The Government Needs to Spend More Wisely

I caught Your Money and How They Spend It on Wednesday last week.  The series is simple, it’s looking at how the UK government collects and spends public money.  We all know the government collects revenue from taxes and uses that money to provide public services.  Everything from welfare and pensions, to the NHS to defence comes from the revenue it raises.

I think we’re all well aware the nation is in a hole because we’ve been spending more than we’ve been earning for some time.  As such we’re all equally aware of the austerity measures and cuts we’re having to impose and I’m behind them.  We do need to reign in spending and get our house in order.  Cuts are obviously one way to do this and something that must be done, but one question the programme raised was about how the government spends our money, and do they do it well?

I’ve long held the belief that there is massive scope for efficiency improvements in government spending and that we don’t get anywhere near good value as taxpayers.  We’ve all seen the headlines about projects that were late or overran, or were not fit for purpose.  There was one on the programme I had never heard of.

FiReControl was designed to save money, but it’s ended up doing anything but that.  The idea was simple, condense the existing 46 emergency (999) control centres into nine regional centres, providing cost savings by sharing resources as well as improved service using new technology.  The centres have been built, but will never go live, due to cost overruns and delays the project was scrapped in December 2010.  So far it’s cost the taxpayer £469 million and it won’t stop there.  It was originally due to take four years and £72 million to complete (in 2004).  They’re now going to spend another £84 million to see if they can salvage any of it for use with the existing 46 control centres.

In the programme it also mentions that the First Control Centre for the north east of England sits empty, at a cost of £97,000 per month, on a contract which runs for another 24 years (not alone, apparently the control centre in Taunton “stands empty at a cost of £5,000 per day,” it was built in 2007).  According to an article in Metro:

Eight of the purpose-built centres remain empty – at a cost to the taxpayer of £4m a month in maintenance – and it is likely that only five of them will be used again by the fire service.

And the worst of this is no one lost their job, no one was sacked or demoted due to incompetence, the contractors were not added some a watch list and still work on other government projects.  When I worked for the government we had a ‘no blame’ culture, it looks like it still exists.

There is no easy solution to things like this.  Vast projects like this are difficult for anyone to manage and are largely a step into the unknown as no one has ever done them.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though and I’ve said before that we need to start with procurement.  I’ve also mentioned how government cutting can actually cost us money.

I know we need to make cuts, but there are huge cost savings to be made in how we buy goods, manage projects and deliver services that should be looked at and the current climate gives us the excuse (should one be needed) to demand more efficiency.

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