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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Digging a Hole Near You: Your Council has a Budget Surplus to Spend

I once read a study of Aid to Africa which asked the question, For every $100 given in New York or Brussels, how much reaches the front line in the form of teacher or nurse salaries, school books or medicines, and so on. In some cases, the answer is this: $1

Along the way, there are administrators to be salaried, feel-good "conferences" to be held, bribes to be paid, goods to be lost in transit, pointless purchases to be made.

I asked myself, for every £100 paid in taxes by a UK resident, how much is spent in a reasonably efficient and effective way? I guessed, a half. Maybe I am being wildly optimistic. Parliament's Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office spend all their time telling us how much public money has been wasted. Nothing seems to provide value for money.

I read recently that the utilisation rate of the working time of public sector employees is about 30% - that's to say, when they are at work, they are on-task one third of the time. The rest of the time it's getting over the hangover, chatting, and wandering aimlessly.

Right now, the city in which I live (Brighton) has Minor Road Works going on at every street corner. From previous experience, I guess that they are being carried out at this time of year because there is money in the transport pot which must be spent before the end of March (end of the financial year in the UK) and this is the simplest way to get rid of it. There is money in the pot (a) because there are large revenues from parking fes and fines (b) no one is intelligent enough to spend it intelligently.

Normally, these Minor Road Works are Bodger Jobs. You get no better value than you would from digging a hole and filling it in again.

This is one reason why I now think that left-wing or radical parties in advanced western countries should be leading the way in calling for lower taxation. Taxation is not good value for money. And many taxes are regressive - they take more away from poor people than they do from rich people. This is why I think VAT should be abolished. That would be a very good start in bringing down the tax burden.

And what public expenditure would I cut? Perhaps we should follow Costa Rica's example and abolish the armed forces. Nowadays, they only exist to serve the vainglory of leaders like Tony Blair. And look where that has got us.

But I would also shut down the Arts Councils. The middle classes benefit enough from state expenditure already. Let them pay for their own theatre tickets.

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