Ever since the General Election the Conservatives have attempted to brand Labour as the party which is known for wasteful expenditure. Similarly they have sought to represent their own party and the coalition government more generally as a highly efficient operation which is not wasting public money. This has been one of the central tenets of the public discourse about politics and the economy for more than two years and the Conservative approach to this matter has found a widespread echo in the media.
But the truth is that this widely accepted representation of public expenditure and the relative position of each of the political parties was almost wholly incorrect.
The Tory-led government have broken their promise to deliver a more efficient and effective government. Time after time they have got the figures wrong, from the economy to their ICT strategy they have failed in basic arithmetic. The Tories evidently need a refresher course in adding and subtraction.
Government, whatever their party colours, is the custodian of public money and as such has a huge responsibility to be careful and wise with taxpayers' money. This is a sentiment the Tory-led government have failed to grasp. Since 2010 they have managed to get a large number of their spending, savings and costing reviews wrong at the expense of millions of pounds to the taxpayer.
In March 2011 Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced that the government's quango review would save taxpayers £20 billion; this was quickly reduced down to a ministerial estimate of about £2.6 billion in the Committee Stage of the Public Bodies Bill. The National Audit Office, however, looked in detail at the government's claims, and commented that the measures could actually cost the taxpayer money. The government's widely announced so called "bonfire of the quangos" did not produce anything like the savings which ministers have claimed and indeed in some cases cost of public more than the original expenditure of the abolished quangos
The National Audit Office hit back again last week, with their report on the government's claims to savings in ICT management. The National Audit Office reported that £38 million of the government estimated savings did not stack up, with a further £171 million of claimed savings being deemed unsustainable.
Even more ludicrous is the manner in which the government has set out to increase public sector efficiency.
Cabinet office ministers have established The Efficiency and Reform Group, which was set up to ensure taxpayers' money was properly controlled has failed to deliver any real and sustainable savings in its two year existence. In fact with over 800 staff and a £73 million budget it is neither efficient nor particularly reforming. It is quite staggering that this huge empire in the Cabinet Office has been established with its hundreds of staff and millions of pounds expenditure at a time when departments are facing the most savage cuts and front-line staff such as nurses doctors and policemen are being sacked
The Tories' economic policy is also not working and the government's part-time Chancellor's is failing. The government is set to borrow £212 billion more than planned two years ago. This breaks the promise they made to balance the books and get the debt down by 2015.
Despite the huge economic crisis, this weekend I have released information which shows that at a time of fierce cuts and even fiercer Tory rhetoric the government have managed to spend over £55,000 of taxpayers' money on 4,500 bottles of lavish wine. Purchasing champagne and expensive wines to drink alongside venison, game and guinea-foul may seem normal to the "kitchen supper" Tories, but it is hard to justify to families who are barely able to make ends meet.
Ordinary people are footing the bill for the Tories ineptitude. Indeed the government's social policy is riddled with false economies, such as the deeply unfair "bedroom tax". Councils have made it clear that they simply will not be able to meet the need of those people moving out of their homes because of under-occupancy. As such, people with a "spare" room will be forced to move into the more expensive private rented sector, which will ultimately push up the housing benefit bill.
These inefficiencies extend across Whitehall to the government's poor procurement practices that have led to huge disasters such as the failure of G4S to provide appropriate security to the Olympics which the public purse ultimately picked up the bill for. Ministers may choose to blame civil servants for blunders like this, as they did with the West Coast Mainline franchise, but the truth is it is this government that is at fault.
Instead of addressing the failures of their policies and strategy the Tory-led government continue to blindly implement their ideologically-driven cuts. As they hand out tax cuts to millionaires they hand down crippling cuts for ordinary people. The government are cutting 15,000 police jobs, waiting times in A&E's are increasing and there are 5,500 fewer nurses in the NHS since the coalition came to power. This government simply have the wrong priorities.
In a sustained period of austerity that the government is driving, real efficiency savings should be a priority in order to protect front-line services. However, it is quite clear that neither the government's economic policies nor even their maths skills are up to the task.
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