Understanding the age old expression of "if you tell a lie often enough, it eventually becomes accepted as the truth", one can well see, why David Cameron might have felt his nose being put a little bit out of joint by the unexpected involvement of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, in the on-going benefits debate. Obviously no-one wants to be accused of forcing people into destitution, poverty or social want, especially if you're a political leader who hopes to be re-elected for a second term of office, so it is hardly a surprise that Mr Cameron has tried to manage the Archbishop's public criticisms by pointing out that the man leading the changes, the "quiet man" of British politics, Iain Duncan Smith, is also a Roman Catholic, so he couldn't possibly be horrible to poor people, as he shares the same faith as the Archbishop himself; and such nastiness is not allowed. Also, the Prime Minister has tried to deflect some of the same criticism by suggesting that his Coalition government's Welfare program is more of a moral, almost spiritual campaign, one that the poor will undoubtedly thank him for in the end, or at least when the economy has turned around, the deficit has been sufficiently diminished and the national debt has been ruthlessly reduced. Although Mr Cameron defends the Archbishop's right to disagree, as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, the clergyman is wrong; and he, as the leader of our country's political elite is right; and if that requires some degree of suffering to be borne by the poorest in society, then so be it!
Of course, in normal circumstances and if everything was as it's purported to be, in terms of the country's finances, then one could very easily sympathise with Mr Cameron's position and indeed his opinion, that the country is fundamentally broke; and government needs to take a vice like grip on the national finances, if we're ever going to extricate ourselves from the fiscal hole that we currently find ourselves in.
However, things are very rarely as simple or as straightforward as they first appear, especially when it comes to either politics or money; and having spent a little bit of time reading the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste, a truly eye-opening publication, any thoughts that this particular government has been extremely careful with the public purse, in light of our nation's parlous financial situation, were very quickly dispelled. The sheer level of financial wastefulness and public loss highlighted by this report would leave no-one in any doubt that many of our nation's woes are not so much due to the relatively small numbers of semi-professional shirkers and skivers who infest our national Welfare system, but is largely the result of incompetent and crooked politician's, in both local and national government, who abuse the public purse, like a chronic alcoholic abuses a bottle of liquor.
However, in order to create a point of reference and comparison for the amounts of monies wasted by government, it is necessary to repeat some facts and figures regarding the Benefit system that have previously been used in an earlier blog post. As so much political capital is made by attacking benefit recipients in the UK, it is perhaps appropriate to use some welfare figures garnered for the period 2011 to 2012, the first full year that David Cameron's Coalition government were in office.
For the period 2011-2012 the total Welfare Bill in the UK amounted to some £160.2 billion, which comprised State Pensions of £74.2 billion (46.3%), Housing Benefits of £16.9 billion (10.6%), Disability Living Allowance of £12.6 billion (7.9%), Pension Credits of £8.1 billion (5.1%), Income Support of £6.9 billion (4.3%), Rent Rebates of £5.5 billion (3.4%), Attendance Allowance of £5.3 billion (3.3%), Jobseekers Allowance of £4.9 billion (3.1%), Incapacity Benefit of £4.9 billion (3.1%), Council Tax Benefits of £4.8 billion (3.0%), Other Expenditure of £4.7 billion (3.0%), Employment & Support Allowance of £3.6 billion (2.3%), Sickness & Maternity Payments of £2.5 billion (1.5%), Social Fund Payments of £2.4 billion (1.5%), Carers Allowance of £1.7 billion (1.0%) and Financial Assistance Scheme Payments of £1.2 billion (0.8%).
Interestingly perhaps, the figures that follow, taken from the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste, also relate to the same period of time, 2011 to 2012, the first full year of the Coalition's term of office, so clearly some form of direct comparison can be made between the two sets of figures.
