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Monday, December 05, 2016

Time to encourage the local

With all the fervour over Brexit, there is a peculiar vacuum in our national conversation about how Scotland is fairing in the face of low growth and a so-called “austerity” driven, purportedly, by massive “cuts” in public spending.

At TaxpayerScotland we have never bought the story of a public sector being hollowed out to its last bowl of gruel. Spending on annually managed expenditures is highly inflexible, and we are aware that other public sector overheads, particularly pensions and debt repayments, are gradually being dealt with - albeit from a very high starting level.

So, it is gratifying to have read Audit Scotland’s measured report on local government finance. We recommend it for all with a level head and scepticism about demands for more money by those who live off public spending.

A few highlights stand out:

  • Ten to fifteen percent of local council income goes on debt repayments. Past profligacy still costs today’s taxpayers a huge amount of our hard-earned cash
  • While debt levels vary, there is a general trend of very gradual reduction. But some councils are still deeply indebted.
  • Staff costs are being reduced, but again very slowly. And each staff layoff costs around £35,000 pounds of our money to achieve.
  • There is a wide range in performance between councils. The fact that taxpayers can compare this performance is one of the drivers of control and, we hope, change.
  • Council incomes are in fact going up, with both more money coming from central sources, and a large increase in fees from priced services. The pressures it seems are coming from the burden of social care and having to cater for a range of centrally imposed mandates.
  • Local Government finance is often thought to be turgid and boring, but the fact is that it is a lot more real than central government’s manipulation of Barnett consequentials, capital investment funding and puffed up promises over insignificant sums spun as if to declare them revolutionary. Key to local finance is that Council Tax is local and spent on local things local people can recognise; and it is a household bill that we actually have to pay.

    How much better if the central state had the courage to re-assess this localisation of tax and spend and trust the people to understand what is good value for money. We think taxpayers would quickly stamp on too much debt being carried, too many staff being employed and any repeatedly poor performance in delivery.

    Audit Scotland points out that forward planning at local level is being severely hampered by slow short-term planning from the centre. That’s a shame; local councils can act quickly if they get a clarity of purpose built into their management style. TaxpayerScotland recently gathered together all the functions we could find that our local councils performed on behalf of their taxpayers. We found at least 175 separate administration tasks. No wonder they like to have cabinet governance and corporate services departments, but again what a nonsense that the costs of these management structures is added to the repetitive tasks of bin collection, schooling and looking after the frail elderly.

    The obvious thing to do with our councils is to break up their corporate conglomerate structures and identify separated cost and revenue centres across the board; including localised overheads for each function. All those costs should be reported separately so that taxpayers can see the use to which their pounds have been put - and compare their council with others. We need to put in place the strongest possible incentives not to waste our money or spend it unnecessarily.


    Monday, November 14, 2016

    Let’s allow manufacturing find out more by itself

    The Scottish Government is keen to gain plaudits from supporting the manufacturing that makes up more than fifty percent of Scotland’s international exports (and that includes exports beyond the EU). Its chosen mechanism is to develop a Manufacturing Action Plan that establishes a new quango – a National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland to “promote continuous innovation, improve productivity and increase investment”. Well, there’s yet more of our tax money gone to people in suits proselytizing about what might be done, but actually creating nothing.

    If that makes you weep a little how about this; the action plan for this new quango is embedded in another quango – Scottish Enterprise.

    Now get your biggest hankie out because when you read the plan you will be treated to the usual anodyne verbiage that passes for action planning in bureaucratic circles. We need leadership and we need skills, they tell us enthusiastically … and then it all begins to go a bit wrong.

    We also need, they say, a circular economy – that’s re-cycling to you and me - a plan for higher overheads. And we need energy efficiency and de-carbonisation – that’s an offer of higher fuel costs and expensive power. And better infrastructure; well maybe, but does that mean raising more public debt that taxpaying firms have to finance.

    It goes on; we need more “digitally enabled units of appropriate scale and location” the plan then adds. No, we don’t really know what that means either, but we expect it means that they are making the assumption that if we get better and more widespread internet we will be able to compete. It’s a common assertion, and the consensus among the business support chatterati, but tell the wee foundry in Rutherglen that spending more on broadband will increase their exports and they will probably show you the door.

    They want to make Scottish business smarter, and for SMEs to improve their supply chains, adopting new materials and processes. For this, they offer the services of yet another quango, the Scottish Manufacturing Advice Service to assist in enhanced asset reviews (that’s where they tell you that your machines are clapped out and too old; and you say that that’s because you can only just afford to pay the NIC for your workers and the VAT for your sales). They cite “the Vanguard Initiative, an EU policy to help regions unlock their growth potential” as a tool for “leveraging Scotland’s many international relationships”. There is in addition another initiative “Enterprise Europe Network” that will be plugged into this smorgasbord of help.

    But who is helping who here through the use of copious amounts of our tax money. There is a very telling sentence in the Scottish Government’s announcement:

    “To secure industry buy-in, we need to demonstrate the value gained from a long-term commitment to innovation and technology adoption – particularly within SMEs. Coordinating the national innovation resources and assets appropriate for the manufacturing base will be key to our success”.

    Now hold on a minute. If we read this correctly, Scottish Enterprise and its minions are saying that Scottish industry is not really committed to innovation and technology adoption; and, to mend this, their approach will be use coordinated central planning of what we think might mean the universities, other publicly funded research entities and, presumably, themselves. (That’s the people who develop Scotland’s international relations by flying to the Middle East at our expense and staying in very expensive hotels).

    In the process, they will add to business overheads by politically correct environmental schemes; while subsidising an army of busy-bodies telling industry what to do. So, what taxpayers face here is its taxes being used by the central state, swimming in a politically favourable (to itself) sea of Euro money, ladled out across its own fleet of highly paid chums and buddies. There is clearly a political back story here to prove also that the EU is vital to Scotland’s future; politics that has no place in industry.

    Central planning has never worked – ever – and when the managerial bureaucracy gets into its stride in support of that sort of planning like this, industrial success will simply get further and further away from Scotland’s grasp – at great expense to ordinary taxpayers. It really is time that this sort of 1970’s nonsense was consigned to the dustbin – along with Scottish Enterprise and all its sub-quangos and initiatives.

    What manufacturing needs is to be left alone, with much lower payroll and capital taxes to find out on its own what innovation works and what does not work. These quangos work against this process which is solely in the remit of those on the ground doing the innovating.


    Wednesday, October 26, 2016

    Throwing money to the wind and sea

    Through an interview with an “environmental expert” the other day I counted seven “should” and five “oughts”. There was a distinct lack of “attempt” and “can do” in this litany of confident anti-progress rhetoric. The speaker’s purpose appeared only to laud the need for yet more of our money to be spent on renewables with the utmost certainty that our energy needs will be met.

    A droll friend of mine likes to point out that the old canard about asking the last person to leave a tanking economy to turn out the lights does not apply to Scotland; they will, he says, already be out and one has to hope that it really is a braw bricht moon lit nicht that nicht.

    The attempt to outwit the laws of physics in energy production may seem laudable, but by golly it’s costing all of us taxpayers a lot of money. Our colleagues at Scot Buzz point out in a recent piece that Scottish Enterprise, through its Investment Bank, has literally been pouring our taxes into the sea. Millions have been spent supporting wave power to companies that have then failed.

    A telling quote from SIBs head, claimed, “It’s been a very good year for the Scottish Investment Bank. The results illustrate the impact that our activity is having on the Scottish economy, both in terms of actual investments made and the support we’re providing to companies in helping to prepare them for investment”.

