The current national news of the public deficit, whether to borrow more or cut spending, has revealed the inescapable truth that politics has crashed into the buffers of economics..
‘Economics’ is an over simplification. The National Audit Office has long reported the lack of financial and managerial clout at the top of Departments of State.
The whole of the State apparatus, costly in itself, is predicated on the primacy of the ‘policy’ and funds voted for health and education and so on. The revenue for this is then raised from taxation without thought of the dynamics of effectiveness and accountability. That Government walks away having voted the funds has been shown up as costly, dangerous and uncontrolled by the European court of Auditors refusal for 14 years to sign off their Accounts. I expect the same result when the first ever Whole of UK Government accounts are put before Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General later this year. This is not to suggest that grants to Surrey County Council are lost to sight but without proper accountability processes we are not far from that.
It gets worse. In government there is an almost complete lack of the numerate, operational tool, and professional decision-making culture that the circumstances require. We have just been regaled with the unbelievable results from the PFI initiative. £302 to change a plug and the original capital cost deferred and multiplied down the years. Why is government unable to do these things for itself rather than pay so much to others. Does it not do the usual evaluations, such as discounting the cash flow, before setting off on that road ?
David Cameron has sensed or recognised this huge and very costly elephant in the room by seeking for government departments non-executive directors with clout from outside.
This whole problem is about to be worsened by the big society and ‘localism’. Who is going to do the management and back-office stuff ? And just when the trend of human evolution and history is moving in the opposite direction. Ever larger infrastructures and standards require broader co-ordination.
The answer is to completely flush out of the system the present poor quality of dreaming and ineffective politicians. If we want to get back on track we shouldn’t start from here. But a changed centre of gravity would perhaps develop from a new department accountable to the Prime Minister whose function would be akin, for the ship of State, to a naval architect and chief engineer to design and maintain the system architecture.
The TaxPayers Alliance and locally in Surrey, STAG, can do much from our own experience to begin to change perceptions as to how government and the public sector should operate.