Profligacy of public sector defies belief
According to the old saying there are only two things certain in life – that you will pay taxes and that you will die. To that should be added a third; that public money will be wasted or mis-spent. Today this newspaper reveals yet another example of poor, or non-existent, oversight of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money given to the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland. The NI Audit Office has criticised the lack of controls to oversee and evaluate the organisation's work.
This is not a situation unique to the province. Remember the gross overspending on new NHS IT systems in Britain. Indeed, there appears to be an inherent weakness within the public sector when it comes to budgeting, monitoring or gauging the effectiveness of the work of departments or arms-length bodies. The cases we highlight today border on the farcical and includes a potato breeding scheme which has run for years with the only tangible result being plummeting production.
While the Audit Office continues to do a valuable job in probing government spending, the wonder is how the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute continued to operate in the manner it did. It failed to charge appropriate commercial rates for work carried out for other customers outside of its sponsor, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, wasted money on an outdated estate and did not even compare the cost of its scientific work against that of other providers.
We have often said it in the past and make no apology for repeating it, if the private sector ran its businesses in the same way as government, they would cease to trade in a very short period of time.
At a time of recession and contracting public expenditure, it is scandalous that there is not proper scrutiny and control on many projects.
Perhaps if there were more public representatives with a business background, they could assist civil servants in bringing a more focused approach to public spending.