    Well, ha ha ha to taxpayers then; quango spin beats reality. Sink our hard earned money (which we could make a lot better use of by investing it ourselves) into failing enterprises and then claim success because some of these bungs might, just might reveal a success story. Well, not in wind, wave and solar power they won’t.

    That great big orange nuclear bomb of a ball in the sky burns a mass of (take a deep breath) 1980,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms. Yet, it took 65,000,000 years for its fusion power to create shale gas and oil. That’s a really slow rate of stored energy creation from a huge energy source; yet the state thinks that slopping our money out in bucketfuls to funny wee schemes employing bendy-snake steel tubes and spindly windmills that capture that trickle of slow energy can compete in real time? Come oooaaaannn, Jim.

    Another acquaintance of ours, who happens to be a Professor of Economics, likes to tell his students that their initial position on environmentalists should be that all environmentalists are always wrong about everything. The reason, he says, is that their incentives are always to put political gain above physics and they achieve this by talking largely to each other and ignoring the facts. That sounds familiar to any observer of a Holyrood with a minority government propped up by Green votes.

    It’s a shame for Scottish taxpayers that this is the world we live in. Here we are, a nation of engineers with existing nuclear plants; and the only country in Europe that has a petrochemical refinery sitting right on top of shale gas deposits - that it is banned from extracting, but can import from America. With a bit of “trying out” and stubborn “can do” Scotland could create huge competitive advantage for itself. We are tempted to say that ye couldnae mak’ it up, as they say, but actually as enterprising Scots, we could.


    Friday, March 04, 2016

    Taxpayers should not pay for propaganda

    We made the point only a few days ago about the importance of taxpayers’ cash not being used to bolster either side in the forthcoming EU referendum campaign. The link to the right gives our view on this.

    With established campaign groups funded by private donations forming to make the respective cases for Leave and Remain, it is vital that politicians across the UK do not feel it appropriate to spend taxpayer pounds on skewing the debate one way or the other.

    So it was with great disappointment that we hear that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon intends using both taxpayers’ money and the time of her civil servants to campaign for Scots to vote to remain in the European Union. We are told that the First Minister’s office has confirmed that the Scottish Government will be publishing materials using money from “existing budgets” in the run up to the June 23 referendum, and this week more public money and resources were spent on Ms. Sturgeon going to London to deliver a speech pushing a Remain vote.

    This isn’t the first time that the Scottish Government has misappropriated taxpayer revenue. An astonishing £1.3 million was spent on the heavily criticised Scottish independence White Paper before the referendum in 2014. The Holyrood government is now expected to publish a shorter document using taxpayers’ money to set out in “broad terms” the benefits for Scotland of remaining in the EU.

    With taxpayers divided on the EU question and government departments calling foul about cuts to their budgets, we must keep a close watch on how taxpayers’ money is being used to campaign for either side in this upcoming referendum. The job of government is to provide the taxpayer bang for their buck, not frizzle away their hard-earned money on divisive political campaigns.

    Funnelling our cash to bolster one side of the argument would be an abuse of power and we should not stand for it.


    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    Councils and Contracts

    At TaxpayerScotland we often get told about spending practices by local councils that show us that a lot of our money is still being spent unnecessarily.

    Examples include car park equipment in Perth and Kinross that has been damaged repeatedly at great cost of repair, of repeated complete carpet renewals for social housing in Dunbartonshire when tenants change over, and environmental cleansing teams who work to ancient shift arrangements that allow finishing at 11am followed by overtime rates starting at midday.

    There is a common theme in all of these – a failure of our local councils to reform their contracting methods on behalf of the taxpayers who pay for these services.

    Streetscape equipment that gets damaged should be contracted with a full servicing and replacement contract that incentivises suppliers to develop properly engineered equipment and place it to minimise losses. Just think of the conjunction of the sub-contractor who makes profits from servicing and remedial reinstallations and the council officer who finds it all too easy to spend our money.

    Social housing maintained on a large scale suffers from administrative blindness and all-too-easy refurbishment practices without proper quality checks. Once again, if the costs of refurbishment were in the hands of the contractee and not some tick-box process, taxpayers would be saved a great deal of knee-jerk spending that means we cannot have our own carpets replaced. The same applies to staff rosters that were ossified with trade union support many years ago. Profit and loss bearing contracts, where possible made competitive between suppliers, incentivise changes in work practices that save taxpayers money year after year.

    In our submission to the Commission on Local Tax Reform, we proposed that all council services should be audited as separate profit and loss activities, with management teams for those services allowed to increase revenues if they could, and of course to show transparently, and with precision, where our taxes were not being used productively.

    Once again, Scottish taxpayers suffer from unnecessary centralisation of services management. Let’s hope the release of business rates back to localities will induce some experienced business people back into local council politics to put an end to the inefficiencies of directly administered and centralised council management of services.


    Monday, October 12, 2015

    Quangos cannot be allowed to dial-a-loss for taxpayers

    A hundred thousand pounds of our money has been lost to a damages claim against Strathclyde Partnership for Transport for acting in an "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable manner" in terminating a local dial-a-bus contract.

    The evidence seen by the Sheriff appeared to show some form of concerted attempt to ditch the contract holder, and possibly favouring a new incumbent.

    That a tax-funded quango has been found to act in this way is hugely disturbing. Publicly funded civil servants are meant to act in the taxpayer interest; are we seeing here another example of devious clannishness, and possibly even self-serving dishonesty?

    There is a clear cut case here for a more senior body to act on behalf of taxpayers and get to the bottom of what has gone on. By their very nature, quangos have great power at a local level. They are executive agencies with a shortfall in accountability at the best of times with a tendency for their staff to become imbued with over-confidence about their own importance. They need to act with total honesty and transparency to engender local trust.

    The Scottish Government should instigate an open review by an independent party of what has been going on here; taxpayers cannot afford to spend six figure sums, equal to half the initial contract value, for no purpose - the quango bosses should pay.


    Friday, September 11, 2015

    It's time for taxpaying parents to change education

    Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership on maximising the opportunities that come from high educational attainment is surely to be welcomed. But what about the methods proposed following her lead?

    Taxpayers care about education – it’s one of the biggest elements of our biggest tax – council tax. We all want to see our money spent well on schools.

    We can be forgiven a sense of foreboding however in the reaction of the educational establishment to the national testing proposed and Ms Sturgeon’s strenuous denials that national targets and “league tables” might become a new norm.

    The key words here are “establishment” and “national”. Once again, it appears that the Scottish Government will attempt to bring in the new from the centre, using managerialist supplication within its own nationalised monolith – a contemporary form of what they used to call “beer and sandwiches at Number 10” in the heavily unionised world of the nineteen seventies.

    For taxpayers, this strange world in which schools are managed in our local communities by politicised and corporatised councils operating to mandates imposed from above by a politicised and bureaucratic central state is not to be welcomed. It is almost certainly true that there are more advisers, experts, assessors, inspectors and policy wonks in education than there are teachers standing in front of young fertile brains eager to absorb knowledge.

    This is not only a dreadful waste of money; it is also a moral wrong. Our children need politics taken out of schooling and teaching put in. The recalcitrance of the education establishment to change has been well catalogued in England, where Michael Gove’s “blob” has been put into retreat by an almost complete change to direct funding of schools.

    Scottish taxpayers deserve a similar set of changes in Scotland – we’re seeing a lot of hard-earned tax being used in education but not for education. Someone in Scotland’s blob needs to stand up and demand that innovation is grasped with both hands – with parents and teachers taking on the contract to improve our children’s attainment, and the expensive wasteful state kicked out.