According to the Taxpayer's Alliance own figures in the full year 2011 to 2012 the Coalition government was calculated to have wasted something in the region of £120 billion of taxpayers money, which by their reckoning amounted to around £4500 per household in the UK, or to be seen another way, sufficient to eradicate the country's entire national deficit, thus removing the need for some of the most severe austerity measures that have subsequently been put in place. Just as a matter of comparison, the monies saved by cutting out such waste, as in the £120 billion calculated by the Taxpayers Alliance equates to 75% of the entire Benefit bill for that same period.
Within that estimated £120 billion of waste, the TPA calculate that some £53 billion exists as a result of overpayments on Public Sector pay and pensions, simply because Public Sector workers are generally paid 8% more than their Private Sector counterparts, even though they're often doing the same sort of jobs, working similar hours and enjoy similar levels of entitlements. At the same time, Public Sector fraud is thought to cost the public purse something in the region of £20 billion per year. Inefficient public procurement is thought to cost an additional £15 billion, while poor use of available resources and bad choices in outsourcing is estimated to cost taxpayers an extra £10 billion, monies which are all being spent often because those with their fingers on the public purse strings are either crooked, or incompetent.
An estimated £5 billion per year is thought to be paid to wealthier families with an annual income in excess of £100,000 per year; and who probably have no need of additional benefits, but receive them all the same. In 2011, the Royal Bank of Scotland's losses were estimated to have cost taxpayers around £2 billion, monies that would not have been required had the bank been put back into the private sector. Additionally, the sale of Northern Rock to Virgin money was said to have cost the British taxpayer in the region of £2 billion, given the costs of rescuing it, against the amount raised from selling it back into the market.
The government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, run by Vince Cable, is reported to cost taxpayers approximately £2 billion, when some sources suggest that simply scrapping the department and integrating its role within other government agencies would be just as effective, if not more so, considering that some of its fiercest critics accuse it of hampering new businesses, rather than helping them. Similarly, it has been calculated that simply closing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would save the British taxpayer about £0.9 billion per year.
It has been estimated that improvements in procurement within the Ministry of Defence could save the government in the region of £1.5 billion per year; and avoiding project overruns could save a further £0.5 billion, while negligence within the NHS is said to cost the service around £1.2 billion a year, although the total provision set aside within the NHS as a whole is reported to be as high as £17.5 billion. Staff sickness rates within the NHS are calculated to be well above industry norms; and as a result are thought to cost the public purse something in the region of £0.9 billion per year, while between them missed hospital appointments and replacement locum services cost the NHS something like £1.2 billion per year.
Between 2007 and 2013, on average British taxpayers were subsidising foreign farmers to the tune of £7.1 billion, which equates to around £1.2 billion per year. Educational gadgets, such as Notepads, Tablets and Whiteboards are said to cost the government around £0.5 billion per year, even though according to the educational charity, Nesta, there is not definitive proof that they actually improve educational attainment. The accidental or deliberate loss of military equipment, including tanks and their recovery vehicles is said to amount to £0.5 billion per year, while simply making better use of existing facilities would save an estimated £0.27 billion; and better co-ordination of utility company works a further £0.22 billion.
Clearly, some of these figures are huge numbers; and whilst they help convey the scale of the problem regarding government waste, in just one year, they probably fail to properly illustrate the sheer level of wastefulness and misappropriation that takes place on an almost daily basis within different government departments and various council chambers. By way of examples, the Taxpayer Alliance's Big Book of Government Waste rather helpfully made a list of some of the most striking cases, some of which are repeated below;
The Arts Council spending £2.7 million to simply rent their Arts Council Headquarters building, while a further £2.5 million of public money was spent painting the sides of inter-continental vehicles, promoting Lincolnshire's Fenland throughout the rest of continental Europe. A further £1 million was spent by the Arts Council to commission a "Helicopter Opera", as a means of celebrating the Olympic Games in 2012.
