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Those timid ‘Tory cuts’ in perspective

Readers will recall the conniptions with which the UK Government and its media proxies met a Conservative policy paper from John Redwood (not actually a party policy) recommending reductions in red-tape.

The horror was Mr Redwood projected to reduce the compliance burden on business by approximately £14 billion. No cut in public spending was mentioned. Given the way bureaucracy works, removing inspections and forms does not necessarily mean reducing the number of inspectors and form-monitors.

Now comes some analysis that shows both sides were making a fuss about nothing. The way the current government operates, £14 billion is peanuts – roughly the annual rise in the direct cost to the general taxpayer and the regulatee of new bureaucracies. Lets not attempt to count compliance costs. No-one else has. But the Economic Research Council has been doing some sums.

As reported in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph (and appearing shortly on the ERC site):

[T]he cost of executive agencies, advisory bodies, independent monitoring boards and other quangos has mushroomed under New Labour. Spending on such agencies soared to £167.5billion in 2006, up from £24.1bn in 1998. Research revealed for the first time this weekend shows that over the past two years ministers have created 200 quangos.

Now there is a wrinkle here that seems to have been sidestepped by The Telegraph and the ERC: much of that increase is reclassification combined with expansion, particularly of chunks of the NHS. Reclassification is also a ratchet device – it puts bits of government machinery beyond ready scrutiny by calling them independent and lets them be pumped up independently of the departmental budget. But nonetheless it means the Tories, had they the nerve (and if they thought it would work as a political strategy), should have no difficulty in promising £50 billion in actual tax cuts, with the lifting of any compliance burden mere spin-off, rather than the main event. You can make your own list of favourites for culling from this document [3.5Mb pdf], though reading a 372-page list of official bodies may be a distressing experience.

It may also be funny, for those with a sick sense of humour. This body does not appear to spend anything, yet, though there is provision for £200,000 a year in state funding, and administering its existence and listing must cost something:

National Community Forum.

The Community Forum acts as a sounding board and critical friend to ministers and senior managers in DCLG. Members provide a ‘grass-roots’ perspective on the way neighbourhood renewal and other policies impact on local communities. Especially in relation to community participation and empowerment. They also provide valuable insights and information based in their first-hand experience of living and working in deprived neighbourhoods.

Established 2002. The NFC has not been ‘reviewed’ by the department, but they have just completed a two year evaluation which is about to be discussed by the board and will be placed on the website.

It is not that “you couldn’t make it up”. Most writers of fiction would be ashamed to invent anything so banal in its pointlessness. Whatever happened to mandarin prose?

12 comments to Those timid ‘Tory cuts’ in perspective

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I read the same article in the Sunday Telegraph, and if you take a look at the links, it does indeed make for awful reading. The opposition should be hammering the government for this, day and night; consider, a fraction of the money used on all these useless, expensive bodies could have paid for decent flood defences throughout Britain several times over, bought and refurbished a decent naval fleet, equipped several army regiments, and er, gone into a fairly big tax cut.

    But no, best to spend it on Labour’s client state instead. This is what a “mixed economy” means, doesn’t it?

  • Well at least they plan to get rid of the death tax. Do you think Cameron is going to take it on board?

  • Paul Marks

    The front page Sunday Telegraph story yesterday was indeed an important story (five times more taxpayers money spent on various administrative agencies than on defence).

    The Daily Telegraph on Friday was fair to Mr Redwood’s suggestions in its main story – however it also carried snears (in an inside ariticle) from a former editer about how Mr Redwood was a silly “monetarist guru” (and so on).

    The same Friday issue of the Daily Telegraph also contained a snear at “Ronnie” Reagan for refusing to sign the “law of the sea” (as if this U.N. thing was a good idea) and a review full of praise for the latest death-to-America film from Hollywood . Lots of violence in the film, but it is O.K. because evil C.I.A. people are being killed – so, I notice, the film is given a 12 rating by the powers-that-be. Previous films in this series have stated that “democracy activists” in Russia struggled against private ownership of natural resources – actually it is Mr Putin (hardly a pro civil liberties person) who is against that, but one does not expect the truth from Hollywood.

    Whenever I buy the Telegraph (Daily or Sunday) because a good story has caught my eye, I get a nasty surprise inside the newspaper (and therefore do not buy it again for quite some time). I wish the people in charge of these newspapers would understand that people who are likely to buy a copy do not want to find leftist stuff inside.

    Still back to the British Conservative party.