    Thursday, June 18, 2015

    This politics of subsidy have blown away in the wind

    We pay for our electricity as both consumers and taxpayers, and the prices and the additional green “levies” we pay are controlled by policymakers. No free lunch principles, as always, apply, even in the bafflingly obscure world of Renewable Obligation Certificates, Contracts for Difference and GigaWatt hours.

    Today, the UK government has announced that it will scrap subsidies for wind power more rapidly than its investors expected. It’s about time, even although the removal of the subsidy may hurt some investors on projects already underway. The claims about wind power being cheap are well wide of the mark if we want any security in supply.

    By not designing a longer term policy early enough and by kow-towing to green lobbyists and producer interests, politicians in Scotland, and the UK, have probably made a mess of the supply system in its ability to provide security of the volts that we all use. Scotland is gradually becoming a net importer of energy, and if fracking goes ahead in England – which it will – this imbalance can only increase with wind power priced high above natural gas.

    Too often, the debate in Scotland is only about the subsidies demanded by the political decision to emphasise wind power generation. Instead, we really do need a debate about what type of capacity we want based on the prices known today and estimated for tomorrow.

    Electricity markets are interesting in that the privatization done three decades ago introduced some transparency and plurality into the pricing of generation. This has continued with the contracts for difference approach which uses top-up and claw-back pricing to minimise subsidies. This may have reduced the taxpayer bill by more than two billion pounds this year alone.

    What we need is a way for consumers, and taxpayers, to agree to much longer term contracts than any politician who is elected every five years can offer. There is a way to do this, by allowing consumers to vote through offers for future contracts five, ten and even twenty year away; we should have these made visible on our electricity bills as options. We wouldn’t all have to understand them; and options contracts are always tradeable. But the democracy of pricing is a lot more predictable for producers than the democracy of politicised power.

    Imagine if you could buy rights to your energy far in advance and obtain a discount for doing so. We’d create a market in priced future energy security as customers. That would be far more secure than a subsidy morass where prices are controlled by the politics of subsidy on the back of taxpayer largesse.

    And, as taxpayers, or as investors, we would avoid a lot of obscurely labelled temporary expediencies over-promising energy supplies that politicians can change on a whim.


    Tuesday, June 09, 2015

    If this is investment, we just don't get it.

    As the political fireworks continue over full fiscal autonomy there is one word we dearly wish the Scottish Government would avoid in its eagerness to provide support for public services.


    It appears seven times in a release by their press team yesterday. Now, investment is a process whereby consumption today is foregone to generate wealth for the future by building more revenue earning assets. What the Scottish Government means by investment is consuming our taxes today on the basis of – er – what?

    If the spending is on transfer payments designed to protect the vulnerable, or as Mr Swinney put it yesterday, anti-austerity measures to reverse “cuts that already hit the poorest households” then this is at best a zero sum game moving money from one person to another. In reality, it more than probably reduces incentives to invest in tomorrow, adds to welfare dependency and so is actually the reverse of investment, reducing revenues of tomorrow. So this policy is designed to slow growth and reduce jobs.

    If the spending is in public service capital projects it will initially involve transfers from the great mass of taxpaying average earners to construction companies, highly paid clinical and educational professionals and public sector executives. Eventually, some new money might arrive in the pay packets of new public servants. That’s those who on average earn 18 percent more than those in the private sector in Scotland. So, this policy is designed to increase inequality.

    We all know that the “anti-austerity” campaign is really a plea to increase levels of public spending, extracting more from the taxpayer through tax or borrowing, while offering more to those who vote for any politician making that spending offer. That’s politics.

    The difficulty for the SNP is that political promises are eventually taken at face value by voters and have to be delivered. Fiscal autonomy is coming to some extent even if its fullness is in great doubt. George Osborne’s retort in the House of Commons to SNP complaints about spending cuts was telling. Soon enough, Scotland’s government will be able to raise taxes to pay for its choices over austerity. Even the prospect of autonomy is introducing new responsibility and taxpayers should be forgiven a wry smile – a lot of wriggling on hooks is in prospect.

    Using our taxes to produce some Utopian future based on false notions of “investment” is doomed to failure. Scotland’s future will be built on investing by the productive and the risk-taking who make losses as well as profits. Our present Scottish government just don’t get this; instead we all watch in bemusement as they propose new legislation in health and education that mandates success by requiring reports from public servants on how well they are doing against mandated targets.

    I am reminded of the Polish potato harvest under communism. There, every local party official had to report to a higher tier what production they had achieved under the central plan. An audit of these reports as they went upwards through the supply chain showed that repeated lily-gilding was telling the Central Party apparatchiks that Poland’s total potato harvest was three times the level of output … of the entire world.

    We shall all have to be ever watchful about false claims of success from using our money.


    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    The young and their potential

    This week, all the political parties focussed on youth unemployment; the phenomenon of co-ordinated campaigns is not unexpected in these days of news management.

    For taxpayers, however, the promises make grim reading. After many years of attempting to help create jobs for the young using centralised government policies there are still more than 70,000 or 15 percent without work, and apparently many invisible others that are not counted.

    The response to this is always a promise to spend more of our money. This has failed for years, and it is worrying that the contemporary response is now both to spend our money and force our young people to do work, attend training or face strictures. Many people would say that this is only fair; it’s our money being spent on them after all. That is only half true, when strictures are imposed by a monopoly state that state moves into illiberal totalitarianism by default.

    Can those “many others” – the NEETS – be blamed from turning away? And what outcome do these policies produce when disaffected youth is let loose with a belief that there is no future for them?

    There is a better way than wasting our taxes like this. We need to realise that despite best intentions the state, in a quite literal sense, does not and indeed cannot know what it is doing. The only people who do are those in business who have some idea about what work might need to be done. The key words here are “some” and “might”; “some idea” because there is always uncertainty about tomorrow and “might need” because there is a risk in taking on labour that can lose you money.

    And if we want employers to create employment, we have to allow them the financial space to manage uncertainty and cover off their risks. The way to do that is to slash payroll taxes – to make untested youth employees with uncertain productivity cheaper and so less risky to employ. Politicians know this and have tinkered with the occasional relief of National Insurance for new employees, but their political incentives are always to be seen to be spending and promising; using tools like state-sponsored training and living wage schemes that destroy as many jobs as they create but allow politicians to suggest they are winning – they are not, we have far too many wasted talents unemployed and deteriorating in Scotland.

    It is time they were much bolder. Scotland’s youth need jobs, the state cannot provide them.

    (We are in a closed election period through which TaxpayerScotland, as an unaligned body, is unable to make any comment that might be construed as supportive of any particular party policy. Our Blog articles will be less frequent during the campaigning period and be limited to general advocacy in favour of constraints on government spending and lower taxes. )


    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    Treatment at the producer's periphery

    Elderly patients from Kintyre are being asked for eighty pounds in advance to travel to clinics in Oban. They report that the treatment they receive there is often little more than being weighed and handed a packet of tablets.

    Bizarrely, they can then claim all but ten of the eighty pounds back on their return. This strange system has been criticised for the fees charged which are seen to be against the spirit of our “free” NHS.

    To us, the lesson is not in the fees; travel is very expensive and contractors have to be paid. It’s the fact that such a system continues without anyone in the NHS doing anything about it. What a waste of time, and money, for all!

    In England, where a system of competitive commissioning has been put into place, there has been a lot of change in these ancillary services. Think of it this way; if these services were put out to competitive commissioners, each would have to think how best to win the contract. A commissioning group in Helensburgh might offer to build a clinic in Campbeltown, competing with Oban. Oban might respond with a travelling clinic in a spanking new clinic bus. Patients might end up with both available to them, as they decide. Note that each of these innovations is patient focussed, not fiddling with administrative matters.

