Tuesday, September 08, 2009

David Cameron Speech On Reducing The Cost Of Government

ConHome give a roundup of David Cameron's speech today on cutting the cost of Government. To be honest, I have not seen or heard the speech so I am basing my reactions on what I read on ConHome – so I will try not to be too harsh where I disagree. - I will certianly correct myself if I am laterly convinced I am wrong with the below.

As a floating voter on the centre-right, such a speech would seem to be aimed at securing the votes of people of a similar mind-set as mine, so here are my thoughts.

Each and every QUANGO having to justify its existence –

The sentiment is right, but I would need to know more about what is planned. If the idea is to set up a governing QUANGO or enacting lots more job creation without bringing down costs then the above is a pointless statement.

However, if the link between QUANGO’s and Ministerial accountability (and ergo Parliament) is to be tightened, and if unneeded QUANGOs, and government funded Charities can be culled then this will be positive.

We have moved too much of the public sector away from ministerial control and accountability, and as such the costs have spiralled, and the link to the voters has been diluted. Any substantial efforts to reverse this will be welcomed.

Every item of Government spending over £25,000 to be published online –

This is a good initiative. Firstly it increases accountability to the public and should ensure that all taxpayer know where money is being spent. Secondly, it is not overly ambitious, and it should is at a realistic level that should ensure it is possible to put a consistent system in place. Once it is, it is a matter of debate where to set the publishing threshold moving forward.

I am concerned though as there will inevitable by some areas where by certain expenditure will not be published, or at least not in any great detail; I am thinking for example national defence. It needs to be as widely encompassing as possible and though the details for certain expenditure will not be disclosed, everybody should be clear on what is, and what is not, being reported.

It might be a bit much to wish for, but if we could also catalogue any expenditure which is being made because of implementation of EU Law or UK law following EU Directives so that a real analysis of the cost of EU membership could be made, it would only serve the interests of open and honest debate.

All Public Sector salaries over £150,000 to be published online –

Like with the expenses above, it is at about the right level so as to be achievable.

The threshold is also important; and would seem to be set so as to include the top earners of national government. It will be interesting as I suspect there will be a great number of regional and local councils included in such a list, and this would almost instantly ignite public anger because I think the sums involved will be massive.

My mind though turns to questions on the details. For example, will the payroll of QUANGOs be included? And if not, why not? How about the BBC which is collected via enforced licence fee? Also, how about those individuals who drawn money from both the EU and the UK Government such as Lord Mandelson, will their full earnings be made public, and to what level of detail? The next question is the same, but with, but with members of devolved governments and assemblies.
Will expenses and/or allowances count towards earnings? Certainly an allowance is definitely supplementing income and I would feel should be included.

Will people drawing gold-plated public sector pensions above the threshold be included?

What also of people who are drawing a salary from the public purse and privately – will their incomes be included and how will it be monitored?

I guess the sentiment of the gesture is welcomed, but its effectiveness could be limited.

Opposing new MP’s getting a final pension salary scheme -

I think that given the better than average salary and Perks that MP’s do not need a publically funded pension scheme, and any MP’s who are genuinely not so well of will have to make do with the ordinary state pension, or privately funded pension which is the same as their constituents will. It is an abuse of the state for the decision makers to award themselves better Pensions than those of the lower earning civil service and also of the taxpaying public.

Abolishing Regional Assemblies -

This is an interesting one because I suspect most people will skip past it. Regional Assemblies should never have been set up in the first place, are costly, unpopular and ineffective.

However, they were implemented as the wish of the EU which wants to regionalise England so as to weaken our voice of opposition within the EU. I sometimes read articles which describe this effort as the Balkanisation of England.

This could quietly be a useful litmus test for observers of a Cameron government measuring their influence with the EU; the EU will certainly oppose it. I suspect this one will later be scrapped or seriously modified.

Scrapping the Standards Board for England -

I do not know too much about this body but my instinct after 4 second on their website is that this is another QUANGOesque non-entity that serves as a barrier between Government and people. Its entire function seems to be so as to remove accountability and responsibility from the councils and in more serious cases from National Government and act as a middleman.
I feel a little too undereducated on this particular body to form a strong opinion, but the first instinct is that this is probably a positive move. Accountability from local councils to individuals should be improved upon by making the link more direct, so this would fit with my general opinion anyway.

Reducing the number of MP’s by 10% -

I have written about what I see as the need for an elected upper house before, which includes the need to reduce the number of MP’s; I will be writing more in the future, so broadly I agree.

I cannot remember where I read it to be able to link to it, or the exact number, but I recall seeing that there is room for in the region of 430 MP’s to sit in the existing benches in the House of Commons, so why not simply reduce the number to a level that can be comfortably accommodated for a full house?

This will also raise post-devolution questions, and open up the West Lothian question further. I am not sure that I have seen a compelling argument that would suit most people in this respect anyway, but at least would concentrate the brain.

Ministerial salaries to be cut by 5% immediately and frozen for the lifetime of the next Parliament –

In my gut, I actually don’t think ministers are over paid in terms of their salary, or at least if their salary was the extent of their earning. But when you look at the bigger picture of allowances and expenses, they scarcely need a salary. So I would welcome this whilst the Conservative address the wider picture.
As I mention above, with bigger salary’s being published, there is going to be a lot of public attention, I foresee this 5% reduction will play well in the mix with a cull of the Council luvvies.

