks ahead.

    Although these were principally used as a tool for management to take an advance view as to individual sales and marketing priorities, they were also used by the accounts office to validate claims. Anything that appeared anomalous was referred to the sales director’s office for clarification. In this age of blackberries and the like; all of which are easily downloadable and transmittable, I see no reason why such an approach should not now be considered for MPs.

  9. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The scandal over MPs’ expenses/allowances is symptomatic of the major failure of government and parliament to control public spending. At the heart of the problem is the failure of MPs to recognise that the money they spend on themselves or on any government spending is NOT their money. Too many, as soon as they enter parliament (no doubt many even before), seem to have an attitude that taxpayers’ money is their money to do with as they wish. This is exemplified so clearly and vividly by the way in which allowances and expenses have been claimed and the nature of the items that MPs thought we taxpayers should pay for. MPs no longer see themselves as the servants of the people but as their masters and as such they are avaricious for a lifestyle to go with that position. The country is suffering the most severe economic crisis in most of our life times. This rotten parliament is incapable of even beginning to steer the right course. There should be dissolution of parliament and a general election.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, whatever else may change I don’t see how a general election would lead to any improvement whatsoever in our political system.

      For example, the otherwise different reactions by Brown and Cameron to the expenses scandal have this in common: they both assume that as party leaders they have seats in our Parliament within their personal gift.

      Brown threatened that Labour MPs who voted against his proposals would be de-selected, without any reference even to their constituency Labour party groups, let alone their constituents.

      Similarly Cameron threatened that Tory MPs who refused to pay back excessive expenses would be de-selected, without any reference even to their constituency Tory party groups, let alone their constituents.

      These are just two men, two citizens, who apparently have the power to decide who shall, and who shall not, be the elected representatives of millions of citizens, and who all too easily assume that they have the right to do so.

      And as far as Cameron is concerned, his only proposal for reform of the system is to arbitrarily reduce the number of those elected representatives of the people.

      A move which, apart from other harmful effects, can only tend to further centralise power within the three main political parties – and this is from a party which claims to have been converted to “localism” – and moreover tend to further entrench the positions of those three parties vis-a-vis new or smaller parties, and independents.

      Something pretty radical needs to be done to curb the overweening power of patronage exercised by the cabals controlling the main political parties, or they will be the death of democracy in this country.

      • alan jutson
        Posted May 14, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Dennis
        I agree with you in part.
        My own simple thoughts on this, is that it is the Party System that is the fault.

        The WHIPS seem to have almost TOTAL CONTROL over Party’s Members, with regard to how they should vote, which is for the Party at all times.

        It appears to me that if any Party has an overall majority in Parliament then as far as most decisions are concerned, Democracy is out of the window.
        The result is a forgone conclusion, you may as well have cardboard cut outs as Members, as the GOVERNMENT WILL ALWAYS WIN.

        The Whips seem to me to be to be nothing less than the Party Leaders enforcers, which I could understand if they were supervising correct proceedure etc etc.
        But Vote as I say or find yourself de-selected next time, is that what constituants really want. ???????.

        Gone seem to be the days when some (but not all) MP’s voted with their conscience on matters of state, which often served as the checks and balances on the rather more extreme policies.

        John.
        What is the reason for MP’s being against secret ballots on all voting motions. After all Margaret Thatcher thought this was a good idea for all Trade Unions.

        Reply: I can see the attractions of secret ballots on all motions.It would cut the power of the whips and of a bullying government.
        There are two main arguments against. The one is orderly conduct of business needs a government to be able to carry most of its business, including some unpopular decisions. Secret ballots might mean MPs voting for tax reductions but not for the countervailing spending cuts.
        The other is MP honesty. Dishonest MPs could then lie about how they had voted on every issue, which the public might get annoyed about. There is something to be said for having a complete register of how we all vote on every subject. It would take a lot of detetctive work to ring every MP on an issue, ask them how they voted, only to discover what they said did not add up to the vote cast!

        • alan jutson
          Posted May 15, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          John
          Thankyou for your feedback
          I understand your two points about MP’s possibly not telling the truth to the Whips, but in the present system those MP’s who vote as they are told, are not being true to the electorate.
          With regard to your other point:
          Vote for tax cuts, but not expenditure cuts, and possible dishonest MP’s.
          Yes I can quite understand the risk of them saying one thing and doing (voting) another, it is a real risk, but you are supposed to be “honerable members” both men and women.
          Yes I do understand the attraction of having a record of voting.

          I suppose its a simple question of:
          Do we trust MP’s to do the right thing, if they are given a secret ballot.
          How sad that it should come down to trust once more, and that is what would be questioned.

      • Janet Child
        Posted May 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        It is time we moved away from leaders of the parties insisting on complete loyalty to them. MPs could all be Independents answerable to their constituents first and foremost and loosely affilliated to a particular party. All votes could then be in the interests of their constituents and eliminate the need for whips who as far as I can see as an outsider are there to bully people into voting in a certain way according to the dictats of the party.

        Ths would surely lead to votes being more representative of public opinion eg would we have so readily gone to war in Iraq?

        • alan jutson
          Posted May 15, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          agreed.

      • Brian Tomkinson
        Posted May 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Denis,
        I share your scepticism regarding the political parties. They have not done a good job, have seriously let down the electorate and now have brought our democracy to breaking point. The thrust of my argument was that whilst there is an essential and justifiable focus on the scandal of MPs’ expenses/allowances at the same time the economy is in a dreadful state. It seems to me that this Parliament is simply incapable of addressing the fundamental measures required to save our economy or anything else for that matter. We cannot limp on for another twelve months during which time untold further damage may be inflicted on both our economy and our democracy. Sadly, the long term task of restoring proper accountable democracy will not be resolved quickly but clearing out many of the current MPs would be a start.

  10. Paul
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    John,

    I would be interested to know your views on this. My County Council ( Tory) now runs in competition with local businesses the following businesses funded with tax payers money. Travel agency, coach company, bulding regulations consultancy, publishing and magazine empire, recruitment agency, and a TV station among many others. Currently they don’t compete with any of my businesses but they are working on it. This morning I punctured a car tyre on hitting a pothole on a main A road. The pothole count is huge just within 10 miles of where I live.

    Oh of course my council also lost £50 million in Iceland, the CEO is on in excess of £200k per annum and Council Tax is up again.

    For the first time in my life I will not be voting Tory in the next County Council elections

    Reply: Don’t go and vote for people who want more spending and more Council trading!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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