Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Why paying workers to give up their jobs is bad housekeeping

If I get a nasty tax bill and have to cut back on my spending, there are obvious, if unpleasant, measures.

Cut up credit cards. Set a daily cash budget and stick to it. Stop shopping — except for essentials.

No frocks. Travel off-peak, shop for cheaper energy deals. Not exactly rocket science.

To pay off debts you need a simple plan. Families are trimming their expenditure carefully as 490,000 public-sector workers in the UK face redundancy. So — we are told — is the Government.

The new team is big on grand gestures and — until yesterday — hazy on the detail.

It asks people who are good at flogging food and frocks to form committees, act as unpaid advisers. It's just Cool Britannia for the age of The Apprentice and Dragon's Den.

The coalition might be full of wobbly-chinned men with pot bellies and receding hairlines, but they love emulating Arnie and talking mean.

Francis Maude, George Osborne, Eric Pickles and David Cameron regularly tough it out, competing to eliminate the £153bn deficit.

But, in practice, many of the so-called ‘big savings’ turn out to be less effective than my cutting up bits of plastic and cooking root vegetables.

Last week, Francis Maude announced his long-trailed bonfire of the quangos. Nearly 200 were abolished, 118 merged and 40 are under review.

He's already backtracking, saying that it wasn't simply about savings, but ‘transparency’. Many of the offending bodies just become something else — committees of experts or charities.

Closing down quangos costs a fortune in redundancy payments, pension entitlements and rental contracts.

The Film Council, to pick just one example, estimates its winding-up costs at £11.3m, when its annual costs were £3m.

The regional development agencies joint budget was £1.4bn-a-year — and it's going to cost £1.5bn just to close them down.

The Audit Commission, which was unceremoniously axed by Eric Pickles, will spend £75m on redundancy and a whopping £400m on pensions.

And I am sure that all the proposed committees of ‘experts’ will be entitled to claim expenses. They will still need stationery, phones and places to meet.

Sir Philip Green said that, if Government procurement was centralised, there could be huge savings. This will never happen.

Pickles and Co want Government departments to take more responsibility. Sadly, Sir Philip's blue-sky thinking will languish in the pending tray.

Back in July, Francis Maude whinged about civil servants who didn't do anything, but existed on full pay waiting to be deployed to fresh tasks.

Now he's locked in battle with the six unions who represent them, over a redundancy agreement, which the Public and Commercial Services Union, has turned down.

Mr Maude is now trying to repeal legislation passed by Ted Heath, which forces the Government to consult with unions over civil servants' pensions and redundancy. The union is threatening strike action.

Meanwhile, in the three months up to August 13 this year, the Government spent £9.8m on 50 new contracts with consultants.

The Treasury spends 80% of its entire staffing costs on consultants on short-term contracts.

You and I make economies by exercising self-denial. Politicians call a consultant and shuffle paper about.

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