    Sadly Mr Cameron (the leader of the British Conservative party) backed away from Mr Redwood ideas for tax reductions this morning (“Today Programme” interview on B.B.C. Radio 4).

    As for deregulation (which I think Guy is dealing with here), I doubt that Mr Cameron is interested in the matter.

  • Yes, the Bourne Ultimatum (for I can think of no other movie with killing of CIA agents and a 12A rating deserving of good reviews) is very anti-CIA, worse it presents them as evil in a very believable and convincing way (flawed humans making mistakes and not really acting with a cohesive plan).

    The portrayal of none other than the Guardian journalists as heroes was a quite transparent endorsement – I wouldn’t be surprised if they paid for it though. I was pleased the journalist character turned out to be a stupid cowardly sap, however.

    I enjoyed the movie, but I was also surprised by the 12A rating. My 29 year old girlfriend found it too much.

    OT: I won’t be be able to visit Waterloo and not remember that chase scene for some time.

  • Paul, it was by no means a “death to America” movie. Nor was it anti-CIA, although it did portray some CIA people and one project as evil – not entirely un-realistic in such an organization. The way I see it, the series does not purport to describe the existing reality, but rather present a scenario of the existing reality evolving into a more sinister one, quite easily and, to a point, believably (I am talking about the CIA angle here. I don’t remember about the Russian angle, as it has been a couple of yeras since the previous movie). I think that if you actually watched the movie, some aspects of it would rather appeal to you as a libertarian.

  • Sunfish

    I wish the people in charge of these newspapers would understand that people who are likely to buy a copy do not want to find leftist stuff inside.

    They don’t care. Almost nobody actually buys newspapers.

    You, the reader, are not the consumer. You are the product being delivered to the advertiser. They cough up the big bucks to have their ads placed in front of your eyes. It doesn’t matter how.

    I suspect that my nearest major big-city paper has ten real subscribers, and the other half-million regular readers are all mooching them at Starbucks or stealing them from our neighbors before they wake up.

  • guy herbert


    I wish the people in charge of these newspapers would understand that people who are likely to buy a copy do not want to find leftist stuff inside.

    The people in charge of the papers spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on research to discover precisely what their readers – and the readers of rival publications that they might attract – want. It is not what you want, perhaps. But in the marketplace newspapers are competing for readers, plural – and numerous. If the readers didn’t want it, they’d buy another paper.


    You, the reader, are not the consumer.

    Actually you are. You are both the consumer of the newspaper and of its advertisers’ products. It doesn’t matter whether the newspaper is more or less dependent on the cover price (or what function the cover price serves in differentiating the product) it still has to attract readers.

    Tho’ in surprisingly few countries is it true that “almost nobody buys newspapers,” it is worth noting that Britain is still a country where a very high proportion of the population does take a newspaper, or more than one.

  • Paul Marks

    They may spend “hundreds of thousands a year” but I am not sure they do really care what most readers and potenial readers want (at least not as much as they care about other things).

    For example, did most people want two supplements to fall out of the Daily Telegraph (on to the floor or ground – depending on where one is) as soon as one opens it?

    One can argue for the broadsheet format on grounds of tradition (although the Telegraph was considering a Berliner format for years before the Guardian moved to it) – and I fully accept that most people do not have a coordination problem (as I do) so a broadsheet format is not a great problem for them. However, two fall-out supplements as well? Finance and sport used to be at the back of the newspaper – and that was the right way to do it.

    Still I could be wrong.

    But as for content.

    Here you are simply wrong Guy (no doubt about it – I could be wrong about the above, but not about the following).

    Actual and potentioal Daily Telegraph readers do not want leftist film reviews. The Sunday Telegraph tends to have different film reviews – thus proving that there is no statute that says “film reviews must be leftist”.

    It is a matter of following “hip” fashion – and potential Telgraph readers are people who hate “hip” “right-on” fashion.

    Sometime there are even deliberate insults. For example, a columnist will be employed to “challenge” the readers (i.e. to present them with leftist media elite sytle opinions) – and letters to the editor will be igorned till large numbers of people start to cancel their subscriptions because of said columnist.

    “You have contradicted yourself Paul, you see they DO care about circulation”.

    Errrr no – because the columnist will not be employed to boost circulation and will only be got rid of when readership is badly hit.

    The Sunday Telegraph even had a bit of the NEW YORK TIMES as a supplement (on several occasions) some time ago.

    They might as well have put a piece of turd in the newspaper – as a little “surprise” for the readers.

    This was not intended to boost circulation – it was intended as a deliberate insult (perhaps to see how many people would be so angered that they would stop buying the newspaper).