However, that was pocket change compared to the £98 million spent by the BBC on its Digital Media Initiative, that was subsequently dropped in May 2013; joining the other £80 million loss, suffered by the corporation, when it sold Lonely Planet. Some £6.5 million of Licence Fee payers money was also spent relocating 550 staff to the BBC's new headquarters in Salford; and don't even ask about the cost of the taxi fares that the BBC has subsequently racked up ferrying its various guests and presenters up and down the length of the country.
An estimated £62 million of cost overruns were said to have resulted from Cambridgeshire's guided bus way, while councils throughout the country were reported to have spent around £20 million between them on translation services that they had no legal requirement to provide. £8.7 million was spent by 65 councils on "Green" jobs, presumably environmental compliance officers or similar, although the cost did not include any of the subsequent literature, or associated publicity information that almost inevitable accompany such posts.
A reported £8 million was spent by East and West Midlands Councils, paying suspended workers, 78 of whom were said to have been suspended for more than a 12 month period. £23 million was paid out by various London councils for Public Relations materials, which were thought to have included free newspapers and newsletters.
The Department for International Development was reported to have spent £22.7 million on bailing out a number of debt laden, state owned businesses in Bangladesh, while another DfID scheme in the same country, a £21.2 million project to maintain the country's roads was subsequently suspended after it emerged that only about 10% of the money provided by the UK was actually being spent on the roads themselves, the remainder being diverted elsewhere. According to other expenses records, another DfID scheme, costing an estimated £13.1 million, was intended to train 1700 Civil Servants to develop and deliver pro-poor policies and practices in their home country. It later emerged that the annual salary for each of these workers was estimated to be £600, so clearly the project was intended to be a long term one.
Other government departments are equally as bad. The Department for Transport was said to have spent, or more accurately lost around £50 million due to the mismanagement and subsequent cancellation of the West Coast Rail Franchise competition. Some £4 million is reportedly spent on Disability benefits for a number of people who are morbidly obese, while in another Welfare related case, an estimated £4 million was lost after a Ugandan benefit claimant invented one hundred fictional children, multiple identities and claimed that they were suffering from HIV/Aids, in order to gain access to vital medicines that they normally wouldn't have been entitled to.
The Department of Health was reported to have paid £5 million bringing in a "hit squad" to a number of London's NHS hospitals, in order to help them save money. Elsewhere in the NHS, an estimated £85 million was spent on weight loss surgeries during 2011/12, whilst a further £84 million was spent on a national "Stop Smoking" service, even though the vast majority of smokers returned to the habit very soon afterwards, if they gave up at all. Another £80 million was said to have been spent on prescribing Vitamin D within the NHS, with one instance mentioned of a £16 treatment being charged at £2400. Additionally, NHS Dental Fraud is thought to be costing the service around £70 million per year, whilst a further £67 million is being paid as a subsidy to pharmacists for what are often ineffective medicines. £40 million is thought to be lost through NHS Health Tourism, £27 million spent on providing specialist foods to patients, many of which are often available from the high street and at far cheaper rates, while another £25 million is thought to be spent providing specialist equipment for those who are morbidly obese in their own homes, with this cost not actually including their actual healthcare, which is extra.
Unhappily, the list provided by the Taxpayers Alliance of the waste within government goes on, and on, and on; all of it simply helping to prove that because its public money, provided by the taxpayers of the country, very little thought seems to be given to its security, let alone how it's spent, or even attempting to achieve any sort of value for money. Contrast this though with David Cameron's defence of his own government's welfare cuts, because cuts are what they represent, when benefits payments are irrevocably eroded by a rising cost of living; and yet he still persists in attempting to make the case that "we're all in this together", that everyone is feeling the pinch, that every government department is having to tighten its proverbial belt, or that every bit of waste is being drawn out of every part of his government. If he truly believes that, then quite honestly it is little wonder that billions of pounds of taxpayers money is being wasted each and every year; and with such delusional characters in charge of the country's finances, it can hardly bode well for any of our futures. That being the case I fully expect that the Taxpayers Alliance will continue to be producing Big Books of Government Waste for many years to come.