A few days ago, I received a message from the recently re-selected Labour candidate for Eye, Thorney and Newborough, Dr. Christian DeFeo: he sent me a screenshot showing that the cost of repairing the roof of a bus shelter in his ward was going to come to £6,000. He added the following comment: “it’s everywhere”.
I know what he means. While we are in fiscally straitened times, there appears to be excess all over the place. Scale upwards and there’s more: earlier this year Peterborough City Council allocated £5.5 million to Skanska to demolish the Rhubarb Bridge, a scheme that has been criticised for prioritising motorists over pedestrians. There have also been questions around the transparency of decision-making.
Scale upwards and there’s still more. The re-organisation of the NHS by Andrew Lansley built in heavy ancillary costs: among these was the commissioning of services. In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the UnitingCare partnership was given the contract to provide older people’s and adult community services. It collapsed at a cost of £10 million. Come to Westminster and we begin to move from the millions into the billions. We have recently spent £3 billion on the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. While the aircraft carrier is an impressive piece of engineering, and it’s operational, it did not launch with a full complement of 36 planes. A recent report suggested that it will likely carry 12: this limits the effectiveness of this substantial investment. Thousands, millions, billions: add to this, our national debt vaulted over the £1 trillion mark long ago, and is steadily heading towards £2 trillion. We can shrug and smile and even chuckle at folly, provided it is sufficiently harmless. It’s not possible to do so now: we’re paying for it. Furthermore, those who can least afford it are being asked to contribute more whether it’s via council tax rises, pension changes, or benefit freezes. On the other hand, large corporations have been permitted to contribute less. There is a thought that as Labour is in favour of greater government intervention in the economy, by definition we would somehow facilitate even greater waste to occur. I flatly reject this: my colleagues and I are very conscious of the struggles that people have to earn their wages and build their lives. The vast majority shouldn’t have to pay a penny more; their contribution to our common welfare should be treated like the precious resource that it is. They deserve to have competitive tendering processes that yield better results than £6,000 bus shelter roofs, aircraft carriers that carry too few aircraft and consortia that collapse. They deserve transparency and the confidence that arises from openness that their taxes are wisely spent.