    Instead, the monolithic NHS continues with a system that involves taking in money, claiming it back, and reimbursing it and all no doubt with oversight from the local Health Trust based on audit guidance from St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

    Scotland suffers from a stone-wall refusal to accept that “our” NHS can be anything other than one single bureaucratic system. That’s not our NHS, that’s an NHS that has been captured by its controllers in their interest. Patients in Scotland deserve better. So do taxpayers, we are paying far more than we need to for poorer services.


    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    CCTV replacement should be localised

    We are told that across Scotland there is a range of CCTV equipment from the not very new to the essentially defunct which requires a wholesale upgrade.

    Public security is a public good and therefore merits public funding, and there are calls for a “national strategy” for CCTV to be handled centrally. We think that is the precise opposite of what is needed.

    This debate over CCTV installations is a symptom of a larger issue – the capability of public organisations to consider the whole life costs of our infrastructure. Our taxes have not been spent well here and we now face a massive catch-up exercise at even greater expense.

    Someone somewhere has forgotten to consider the replacement costs for end-of-life installations. Actually, we think that in their eagerness to obtain CCTV, local authorities and police forces across the land probably did not even try to consider it; they simply don’t see it as part of how they should spend our taxes – assuming the taxpayer will just cough up the funds the next time too. Here lies a core source of our high taxes.

    A central management for new CCTV installations would fall prey to endless horse-trading between political interests; civil servants would have to deal with multiple agendas from different sites with different ideas and needs; they would spend a lot on what they call “a plan” but which is actually sclerotic talk-talk. Inevitably, a one-size-fits-all policy would emerge with administration by committee to deal with inevitable variances and vagaries of sticking a camera on a wall.

    The parallels with the national debate over where power to spend and tax should lie are notable. The way to resolve local CCTV needs is to devolve management of those needs and the power to pay for them to real local level. That means even below the level of our councils, to the local communities where so many in Scotland with communitarian ideals want power to lie.

    At that level, CCTV would compete with other ways to keep the public secure. It’s not the only way to obtain security. Volunteer community security officers, boys clubs, sports facilities, mental health support and schools initiatives to combat vandalism, drinking and promote respect for property all help “cure” public disorder and damage. They also bring people together, especially where they have to take administrative decisions about their future.

    The way to resolve CCTV funding is to set a few general rules about the audit of spending, including end-of-life replacement plans, at central level and task local communities to get on with it. The power to raise public subscriptions for CCTV installations should be incentivised through a local tax rebate to local business equal to anything raised. The savings to the central state from any low overhead localised initiative would easily outweigh the hypothecated revenues. The people would get the public security they wanted, at a price they were prepared to pay. The rebate would even create a few jobs for the ne’er do wells who lead to CCTV being needed in the first place.


    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    Big strategies, big taxes

    The Scottish Government is proposing to spend ten million pounds of our money on a common model to allow schools offer on-line purchasing. They say “only eight percent” do this today.

    This is a thoroughly bad approach. That eight percent is telling. Around one in ten schools have freely decided that on-line purchasing is a good thing; around nine in ten have either coped without it, or decided their money would be better spent on other things.

    Those localised decisions on behalf of children and parents will now be taken by a central body, mandating a common approach for something that is in reality diversified and of varying complexity.

    This will end in tears and cost a fortune.

    For taxpayers, the past record of runaway expenditure on IT systems designed from the top-down is horrendous. Our hard-earned cash is simply assumed to be available as the inevitable failure of the grand design emerges. We end up paying for the work programme and its high long-term whole life costs; mostly for remedial work to make the system operate more effectively.

    A far better approach would be to take this on-line evolution slowly on a localised basis, letting schools discover the best way for themselves to organise what is really needed and share how to achieve that with each other. Internet purchasing arrangements can be setup on a small scale very inexpensively, and this is done by many small firms to the extent that the retail sector is undergoing radical change.

    Instead, our schools which are struggling for cash to meet their educational priorities are going to be forced into the large-scale corporate approach of government and IT companies. You can see the (inevitable) strategy document at http://lgictstrategy.org.uk .

    If this programme is actually necessary it would be far cheaper to offer each school their own share of this tranche of taxpayers’ money and let them get on with it (or spend the money on more books) Here again, we see juggernaut government operating in a small country that could offer much more flexible methods – at far lower cost in tax.


    Friday, June 20, 2014

    A non-typical airport

    Another ten million of government debt is going to be used for loans to support “a backlog of maintenance” and other new “investment” at Prestwick Airport.

    Clarity in quite what this means is missing, which we expect is simply because no-one knows what to do – in the same way as they have not known what to do about Prestwick for the past fifty years. It is perhaps telling that the “master plan” downloadable from the Prestwick Airport website shows gross value added figures from a Scottish Enterprise study in 2008!

    Nicola Sturgeon says that the airport is “non-typical”; by which she means that it has proportionately high cargo revenue alongside its passenger earnings.

    However, there is another way of looking at this non-typicality. Gatwick airport is 29 miles from the centre of London. Prestwick is 31miles from the centre of Glasgow. Gatwick’s turnover is £540 million, and the Crawley area in which it is based has no unemployment. Yes, zero. Prestwick, struggling with its losses, also sits in a sea of struggle for jobs across Ayr, Prestwick, Irvine, Saltcoats and Ardrossan. Can all this be put down to competition for passengers against Glasgow Abbotsinch?

    If an airport is part of a strategic trading hub it needs trade. Governments and local authorities do not trade, they only talk about it. Any focus on Prestwick airport is in fact de-focussing on the real problem; the need to increase growth massively in Scotland’s west. The way to achieve that is to relieve Scotland’s business of its tax burdens. Nicola Sturgeon’s ten million in loans would be better spent on air tickets for young managers to send them to America, Africa and Asia for a month to find out who is buying what. If there were a few weeds on Prestwick’s runway on their return, who cares; by making things to sell that they know others want, we could re-build Prestwick from the ground up. The airport would undoubtedly see a load of new passengers too – overseas customers fascinated to see where all these Scottish goods come from.


    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    No golden boost for ordinary taxpayers

    Scottish voters can be forgiven for feeling confused. This week they’ve been battered by claims from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills that Scotland will see employment grow more slowly than the other UK home nations until 2022, while at the same time being told that the Scottish government’s capital investment program is boosting the economy.

    Figures are thrown about like confetti; £400 million of past spending apparently now “in use”; £8 billion due to the end of the 2016 financial year; cuts by the UK of 27 percent; re-balancing of £480million from Scottish resources, add-ons from Barnett consequentials and on and on. Without a breakdown of how much of this is additional, UK delivered or EU funded, and to which sector, such figures are simply vote buying by what the Americans call “pork”.

    However, we can be clear about what all of your tax money is for; Nicola Sturgeon, pictured in the obligatory photo call wearing a hard hat, at the site of a new Health Centre is quoted: “to stimulate growth in the short term and lay the foundations for long term success”.

    Well does it?

    A new report this week from the Centre for Policy Studies called “Not Paved With Gold” tells a different story. There has been a debate for some time among economists about state capital investment and its effect on growth. There is a general rule that the larger your state sector, the slower your potential growth rate. Growth rates in the Nordic nations are particularly interesting for Scotland in this respect.

    This report suggests a negative correlation between many areas of capital spending and growth, particularly in health and welfare, using data from 29 OECD nations. At the very least, the taxes that are spent on politically motivated projects destroy as much as they produce. This also includes roads infrastructure, which even seems to have caught the researchers by surprise.

