Fraser Nelson

How Cameron can expose the long tail of waste

How Cameron can expose the long tail of waste
Text settings
Comments

If our MPs keep paying back the expenses they claimed at the current rate we'll have the national debt down in no time. What strikes me about ex-Labour chairman Ian McCartney is that even the prospect of having his claims made public led him to reach for his cheque book and refund £16,000 of our money that he'd helped himself to - on the likes of champagne flutes and decorating. He wrote a hilarious letter to the Fees Office last July. "In the light of reforms debated and implemented by a resolution of the House on July 3, 2008 I have been looking at my claims to ensure that I am satisfied in their accuracy," he said. Except that was a lie, because he did know they were, as he puts it, "accurate and allowable and was deemed as such by your department at the time." But the British public would see this as thievery. So it was time to do a Blears, and whip out his cheque book. “I feel very strongly that the money should be returned to ensure consistency and to assist the House in its ability to retain public confidence." Note that no such consideration struck him when he was filing the claims.

All this has got me thinking about something David Cameron said recently: that "sunlight is the best disinfectant". And if this is the effect this transparancy on our MPs, then just think how it would chasten Whitehall departments. One of the Tories' most encouraging plans is to force the disclosure of every item over £25,000. As I say in my News of the World column today it means that every five-a-day adviser, every unnecessary junket at a five-star hotel, will be up for all to see. This will have more power than a hundred top-down efficiency reviews. And when it comes out, I suspect we'll see far more horror stories.

The expenses farrago should teach Cameron this: transparency, combined with public anger, is a more powerful force than he ever imagined. So his £25,000 threshold will help him cut costs more than the most ferocious slash-and-burn efficiency tsar. So if I were him, I'd think two things: can the £25k threshold be lowered, and expose more of the long tail of government waste? And can it be compulsorily extended to local government? Windsor and Maidenhead Council have published every cost over £500 (although the name of the supplier, by itself, doesn't really tell you much - and I do hope that the £5k to Eton College isn't someone's tuition fee). This shows that such transparency is possible. So should Cameron force all councils to do follow suit? It would be a huge coup for people power.

Tory plans to force transparency of spending - for example, by forcing all councils to release it in the same format so people can make aggregating programmes - is one of these policies that sounds nerdy now but may prove to be revolutionary in curbing the cost of government waste. Sunlight is the best disinfectant - and there has been plenty to disinfect in Westminster. Just think of how much we can save by forcing Whitehall into the daylight.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Comments
Topics in this articleSociety