Thursday, 20 November 2014

Crazy Idea 12 - Let’s get everyone auditing and analysing Government finance looking for ways to save money

It’s not enough to generate more revenue. We also need to cut out waste.

But how can we trust government to do this when they have such a high incentive to keep wasting? Both MPs and civil servants have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The Office of National Statistics likes to break populations down into quintiles: five bandings. Looking at the latest sets of figures available, the average incomes for each banding breaks down as follows (CI012A):

Up to the fourth quintile, no-one earns on average more than £40,000 a year. The income for the lower quintiles is so low that even the highest earners cannot take the average income for the whole of the UK above £32,108.

Every MP earns more than 80% of the population. In fact, even on the basic MP salary of £67,060 (CI012B), they are earning on average over 73% more than those of us stuck in the first four quintiles.

Not all civil servants earn a high salary but the ones who make the decisions do. Minimum pay for a Grade 5 Assistant Secretary is £65,422. Salary bandings for the Head of Civil Service goes all the way up to £178,709. (CI012C)

Think about that for a minute, both senior civil servants and MPs – both sets of people that theoretically are there to serve our interests – have a vested interest in maintaining their high salaries...

They also have a vested interest in insuring that any corporations they are invested in or affiliated with or even – and yes I struggle to believe this – are employed by, receive favourable terms from any new legislation that is passed. If you find it hard to believe your public servants make a healthy income from second jobs, consultancies etc. etc. why not have a scan through the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests. (CI012D)

Or, if you just want the headlines, check out these articles from the Daily Mail (CI012E) and The Guardian. (CI012F)

How are people who have so much to lose supposed to fight against the greed that is common to all people?

Never ask someone to audit themselves. It doesn’t work. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who are honest (fortunately, or our economy would have utterly collapsed years ago) but most of us have levels of honesty. When you are faced with the choice of shouting out that you are overpaid or keeping quiet, how many of us will take the pay cut?

There’s a reason that independent auditors are called in but since many of the main auditors are themselves vested in an economy that allows them to make large profits, how can we trust them to thoroughly audit what the government and its many tentacles spend?

My crazy idea is essentially simple, open it all up. All of it. Even the supposedly ultra secret services. Publish all public finances online. Each month. Allow every single person in the UK unfettered access to what is spent and what it is spent on.

Sure, I can accept that we might not want to name the names of MI5 or MI6 agents when we publish their salary and employers national insurance contributions but we can learn a lot by publishing the number of people employed in a salary banding and the total amount paid.

How much is spent on IT equipment by all government departments? Software (and I’m not talking about that expenses claim by a police quango for lingerie)? (CI012G) How about on building costs or cleaning services? As Julius Levinson asked in Independence Day: “You don't actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?” (CI012H)

Office chairs, wallpaper, entertaining... I’m sure you could help add a few thousand items to the list. We need to fill in the black holes in government accounting.

According to The Guardian, the government are spending several million trying to get you to vote Conservative in 2015 by sending out a leaflet to every home that confuses the reality of what is spent. You will be told that our welfare bill is huge. That it needs to be cut and the Conservatives are the ones to do it. (CI012I)

What they hide in this disingenuous statement is that the bulk of welfare is made up by pensions. As our cruel liberal government seeks to crush the life blood from the poorest in society they fail to mention that the reason welfare is so high is that people are living longer and our pension system was not designed to cope with it.

I do not believe we can trust our government. I take a step back – that’s a seriously scary statement. We the people cannot trust our government...

Or is it? Why should we trust them? Government is only people, like you and me. Why should any of us trust each other? We are wary of strangers until they’ve proved themselves. If a stranger becomes known and is proved untrustworthy then we don’t leave them alone with what we hold most precious.

I don’t trust the Conservatives. Nor Labour. Nor the Liberals. Not the SNP. Not even the Green Party. It is way past time for us to refuse to accept government has the right to hide from our scrutiny. It is time for us to fully audit all they do and for us to then say what should change and what should continue.

With millions of us checking the accounts, surely we can find some cost savings that could help us balance the books... Or is this just another crazy idea?


Do post your own crazy ideas or feedback on mine in the comments below and sign up to my mailing list below to be notified of future posts.

Why should my crazy ideas have any relevance to the economy? I'm the author of The Great Scottish Land Grab, a novel that imagines a fairer future for Scotland where the poor are empowered to change their destiny. I'm director of my own limited company: Goal 31 Ltd and I've over seven years experience working for government and financial organisations. Also, just like you, I'm a taxpayer and for some crazy reason I think that entitles us to have an opinion and for that opinion to be acted on by the government.

As I wrote at the start, I am making my 100 crazy ideas freely available. It seems unjust to propose ideas to fix the economy and then prevent people from freely reading those ideas. 100 Crazy Ideas to Fix the Economy will be published once the craziness is complete.

I can be found on Twitter: @my100goals or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/my100goals. There's a short bio here.


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References

(CI012A; ONS; 15/11/2014; http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/household-income/the-effects-of-taxes-and-benefits-on-household-income/2012-13/data--the-effects-of-taxes-and-benefits-on-household-income--2012-2013.xls)

(CI012B; Parliament; http://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/pay-mps/)

(CI012C; Department of Finance & Personnel; http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/pay)

 (CI012D; Parliament; http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem.htm)

(CI012E; Daily Mail; 5 April 2014; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2597484/Labour-plans-ban-MPs-second-jobs-double-salaries.html)

(CI012F; The Guardian; 27 May 2013; http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/may/27/mps-jobs-interests-full-list-data)

(CI012G; Daily Mail; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2023578/Police-quango-expenses-Fury-6-5m-lingerie-beehives-away-days-expense.html)

(CI012H; IMDB; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116629/quotes?item=qt1534129)

(CI012I; The Guardian; 3 November 2014; http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/03/tory-tax-statement-welfare-budget-unemployment-pensions-cuts)

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