    We are not so surprised. The propensity of the state to invest in vanity projects, to demand contractual arrangements that inflate costs, and to choose projects on political rather than commercial grounds inevitably reduces the return to investment of tax-funded projects.

    Far better for Scotland would be to allow us to keep more of our own money. Investment will then follow private demand – and capital would be allocated to where the electorate prefer it to be used with a better return for all – especially the less well-off. At the moment, most government investments take from the average and give to the corporate wealthy.


    Sunday, March 09, 2014

    Inventing Missions

    We’ve been looking at the background to the work of the Scottish Cities Alliance. This taxpayer-funded group is a strange amalgam. It brings together city leaders, academics, quangocrats and civil servants to boost the performance of our cities.

    Once again, like the seafood initiative we criticised last week, it uses our money to build yet another “partnership” with a mission. Each city has put in £160,000 for staff costs and “a programme of events and engagement” and it’s also got seven million pounds of our money for investment in projects. They hope to use the latter to “leverage” more funding from elsewhere.

    Its accounts for 2012 – 13 showed it had managed to spend £1,460,537 out of its seven million on “project funding”. The projects are initiatives like the “Green Deal” sponsored by the UK Government Department of Energy. Notably, there are other green projects in the mix aimed at “enhancing strategic energy planning”, heat mapping and hydrogen fuel cell technology. There is also a Digital Connectivity initiative aimed at becoming “well placed to access emerging sources of funding aligned to EU, UK and Scottish Government strategies”, and city investment programmes - which means developing models for generating new investment in our cities, almost all of which include “promotional strategies” and, now, a programme of "Global Excellence Conferences".

    In other words, our tax money is being used to find more tax money to fund city strategies that are designed to fit in with central government strategies. Here, once again, is the rot in our governance writ large. These aren’t strategies at all; they are simply honeypot economics in which tax-funded planners work parasitically with other tax-funded planners to …. well, to do what exactly?

    The truth is that these are well-paid middle class public servants trying to guess what might generate what they call “sustainable economic growth”. They’ve been given a barrow load of our cash and are trying to work out what to do with it; on the basis of absolutely no idea what may or may not create jobs and growth. They just have hopeful plans.

    We think they should give us our money back. The taxpayers paying for this pork-barrelling are seeing upwards of 45 pence in every pound they earn go into the public purse; creating disincentives to productivity, to investment and to thinking up new entrepreneurial ideas that would create new jobs and growth. Inventing missions through central plans has never worked and never will – the route to wealth is discovered and engineered, not pulled out of a committee led hat.


    Wednesday, November 13, 2013


    Ye couldnae credit it – but jings, yer payin fur it.

    It’s been a fine tradition in Glasgow to stick a traffic cone onto the monument of the Duke of Wellington on horseback in Royal Exchange Square.

    He looks pretty good in it, a cross between a well-dressed Lady Godiva and a Tam O’Shanter dunce on his way home.

    Glasgow Council hate it, although the image (complete with cone) has been used by our local museums and even for Commonwealth Games promotions. This is Glasgow, we’re fun lovin’ people wi’ a sense of humour ... as you will know.

    The Council have “drawn up plans”, talked about raising the statue on a plinth and other measures, and done all of those things that you would expect of yellow-jacketed administrators who like to have things just right – that is, sterile and under their control. They’ve gone to find grants from big quangos to pay for security, they’ve worried about court cases if someone putting a cone onto it falls off it. In short, they’ve had lots of meetings about it – at our expense.

    And worst of all? They’ve got angry because the public have found out what has been going on; that is their endless havering and talking and doing nothing. That tells us something about how our council officers think; we’re no yer servants, but yer masters, pal.

    Let’s turn this whole thing on its head (sic). They’ve spent our money not being able to sort this issue out – the people’s fun has been found to be not their Irn Bru. Well, help ma boab, why don’t they just step away and admit defeat? Offer the statue as a true public monument, allow ordinary Glaswegians to take it over as a public Trust. Maybe some stern worthies would take it over and connect it to 240 volts to stop the fun, or maybe some loonies would adopt it, hold competitions for the best dressed Wellington for a while, and have a party or two. The fuss would soon die down, and they’d probably make money from it instead of spending loads of ours to no effect.

    And by the way, there’s another statue they could look at as well; Mr Adam Smith on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh has also been seen to sport a fine traffic cone now and then. Now that’s real sacrilege, but we think he would just smile. Freedom.


    Friday, November 01, 2013

    Switching our money away

    Spending £5000 on flicking a switch is bad enough. But to have a minor C-list "celebrity" from Essex doing it is an insult to the people of Perth.

    It's reported that Perth and Kinross have paid the money to Mark Wright, apparently a "star" from the TV reality show The Only Way is Essex.

    Not surprisingly, many here in Perth are furious. As most people we have spoken to have said "We'd do it for nothing if they asked". What's most annoying about this is that the Council simply don't seem to understand their critics. We know that there is a Perth Winter Festival which is costing taxpayers £60,000, and we are told that some of that comes from the Perth Common Good Fund.

    But is Mr Wright's bank balance part of Perth's common good? We don't think so. Perth needs to save every penny of our money for local services, not export it to Essex.

    (If you want to become one of our observing activists in a local area, being ever watchful about the use of our money, please get in touch from our web site)


    Friday, September 27, 2013

    At last, a proper type of turning

    Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has today refused planning consent for the Harelaw Renewable Energy Park proposed wind farm.

    So now we have both Scotland's Energy Minister and East Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire Councils both saying that this was a step too far.

    The original application was for 40 turbines with a tip height up to 118 metres to be built on Glenouther Moor, south of Neilston, near Glasgow.

    The planning authorities within the two local authorities objected to the application stating that the development of the wind farm would have significant landscape, visual and noise impacts and detrimental impacts on local businesses. The reporting inspector agreed.

    Now is the time for the Scottish Government to re-visit its entire energy policy. The advent of fracking, which will (and already does) happen in the South of England, will bring cheaper energy for all in Britain - and better economic competitiveness.

    We do not deny that there may be rising CO2 levels, nor the notion of climate disruption, but we recognise that richer nations are better equipped to deal with their energy outcomes than poor nations. Turbines make us poorer, and certainly don't help with our CO2 output. They also do not create jobs; the additional costs per MWh added onto our electricity bills destroy far more employment than the few windfarm operatives needed in Scotland and the turbines are mostly made elsewhere.

    Scotland would do far better using its engineering expertise to become engaged with research into the vitrification and storage of nuclear waste - and then focus on that climate saving technique to offer the world radionucleide storage facilities and efficient production of nuclear power systems.

    That choice would solve our CO2 problem and give us a new green industry that really did create jobs across Scotland on behalf of the rest of the world. It's time for us to express confidence in our capabilities.


    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    Is the clock now ticking?

    We have been inundated with requests to comment on a seemingly trivial story in the past two days.

    Apparently, it has been revealed that Aberdeen City Council has spent £768 on accessing the speaking clock across its offices.

    A quick poll around our office and other colleagues tells us that none of us had recourse to use this service in the past ten years, and among those under thirty, no-one had ever used it. Two of us did not even know it existed.

    And a quick count around our near space showed us that on average, we had three clocks within four feet of our seats.

    There are a couple of issue here.

    First, our ever eager press have woken up to the fact that our local councils indulge themselves in truly bizarre activities that cost all of us money

    Secondly, they like us share a view that such behaviour is culpable - it smacks of a disdain for those who pay these pipers - most of whom earn less than they.

    To which we have to ask, what on Earth are the senior management of our councils up to if they cannot keep their staff in check through such a simple measure as cutting off access to this old-fashioned service?