    I remember a good article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine some time ago about an American sculpture.

    It was an article about an interesting man – he had to partly teach himself and partly seek out old retired sculptors, as American “schools of art” (like British ones) no longer taught the traditional skills (instead teaching P.R. and other such). And he had done fine work – for example the statue of the three soldiers at the Vietnam memorial.

    However, what was on the front cover of this very magazine?

    Not an example of the sculptor’s work. No a “modern art” piture instead (nothing to do with the article at all).

    The message was plain (no doubt you will dismiss this as “paranoid”, but it is the only logical explination).

    “We may have, for once, allowed a consevative story on the arts to appear in the culture section but WE are still in charge – if you doubt that, look at the front cover”.

    Some (not all but some) of the people in the Telegraph group care a lot more about their “street cred” with their “modern” (i.e. 1960’s) friends than they do about circulation.

    Hence calling the late President Ronald Reagan “Ronnie” (a calculated insult – as only foes called him that) and sneaing at him for not signing the “law of the sea”.

    “But that is done to increase readership”.

    Spherical objects in pairs Guy, spherical objects in pairs.

    Where I would be more interested in your opinion is in the massive boosting given to the Philip Pullman books over the last few months.

    For a long time now W.H. Smith’s has been pushing these books (putting them near the door in the railway station and town branches, instead of filing them under “P” in the fantasy section – and so on).

    It is really just to do with the film comming in December? Would the publisher have paid them fo this promotion as far back as April (when I first noticed this attempt to manipulate sales figures) or is there something else at work?

    You are a book trade man (and I am not) so I hesitate to just say that these are books by a P.C. author so corporate types feel they “must” be popular, and so move the goal posts to manipulate things so they do sell well.

    There could be all sorts of reasonable factors at work. I just do not know – and you might.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – you have got me.

    I confess I have not watched the film.

    I had disliked what I watched in a previous film in the series (where a Russian “democracy activist” had been murdered for opposing “privatization”).

    I also dislike the main actor (my view of him is similar to that of the makers of “Team America: World Police”) and read the comments of someone who had watched the film (several people – newspaper reviewers I dislike had praised the film).

    But I did not watch the film myself – and I should not have said anything about it without doing so.

    Although I still find it odd that the “right wing” (actually fairly moderate) Bruce Willis got a “15” for the latest “Die Hard” film, whereas this film got a “12”. Thus preventing the film of Mr Willis getting the 12 to 15 film goers (well apart from those who sneak in).

    As for the C.I.A., actually I have no time for them.

    But I suspect that my reasons are rather different from those of Hollywood.

  • What do Matt Damon and Team America have in common? (I have not seen the latter).

    Actually, I think Damon is a great actor, but if you dislike him, you obviously might dislike the movie as well. I like Willis, but Die Hard was a much worse movie than Borne.

    As to CIA, my point was that I suspect that the makers of Borne have no time for the CIA for reasons somewhat similar to yours. Anyway, this is way OT – feel free to e-mail me (on this or anything else).

    As to Pullman’s books: my son (13) loved the first book – the jury is still out on the last two. RAB has highly recommended them as well, and he is not to be suspected of leftism or PC. (I have not read them).

  • Paul Marks

    The makers of “Team America: World Police” may not be fair to Mr Damon (they make a point of being fair to no one).

    However, if you have not done so please do watch the film. Although be warned, although it is a puppet film it is not a film for children.

    Mr Pullman – I do not know enough to comment on the merit or otherwise of his work (a friend of mine in York thinks his works are wonderful).

    On the commercial side Guy might know (whether there are proper commercial reasons for the actions of W.H. Smith and others), again I do not know enough to know.

    I do not accept these things on trust, as (after all) the people who make the judgements do not own the company.

    So even if we assume an owner is only motivated by the desire for money (which is often false anyway), the executives and other staff are not owners.

    F.A. Hayek was fond of pointing out how the staff of a large corporation might be very un “market minded” indeed.

    I am not saying these books are pushed because the author is P.C. – but I would not be astonished if this was a factor.

    It was certainly the reason why his work was “voted” the best book for children in the last fifty years (in the special “vote” in the United States where the public were not allowed to vote).

  • Absolutely spot on, Guy, and such obscene spending on bodies that actually contribute little should be scaled back – in order to reduce the tax burden on families – without even needing to impose green taxes. As I wrote today on my blog, The Wilted Rose, the uncertain state of the economy could lead to a snap election. Taxation is a key element of the economy that needs to be resolved, as it is an economic threat.