Taxpayer's money will no longer subsidise politician's food & drink –

Predicted to save £5.5m.

A conservative government should practice what they preach and allow a little free enterprise into Parliaments restaurants & bars. There is no reason for MPs to charge for food or receive subsidy. I recall seeing a number of MPs arguing that they need a food allowance to sit alongside their second home subsidy, this is of course nonsense, people only eat in one location, and expecting MPs to dip into their already handsome salaries for a extra pint of milk and/or loaf of bread is not an unreasonable expectation from the public.

I would like to also see steps taken to ensure that when hotel bills are charged that food and newspapers not be reimbursed as well.

The budget for official government cars to be cut by a third –

ConHome quote David Cameron as saying "There are times when having a car to hand which gets a minister to a certain place on time is absolutely vital to our democratic process – for example, to make a vote in the House of Commons, or to meet a foreign dignitary or open a school. But there is no need for 171 of these cars to be on hand for every government minister, whip – and indeed, myself."

I absolutely agree with the point, but looking at the number of cars – 171 versus the number of ministers – 169, versus the current number of members of Cabinet – 31.

I would think there is scope for a deeper cut here. Surely not every minister across all portfolios should be entitled to a car.

Perhaps the point is that David Cameron will be reducing the number of MPs and the size of his cabinet so there will naturally be less need for the cars anyway.

Public sector bodies will be stopped from hiring consultants and lobby politicians –

It is an absolutely corrupt scandal that the taxpayer has to pay for the public sector to convince itself to do what it already wants to do. Fake Charities should also be looked at post haste.

Similar practices are also employed by the EU which have helped swell the size and scope of its remit, (I would argue illegitimately) – so the debate around this will be interesting.

Electoral Commission must be run more efficiently –

ConHome again quote David Cameron "with advertising campaigns and wasteful marketing initiatives" and that under the proposed QUANGO review, "we will identify all the unnecessary functions it has assumed and see what savings we can make for the taxpayer".

My opinion is that The Electoral Commission needs have some independence from Central Government to allow for fairness and to avoid being too easily influenced from the Government of the day or even by the politics of the day; however that does not and should not absolve them from criticism, and does not mean they too can be profligate with taxpayer’s cash. So yes their spending should be reviewed openly and if there is extravagance it should be reined in.

Parliamentary authorities must cut costs by 10% -

Again, I would need more details before I jump on board and say that it is a good idea, but at a high level it would appear that most areas of Parliamentary spending is in excess of what is needed, so I expect that this will be a popular and prudent move.

My conclusions:

I will wait until I see the speech and have been able to read into the details a little more before I form any solid opinions and conclusions but I generally supportive of all of the announced policies.  Government can be much, much cheaper and we have scope to demand greater efficiencies for less money.

The present Government has failed to rein in spending, and it is the public that are showing the way by paying down personal debt. It is to Gordon Browns shame that hardworking poor families are feeling the pinch of his expensive social experimentations and to David Cameron's credit that it would appear he is ready to steer a Conservative Government in the right direction and set the right examples on tax and spend issues. Devaluing our currency to decrease the pinch and give a pass to the cost of the last decade of a progressive agenda I think could see the UK struggle for as long as a decade economically.

I suspect these proposals will receive wide backing and broad popular support. It will be difficult for Labour to argue for more borrowing to keep the leviathan afloat – but then again they did not ask permission to indebt us to present levels. The debt will keep on rising until they are booted out of power. The next election will be won or lost by the coping classes; Labour is unwilling to ease the burdens but David Cameron is, and in the fight between two not very popular leaders I think this time voters will follow their wallets.

However, there is little detail, which is trademark Cameron. This is somewhat clever, as it halts Labours ability to overly scrutinise, but also because few people think that the books are clean, and I think there is broad acceptance that until the Conservative get into power, budgeting will have to be more strategic rather than specific. All spending plans could fall apart on day 1 if Labour has been cooking the books, or heavens forbid a little economical with the truth.

It is a shame David Cameron could not go further as I am sure there will be calls to do so. Labour are predictable when wounded and the “Tory Cuts” line will already have been deployed. The reality is that these spending cuts represent the tip of the iceberg of what could be cut without affecting vital services or continuity of Government, and past battles between Tories and Labour are influencing the shape of the debate more than the numbers and concerns of voters.

Floating voters will associate with the direction and some may be won over. My floating vote has not, but then I have been quite open about the reasons for that in the past. But it is a good and sensible move by David Cameron as Gordon Brown squandered more than billions of pounds of our money, he has squandered his economic reputation in under 12 months.  By keeping the conversation public spending and the cost of Government David Cameron will win more and more votes the closer we get to decision time.

My final contribution would be to add that it is nice to be able to comment on stated Conservative policy on the economy that has been announced in advance of the elcetion, rather than as a reaction to the demands of politics.  I hope there is more to come, and I am sure the Blogosphere has plenty to say and offer as a better picture of a future Conservative government becomes clearer.


Tarquin said...

good on you - this is a shameless trick to catch votes

In fairness that's politics - doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, but I'm still not convinced - these are easy decisions, albeit right ones

I'm holding out for more - something brave

A Pedant said...

seperate destiny's*

separate (think 'part')

bigger salary’s*

*destinies/salaries (unless you are a grocer, of course...)

Taxpayer's money will no longer subsidise politician's food & drink

Just one taxpayer subsisising one politician?