    We'd like to be sure that those directing the focus of our councils are good enough managers to know when their staff are not concentrating on the job at hand. But endless referencing of a speaking clock - are they synchronising watches for a mass exodus for the bus home? - tells us that they are not.

    Which begs the question, now that this news is out and the shame of it is on the desks of the leaders of our councils, why don't they have a good look at every single worker, every task, every process and every objective that we taxpayers pay for, and see what they can stop doing - then send any clock-watchers home with their P45 in hand. They're taking money from the poor to pay for their leisurely careers - and that's a disgrace.


    Monday, August 12, 2013

    Today's decisions - tomorrow's waste

    The stramash over who bears the responsibility for the clean-up of disused mines owed by Scottish Coal looks like becoming a long drawn out affair.

    There’s going to be plenty of our money spent making a case one way or the other – should a company have the responsibility for clean-ups mandated by environmental regulations if they go into liquidation, or can they walk away?

    The principle here of ensuring that the visible restoration of resource exploitation is budgeted for during the lifetime of any project is important. It may tip the balance for or against any particular investment. If that principle is to hold, the costs to taxpayers of the thousands of wind turbines spotting the Scottish landscape needs to be made properly transparent.

    In the United States, there are numerous court cases working their way forward in which companies that no longer exist are being pursued for the cost of thousands of abandoned turbines. A sensible calculation would also logically include the clean-up of the back-up power stations that are required to make wind a remotely reliable power source and the expensive dispersed grid installations that bring the power from the dispersed turbines to consumers.

    These calculations of what are known as “whole life costs” are a vitally important part of the development of a sustainably affluent society.

    The coal saga gives us good warning; whole life costs cannot be ignored; indeed it is a moral imperative for governments to be completely honest about them. The alternative is to leave a tax burden on our children and grand-children over and above the debts we have already accrued. That cannot in any circumstances be seen to be either fair or social justice.

    Taxpayers need to hold our politicians to account on this and not let them get over-excited about grand visions of a carbon-free economy built on thousands of monuments to folly.


    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Bumper spending - nominal cuts

    Welfare Reform, tax raising powers, pensions are on the agenda at the moment in Scotland. Some say the chances for our country to cope with its spending and tax needs are not good.

    It’s true that “social support” is a monster bill (about £23 billion annually and rising) and we would say that the basis on which our welfare system is designed, lacking any element of localised social insurance which would tie its cost to the individual’s responsibility, is flawed.

    But, stuck as we are with the present centrally managed monolith, there is something that taxpayers need to continually bang on about – the efficiency of those who manage it.

    Our colleagues at The Taxpayers’ Alliance point out in their latest annual “Bumper Book of Government Waste” that £5 billion is paid in the UK to those with incomes above £100,000, £20.3 billion is fraudulently spent, and £25 billion is wasted through inefficiency in procurement and poor use of outsourcing.

    They reckon that if our public sector were as efficient as other countries in the world, no less than £137 billion could have been saved last year alone. Taking the 10 percent rule for Scotland, that would be at least half our social support budget.

    TaxpayerScotland spends a lot of time commenting in the press about waste and unnecessary spending. Yes, the Edinburgh trams, the Water of Leith flood defences are an outrage, but the plethora of strange art projects, the issue of endless i-pads to local government officers, and many other “bonkers schemes” and expenses are still too prevalent across Scotland.

    We’ll fight the case against waste and unnecessary on behalf of our supporters at every opportunity; and then we’ll come up with better ways of dealing with big ticket items. Things have got to change. Download the full horror story here.


    Monday, April 29, 2013

    What cost winter?

    There is a telling report in today's Herald about the cost of the recent hard winter to local authorities.

    Dundee, Angus, Fife, Stirling, Falkirk and East Lothian authorities all say they have gone over their winter road maintenance cost targets and the bill for all of Scotland's 32 councils is expected to be much higher.

    Now, keeping communities safe, but still mobile, on icy roads is a key responsibility of our local councils. What’s staggering about this report is that so many of them do not yet know how much they have spent through the winter.

    Audit Scotland has repeatedly criticised our local authorities for not measuring their performance well. It’s simply no excuse to say it was a severe winter and repeated salt applications were needed with high additional tonnages involved. The costs of these operations should be known to councils down to a fine detail – they’ve had tens of years of repeat experience to be able to get on top of it.

    It’s also telling that several councils say that they are still trying to calculate how much extra they have spent. Look at that idea the other way around as a taxpayer. We are suffering costs accrued by council managers who are pushing salt and vehicles out onto our roads again and again through a long winter but who have no idea how much it costs to do this.

    That cannot be acceptable, particularly since some Councils seem on the ball and DO have the numbers at their fingertips.

    If councils really cannot know, on the day they do what they are required to do for us, how much tax money will be needed to pay for it, then these responsibilities should be taken away from them. Why should we offer a blank cheque for non-competence?


    Friday, February 15, 2013

    We love the Arts - but others just don't get it.

    Sometimes we should celebrate fiscal bravery. Moray Council's decision to scrap its Arts budget is one of these times.

    The fact that the decision has been made on the basis of thorough consultation is telling. According to one lead Councillor: "At every meeting, survey and response we had as part of this extensive consultation, arts, I'm afraid, came bottom of the list for Moray residents."

    A quick poll between us established that we all like the Arts and take in a show whenever we can. But we pay for what we see, and we do not see why those who do not share our interests should pay for our pleasures. Those payments too often transfer income from the poor to the rich.

    One critic of the budget cut said “Moray Council will lose far more than they save”. Leaving aside the implicit notion that this is about the reputation of the council rather than a service for the community, we doubt that. Scotland’s North has some great venues and many interesting artists and performers. They aren’t all going to throw themselves into the sea or emigrate.

    What’s most likely to happen as a result of this bold move is innovation. Ordinary people with artistic talents will discover the demand for what they do at a price people are willing to pay by adjusting their artistry to suit. Now that’s creative. Done well it will generate wealth for both the artist and the community; at no cost to the taxpayer.

    And equally, local taxpayers will not be forced to support things they aren’t interested in, in particular the self-serving Arts administration community who like to justify all sorts of strange events – like talking to sheep – as being valuable because they are – er – “Art”.


    Friday, November 30, 2012

    The Chatterers and Us

    Put a group of politicians, journalists and celebrities in one room and you will hear a cacophany of gossip. These chatterers just love to gas. They like attention, they like reaction and they like noise.

    But look in the corner and you will find a lawyer or two, perhaps a bureaucrat or a moralist, tut-tutting about the racket, the display of ego, and the inexactitude of the pontifications of those present.

    This is a cultural clash omnipresent in our public debate. Those of a dispassionate, logical and practical disposition despise (and fear) the creative, impulsive and reactive.

    The clash would be innocuous were it not for the fact that sometimes impulsiveness crosses the boundaries of personal intrusion and justifiable comment. The "game of chattering" becomes offensive, destructive and, let's admit it, vile.

    This is the context in which the seemingly interminable proceedings of the Leveson enquiry have done battle. Our culture is trying to find a level of decency between chatter and privacy - with great difficulty, because the witnesses are the same participants that divide between those who love chatter and those who prefer privacy.

    The Prime Minister was right to suggest a "pause for thought". Anger and disgust are lousy ways to make legislation.

    The press are important; they uncover humbug, they reveal false accounting, they castigate hypocrisy because they are "in the room" with politicians and celebrities. That's vitally important. For us, the expenses scandals, cost overruns on public projects, bad ideas that will cost us billions, aggrandisement based on access to the public purse are all revealed by ourselves and the media. These freedoms are seriously important to the health of your bank balance and your liberty to do what you want with the income from your efforts.

