Peter Cuthbertson: The Guardian Society pages cost the taxpayer £600m this year
I wonder if, somewhere in Britain, there is a headteacher willing to ask The Guardian newspaper to run his school’s careers fare.
At one stall, pupils could be told what qualifications are required to be an ‘Information Sharing and Assessment Integration Manager’. At another, the ambition one day to be a ‘Project Leader – Gypsies and Travellers Project’ could be cultivated. Elsewhere in the hall, the most energetic children could find out whether they would be better suited to the role of ‘Bike It Officer’ or ‘Walking for Wellbeing Coordinator’. And what careers event would be complete without someone to promote the vital positions of ‘Healthy Eating and Nutrition Trainer’, ‘Community and Diversity Officer’s Supervisor’ and ‘Regional Infant Feeding Coordinator’?
Absurd or surreal as this may seem, it would at least give an accurate impression of Britain’s job market as it is portrayed in The Guardian’s recruitment section. In writing my third Annual Non Jobs Report for the TaxPayers' Alliance I came across all of the above positions, along with such jobs as ‘Retail Sector Routeway Manager’, ‘Community Capacity Building Officer’ and ‘People Participation Lead’, advertised last month in Guardian Society.
Almost invariably taxpayer-funded, the number of jobs advertised for November suggested an annual total of almost 16,000 such positions, at a cost to taxpayers of £585 million. These are examples from one newspaper among many publications that advertise state sector positions, and they give only a slice of the cost. But it does represent a much broader trend in the state sector.
When it comes to stagnant public services with flat-lining outputs, it provides powerful explanation for where all the extra taxpayers’ money has gone. That so much money is spent on bureaucratic non-jobs helps explain how the National Health Service ended up with more hospital administrators than hospital beds.
When it comes to bonuses offered in the City and the salaries for those who rise to the top of the biggest companies, the details of such positions also serve as a healthy reminder that there are growing numbers of public sector rich, who work much shorter hours and have enviable periods of guaranteed annual leave, but also earn an average salary of £38,508 and have recession-proof final salary pension schemes to look forward to when they retire.
On top of this staggering average wage for Guardian Society positions – the average private sector wage is below £31,000 – comes perk after perk, from the "Essential Car User Allowance" to the "£4,400 Market Supplement" to the "R&R allowance" to the "£675 Environmental Allowance". The advertisement for Assistant Director, Strategy and Support Services – Assistant Director, that is – is all too typical, offering "£85,599 (pay award pending) + benefits + 10% PRP".
What was also striking in writing the TaxPayers’ Alliance report is how widely available such non-jobs are. Across the country, quangos and councils seem to compete to offer taxpayers the worse deal. Why would Conservative councils waste taxpayers’ money on such positions? Most likely because central government leaves them with so little option. Whitehall’s monitoring and inspection regimes set a huge range of targets for councils to meet, and politically correct social objectives for them to pursue. The only way to get a good Comprehensive Performance Assessment rating is to hire the Diversity Officers, the Equality Managers and the backroom bureaucrats whose only role is to submit reports to DEFRA and the Audit Commission. While the capping of council tax is often attacked, much less recognition is given to how much local independent is threatened by this effective cap on how much local authorities can streamline services, cut bureaucracy and return the savings to taxpayers.
Even as Gordon Brown’s economic management looks less and less impressive with each passing day, it is just as important to remind voters of the other side of his record – rising taxes and towering, incessant waste of taxpayers’ money. We did not trade the slowest growth of any English-speaking economy under Gordon Brown for some of the best public services or the safest streets. Instead, we got bureaucracy and non-jobs. Taxpayers deserve better value for money.