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Peter Cuthbertson: 20,000 different ways to waste £767 million

Peter_cuthbertson_1 Peter Cuthbertson is a Research Fellow of The TaxPayers’ Alliance and author of the Annual Non-Job Report 2006

Here are a few short phrases, next time you need examples of government waste:

  • “Southall Black Sisters require an Asian woman”
  • “Head of Achievement and Inclusion”
  • “Deputy Youth Offending Team Manager”
  • “… particularly welcome applications from lesbian, bisexual and trans women”
  • “Diversity Programme Manager, Children’s Services”
  • “Community Opportunities Support Manager”
  • “Stop Smoking Community Worker”
  • “Civil Resilience Manager”
  • “Bike It Officer”
That’s right: I can only be quoting from the Guardian’s notorious Society section, the paper’s thick and heavy two-part (three-part including Society Scotland) Wednesday recruitment supplement.

As 2006 closes, The TaxPayers’ Alliance conducted a study of how much these positions – which we estimate to number over 20,000 – cost every year. In our eight page Annual Non-Job Report 2006 I add up the salaries for four weeks, and use this figure to estimate an annual total. The final figure is not pretty – even before all the generous public sector pensions are added, more than £767 million was spent this year on salaries for positions as distant from useful, front-line public service as can be imagined.

In four weeks of searching, and of cataloguing every salary, I found a single reference to nursing and a single reference to teaching. Even the few obviously necessary positions, such as prison guards, were advertised in the most politically correct way. Superimposed on the image of a supposed killer were the words “Earn his trust and earn rapid promotion”. Are guards convicted killers can have faith in really the most important requirement for our prisons? One only wonders what sort of people would apply for the job after reading recruitment pages implying that it is. As for the rest, the bemusing job titles above are sadly the reality.

Coupled with them are salaries enviable to most of us. Any job title which includes the word “diversity” is a virtual guarantee of a salary in the high thirties. A Cardboard Citizens Managing Director has a starting salary of £45,000. If your title includes Director, meanwhile, salaries approaching and well above six figures are up for grabs. The Assistant Director of Well-Being and Community Services for Hampshire County Council can make up to £85,000 a year.

All in all, the average salary comes to £36,894 – an astounding £11,405 per annum more than the mean salary in the private sector. If the average private sector employee moved tomorrow moved into the average Guardian Society position the pay rise would be an immediate 45%.

Even here, the extraterrestrial qualities of the Guardian’s recruitment page do not end. Non-jobs do not pay extravagant wages because they bring long working hours absent any perks and bonuses. Thirty-five or thirty-seven hour weeks are specified as often as not, often alongside promises of twenty or thirty days of annual leave. Free underground travel-cards, subsidised gym membership, £2,000 ‘golden hello’ payments, free swimming facilities, performance related pay bonuses, market supplements, company cars, free accommodation, relocation packages and four figure retention allowances are all part and parcel of a typical Guardian Society position.

Inscrutable job titles; mammoth salaries; thirty-five hour weeks; flamboyant perks: this is the reality of public sector recruitment in 2006. It is also part of the explanation for where, given the paltry improvements in public services, the money has instead gone. As The Daily Telegraph put it in response to last year’s Non-Job report:

“[T]hese are not recognisable jobs we are discussing: not nurses or classroom assistants or municipal gardeners. Although there has been a slight expansion in the numbers of front-line workers, the real bonanza has been in administration. Our public services resemble a South American army, where a handful of miserable conscripts sustain hundreds of self-important generals. The NHS, for example, uniquely in the world, now has more officials than beds.”

This is more than a question of a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, of blowing on diversity directors and anti-smoking tsars money that could employ policemen and teachers – or just be given back to the people who earned it in the first place. Given a choice between useful, meaningful work and bureaucratic positions whose absence no one would ever notice, hopefully most of us would choose the former, other things being equal.

But other things are far from equal. When you can make as much in two years doing a thirty-five hour a week non-job as you can in three in an intense and competitive private sector position, choosing the former requires real character and determination. In Gordon Brown’s tenth year as Chancellor, as Britain moves towards a tax burden that makes even Germany’s look competitive, the very structure of incentives in our mixed economy is being transformed. If wages have any incentive effect, then such a large transfer of resources from the competitive section of the economy to the state sector is sure to tempt people away from the private sector positions where they can create wealth and grow the economy, and into jobs that contribute nothing or, through their nannying and interference, make an actual negative contribution.

More and more, as the frontiers of the state roll out, government waste is proving less a black hole than a cancer. It cannot be tackled too soon.


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