Here’s a little thought experiment for you, you’re the head of a government funded quango and you haven’t spent all the money allocated to you for the year, do you A) congratulate yourself for being financially prudent and think about how you can be even more so in the coming year or B) think of ways to blow the lot in the hope that KERCHING! The government will give you loads more money.
If you’re running United Kingdom Trade and investment (UKIT) it seems you will always favour the second option. As evidenced by the emails from former UKIT head Sir Andrew Cahn leaked to the Daily Mail this week in which he asked senior colleagues if they could ‘think of what we might do with the money’, meaning, of course how can we waste it without getting caught.
All this with the tacit, at least, approval of the Foreign Office, with whom according to the leaked emails they were ‘heading for an understanding’ that both parties wanted the money ‘out of the door.’ In a statement to the BBC the Foreign Office said that talks with bodies such as UKIT were commonplace, although some of the language used on this occasion was ‘unacceptable.’
Needless to say this hasn’t gone down at all well with the opposition, quite properly shadow Foreign Secretary Yvette Cooper attacked the Foreign Office for cutting spending on ‘schemes to tackle international drug trafficking and organised crime’ while bodies such as UKIT were ‘rushing to get money out of the door;’ under the leadership of William Hague the FO was, she said, ‘in chaos.’
Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers Alliance told the BBC it was shocking that while businesses and individuals were ‘working hard to look after their money, UKIT are casting around for ways to spend it.’ It was, he said, confirmation that in the public sector ‘too often spending is an end in itself.’
If you ever needed an example of how far the top tier of bureaucrats have departed from the concerns of ordinary citizens then look no further than this sorry episode.
At a time when the CBI is warning that the economic outlook for the first half of 2011 could be ‘volatile’ UKIT aren’t tightening their belts; they’re heading off to buy brand new hand made ones with public money.
CBI Director Richard Lambert told politics.co.uk that ‘there are bumpy times ahead for businesses in Britain. Travelling round the country I find that many people are positive about current trading conditions, but extremely worried about what the next year might bring.’ There probably wouldn’t, he said, be a double dip recession and he predicted growth of 2% for this year rising to 2.4% in 2012; the inference being that to get to even these modest levels of prosperity the woods we will have to pass through will be very dark and scary indeed.
When the GMB trade union predicts 200,000 public sector workers will lose their jobs in 2011 as councils cut spending by 28% the people in charge of UKIT are spending money like a mob of drunken sailors. Even if the more conservative estimate of 140,000 job losses in the public sector made by the Local Government Association is correct that is still a lot of livelihoods lost and lives potentially ruined; a million pounds on its own might not do much to help; but taking it away from a quango and giving it to people in genuine need would be a good start.
The behaviour of UKIT, not to mention that of all the other quangos who were lucky enough not to have their emails leaked to the press, goes way beyond being merely unacceptable. It touches heights of insensitivity seldom reached since Marie Antoinette decided it would be fun to play at being a milkmaid whilst the people of France starved.
Bureaucrats, like the rich in F Scott Fitzgerald’s assessment, are different, or at least they think they are and so don’t have to behave with restraint or common sense. It is time for someone to show them the error of their ways.