    In that sense, there is a wider issue in a world of new dispersed media. This blog, twitter, e-mail and other non-official media are a new tool against concentrated power. The chattering in this much bigger room is often barmy and wild (that’s also a reflection of human culture and character, we are a diverse breed) but where opinion is let free, that’s where creativity and imagination generate newness, the growth and progress on which humankind thrives. Scotland has been at the forefront of this ferment, pamphleteering was a central element of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and modern journalism is soaked in non-conformism brought to Westminster by London based Scots.

    Leveson has pleaded that his report is not simply put on a shelf as a jolly good review of the operations of some rotten apples in the barrel. He wants government action of some sort to bolster nicety and morality through a background law.

    I have grave doubts on grounds of jurisprudence. The moment free speech is circumscribed by constructed limits, we face the prospect of regulatory creep which ends up with comment being “allowed” by de-facto registered media outlets – that is, those who have signed up to the moral constraints set by the state. This creep will be slow and subtle, and often hidden. For example, imagine if the civil service decided that in any government consultation any evidence given that cited organisations not signed up to a “press charter” was inadmissible. Suddenly, only those in the chatterers’ room are being listened to. The views, say, of hundreds of individuals who hate the intrusion and cost of wind turbines on their local hills, might be discarded because they were not judged as “official”. That would be a Soviet future for Scotland.

    We face some of the worst austerity of modern times due to a fault in our constitutional arrangements that has allowed politicians to borrow so much money from future generations that it will leave a legacy of high taxation, low growth and impoverishment for those not yet born. Organisations like ours will bang on and on about this, throwing state-massaged statistics back at the Scottish government in an attempt to get them to mend their ways and stop stealing our freedom.

    It would be a serious injustice to be prevented from our howling through the distaste of some celebrity chatterers for the rude intrusion into their publicity hungry lives by curious journalists.

    As for the Dowlings and McCanns, my view is that offence, destruction and vileness can be well contained through existing laws of tort and common law, although we may need some strengthening of a right to privacy. Scottish taxpayers now face another long and costly consultation by worthy folk on press intrusion in Scotland. If our politicians had any guts or imagination, they would simply turn to our long history of enlightened commentary, shrug, and tell the judges that the noise from the room of chatterers is part of our cultural passion. No new law is needed, those who have been outraged should calm down and use common opinion in common law to curb the worst excesses.


    Monday, November 26, 2012

    Another half billion plucked out of the air

    The "news" yesterday that John Swinney wants Westminster to stump up another 500 million pounds of our money to support capital investment tells us something about the nature of cloud-cuckoo land.

    The original figure for so-called “shovel ready” projects was 305 million pounds, this new list re-publishes that and adds a fantastical half billion on top. The bizarre claim that this spending would “support” 1400 jobs for each 100 million spent – that’s 71000 thousand pounds of our money for each job - is made yet again. The fact that the same number applies to the first 305 million and the second 500 million is strange indeed – given that the pattern of projects appears to change.

    You have to ask if Mr Swinney’s advisers ever read anything. A huge amount of work is being done on fiscal multipliers – the effects on “growth and Jobs” that Mr Swinney so dearly wants to see. Unfortunately, what is emerging is that multipliers are much lower than thought – except in the initial period of a recession, where they can help support a contracting economy.

    A recent IMF report on the management of austerity has a telling sentence: “Fiscal expenditure multipliers are significantly larger in downturns than in upturns”. The fall into recession started in 2008 and we are now in a period of flat-lining. This is a crucial time, because as the report also tells us, the most important thing on the way out of recession is confidence.

    Mr Swinney is very confident. Confident that the Scottish government on its own, against a lot of academic evidence and armed with shovels, can make our economy grow. The IMF report unfortunately also makes it clear that the “more spending” approach to growth in an open economy tends to export a lot of the funding provided and large scale injections of money do not have the output effect envisaged.

    Our recent report on The State of Capital Expenditure in Scotland pointed out that the Scottish Government’s claim that its projects are shovel ready is simply not true. Neither tenders nor contracts have been issued and it would be many months before any soil is turned. We also pointed out that any local employment effects of grand construction projects are severely limited.

    We cannot escape the conclusion that Mr Swinney’s latest announcement, (on a Sunday!), is simply political posturing aimed at separating Scotland from the larger British economic crisis. Our problem is that Mr Swinney’s approach simply repeats the spendthrift ways that got us here in the first place.


    Friday, November 09, 2012

    The taxing climate of high-flying officials

    Recent research by our sister organisation, The Tapayers’ Alliance, has shown us that officials form the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who administer the Government's strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions and deliver climate change targets, have been flying hither and thither at our expense.

    Those from their office in Guild Street in Aberdeen have a particular penchant for taking trips to London. They have spent more than £200,000 on flights from Scotland as a whole in the last two and a half years, the vast majority (596) internal flights from Aberdeen. (179 of these flights were international.)

    While most flights taken were economy, there is one flight costing £3245 to Dallas/Fort Worth and another to Washington DC costing £3120. Sixty thousand pounds were spent in total on flights from Aberdeen to international destinations. Business class flights were booked between London other cities in the UK such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. You can see the summary data here.. (Click here for the full detail in a spreadsheet)

    Now, there is a perfectly good train service from Aberdeen to London used by thousands of people each month. Surely it is not beyond the Department, if it truly believes that our carbon footprints are important, to avoid using aeroplanes to such an extent.

    We also need to note that the cost of internal flights is made more expensive by Air Passenger Duty supported as part of climate change policy by the Department. Scottish taxpayers who pay for their own travel should be outraged to see such a high level of expenditure on flights.

    These travel arrangements need to be explained by those in charge of the way DECC runs its operations between Aberdeen and the rest of the UK. There must be ways that this bill could be radically reduced.


    Friday, November 02, 2012

    Taxpayers need proper numbers to consume

    This week’s Renewable UK conference in Glasgow has heard strings of numbers; 11,000 jobs; 1,825 Megawatts; 50 percent targets and a good smattering of billions thrown in for good measure.

    But are these good measures for taxpayers? No, this has been a cabal of special interests; suited and booted producers and green lobbyists standing alongside politicians plucking targets out of the air for the monuments we see all over our country (and soon to be in our tidal waters.)

    And they are all spending our money – without us having a proper choice in how much, how fast or where they spend it.

    We have hardly heard a squeak about what these centralised, target driven, producer interests are going to charge us for the privilege of keeping industry moving and the lights on in our homes.

    TaxpayerScotland knows it is a lot, somewhere above £300 per family per year, and we are still putting in generating equipment that costs anything from seven to seventeen times as much to produce each watt as “old-fashioned” fossil fuel methods. (No-one really knows the lifetime costs).

    Once again, Big Government is creating a quasi-nationalised industry that is opaque in its operations, driven by agreement between big corporates, subsidised specialists and government bureaucrats. We need another way.

    Taxpayers need to be given power as consumers. Food companies don’t tell us that we can only have pork, and not eat beef. Clothes companies do not get subsidies for sheep so that we can wear wool more cheaply. Food, clothing and warmth are all essentials. Why are we giving energy companies subsidies and control over our choice of energy production?

    We do not deny global warming, but we do want its costs to be adopted into decisions made by consumers. We don’t want government to be allocating those costs into our electricity bills based on policies carved out in cahoots with lobbyists for their pet technical solution for lowering carbon emissions.

