David Blackburn

The transparency revolution gets under way

The transparency revolution gets under way
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The press has gone to town on the government’s spending spree; more than £80bn of central government expenditure, itemised in this imposing document published today by Francis Maude.

The government will squirm at some findings, notably on redacted defence procurement contracts, Libyan oil agreements and the 194,000 payments made to individuals and private companies (Capita has been paid £3.3bn for outsourcing government work, and De Beers, the diamond cutters, received nearly £1,200 from the Business Department). Already the blame game has begun, with Labour and the coalition sparring from a distance. But, for the most part, ministers will be gleeful: the Civil Service and public sector have been forced to expose their own excess; they will get the blame.

There is evidence of all manner of needless and occasionally lurid indulgence. The Equality and Human Rights Commission took its earnest deliberations to the Tiger Tiger bar in Manchester, which is, let me tell you, not a very a discriminating place. Amid bouts of Sir Trevor's jollity, HMRC spent £164,000 on water coolers and £1.1million was spent on in-cell TV for prisoners. The public will understand that some large bills have a context and legal justification: the BBC is working itself into a limply irreverent frenzy at the money paid to Prince Charles by the MoD and the Justice department for the lease of land on Dartmoor. But every frivolous item and the volume of expenditure will aid the government’s narrative (expounded once more by Francis Maude) that waste is endemic to the public sector.

The fabled ‘army of armchair auditors’ will break against the impenetrable fortress of data; only the rarest enthusiast could withstand the attrition. But, embarrassed by excess, the Civil Service, Quangos and private contractors should mend their ways in future. Next stop for Maude: wasteful local government.