THE BLOG
25/01/2012 08:40 GMT | Updated 25/03/2012 06:12 BST

Knowledge is Porridge

Ben Gummer's Ten Minute Rule Bill (to be introduced tomorrow) builds on something we suggested years ago. Well, two things, in fact.

Ben Gummer's Ten Minute Rule Bill (to be introduced tomorrow) builds on something we suggested years ago. Well, two things, in fact.

Firstly, that a sensible discussion about the size and scope of the state must start from a clear understanding of what it does and how much we spend on it. And secondly, that only when people understand what things cost can they decide whether they are an essential or a nice to have.

It shouldn't be difficult to find a list of what the government spends our money on. But it REALLY is. The first government site on google when you search for "uk government spending breakdown" is number six in the results. The top five are all a private undertaking. And the one from the government is from the ONS which is incredibly unintuitive and you have to know the technical jargon for what you're looking for.

So here is another little idea. How about a really simple site from the treasury, using the data which is already supposed to be published, detailing what each department spends, on what. Later, we could perhaps add why they spend it (which would take us into another of our ideas, a regular review of all spending with a view to reducing it by a targeted amount).

I recently heard some fascinating figures on aid spending (and this is very generalised, but makes my point). Apparently, most people think that we spend around 20 per cent of our total government expenditure on aid and development. It is not even projected to reach the 0.7 per cent agreed by the UN decades ago until 2013. Similarly, Peter Kellner of YouGov has written (using the BBC licence fee as an example) a great piece about placing figures in context.

As Stewart Pearson and Louise Mensch are both fond of saying, knowledge is indeed porridge.