    We think the answer lies in our energy bill and our choice of supplier. We need to be given more information on the alternative prices of what can be offered in the future. Millions of consumers can then decide where they want their energy to come from, based on the prices offered across different alternatives. Producers can react to our preferences, lowering costs to compete. And yes, we are all capable, without government getting over-involved, of making a democratic choice between a slow adaptive approach to tackling carbon over-emissions and a fast-track dash for carbon-free alternatives. In fact, in a consumer-led system we could choose a mix of both, at prices of our choosing.

    As it stands, we are being milked by an unholy alliance of techies, greens and Nats.


    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Scotland's Information Commissioner spent thousands of pounds on leaving bash

    Scotland’s outgoing Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, has reportedly spent thousands of pounds on a reception to mark the end of his tenure.

    According to information released under the same Freedom of Information laws that he championed, his office spent almost £3,000 on a parliamentary reception to mark his departure from office. The requests show that over 130 politicians and civil servants gorged and guzzled their way through £1,361 worth of canapes and £665 worth of wine. Guests were invited via designer invitations which cost £150 while the same amount was spent on commemorative photographs of the reception.

    Kevin Dunion’s role was to uphold information rights in the public interest and promote a culture of openness and transparency in public bodies. Freedom of information laws should make public sector bodies more accountable, creating a level playing field where the idea that those in power know best no longer applies. The irony of such profligate spending by the very person whose duty it was to uphold standards in information access will anger taxpayers across Scotland.


    Friday, August 03, 2012

    Making it grandly - at our expense

    According to the Daily Telegraph the Scottish Government is spending £25,000 every single day during the Olympics on hiring out an exclusive gentleman’s club to entertain businessmen and dignitaries.

    The First Minister officially opened the Army and Navy Club on London’s Pall Mall, which he has renamed Scotland House for the duration of the Olympics, before the Opening Ceremony last week.

    The Scottish Government says the arrangement is aimed at showcasing Scotland and attracting foreign investment as well as for hosting formal events and receptions. The cost of hiring the venue, which will total 400,000 pounds, is being split between the Scottish Government and five of its quangos.

    This astonishing sum of money is being spent despite the fact that the Scotland Office’s Dover House – a building which overlooks the Horse Guard’s Parade and beach volleyball – is available to Scottish Ministers to use free of charge and is only half a mile away on Whitehall.

    After years of complaining about the cost of the Olympic Games and the damage it is doing to the Scottish budget, it’s absurd that nearly half a million pounds is being wasted on a vanity project for which there is clearly a cheaper alternative.


    Sunday, July 08, 2012

    Glowing - but totally in the dark

    A good example of the state spending our money without much clue as to why it is doing so, or what benefits accrue, came to light last week.

    Glow is a “schools intranet” which has had money poured into it since 2005 – around 40 million pounds in fact. It purports to provide teachers with access to resources and best-practice in Information and Communications Technology.

    The idea is to … well, what is the idea behind Glow? According to various announcements; “to harness the power of technology for learning”, “to keep pace with rapidly evolving developments” and “speak the language that young people speak online”. Then … “to use online tools to support teachers and pupils”, to respond to “the need for the long-term future of Glow to be user-led, and potentially user delivered” and “to secure continuity of service”.

    These multiple platitudes, multiply confused, and largely attributable to Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, make us howl with rage. A visit to the government's own Engage for Education website shows us some of the comments by those who use Glow:

    “the single biggest problem with Glow is that no one has ever really known what it was for or why the government keeps pumping money in to it.”

    “does nothing to educate youngsters of the electronic communications they will experience in the ‘real world’ and just adds to the workload of teaching and admin staff.”

    “In my kid's school Glow is completely ignored. In part I think it’s so rubbish that it’s no loss”

    And so on.

    Yet now, the Scottish Government has set up a “Schools IT excellence group” under the Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Muffy Calder to consider its development.

    The “group will draw on the experience and expertise of end-users, and educational technology experts to scope the long-term user-centred future of Glow”. Tellingly, they want to improve confidence in its use”, “promote new teaching behaviours”, “deepen parental engagement” and strengthen position (sic) on hardware and associated infrastructure”

    Oh come on! This is a perfect example of a centrally planned idea that has simply failed – and the government knows it has failed; buried under the hogwash of its own balderdash. It’s a tax-funded pork barrel that should be closed down before it costs us another penny. Imagine what our schools could do with the millions being spent on this project if it was simply handed to them. Every teacher knows what the internet is, what it offers their pupils and what would work best in their particular circumstances.

    We don’t need money spent on high salaries for worthy educational advisers on this, or on the large corporates, RM and Microsoft no less, who are providing the hugely expensive intranet hardware and software tools. Close it down now.


    Saturday, June 30, 2012

    Masters of a dying universe

    The repeated failings of the banking industry have been largely technical up to now, however the latest revelations about rate fixing are genuinely horrendous cultural failings.

    The whole story is going to take months to be fully revealed, but do they really come as a surprise? Much has been written over the years about "wide boy" traders, dealers practising rapid fire "arbitrage" operations; huge sums of money being dealt with in transactions with tiny margins.

    TaxpayerScotland fully support an in-depth inquiry into alleged interest rate fixing - especially as it seems that it could have affected a number of small and large Scottish businesses to their commercial detriment. What we also need to know is if any of the bail-out money put up by individual taxpayers has been absorbed into bank coffers through dodgy deals.

    We are also hopeful that this may lead to the death of the Machiavellian banker culture. It has always been more than puzzling that bank traders have been allowed to develop more and more obscure derivatives, credit swaps, hedges and other "trades on the margin" that quite clearly hide enormous risks within mathematical fancy. What we need is an inquiry that looks into principles and asks "what is banking for?".

    At the moment, it appears far too often to be for the benefit of bankers and not to oil the wheels of real wealth-producing commerce and industry. Overpaid top staff, overly complex hidden dealings, and over-risky trades - without matching risks to those taking part in such activities - are a recipe for financial disaster and, as we now find out, for bringing out the worst in human behaviour.

    It's time for a re-think, Mr Cameron. We want transparency and accountability among those who wheel and deal in money in the same way as we want transparency and accountability among those who deal in political power.


    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    Our spending and their spending

    Hidden in the noise over the launch of the "Better Together" campaign was a little reported announcement that John Swinney appears to have found another hundred million pounds to spend.

    The Scottish Government continues to accelerate capital investment wherever it can; ploughing our money into roads, regeneration and renewables.

    We have expressed doubts for some time that the gains of such transfers from taxpayers into cement, steelwork and construction handled by skilled labour will do much for economic recovery and putting the unemployment back to work. The lack of media reporting of this latest announcement suggests that a certain ennui has crept in over these announcements.

    That's a pity, because each one of these projects has a whole life cost that we are all going to have to pay for from here on. These costs are never spelt out - although we have been asking, so far with little success. Our impression is that the Scottish government finds such tedious accounting rather boring.

    Contrast Mr Swinney's hundred million pound transfer with the statistic out today that in Glasgow alone the student population spends five hundred millon pounds each year. Now that's an achievement for an industry that quietly gets on with its work of making learning happen. In addition, 42 percent of Glasgow graduates settle in the city after they finish their studies.

    Widespread individualised spending has unknown effects, but reflects the choice of thousands, creating sustainable trading opportunities across widespread areas in our economy. State spending in contrast reflects the choice of a few politicians and civil servants, creating narrow opportunities mostly in big business.

    We know which we would prefer, with tax cutting being the best way to use any hundred million mysteriously found somewhere or other in government coffers.


    Friday, May 11, 2012

    A case of infrastructure folly

    A supporter has sent us an interesting example of folly.

    She spotted some “infrastructure” work – road works to most of us – being done in her local community and started asking questions. Her thought was that this was exactly the sort of capital spending scheme that our MSP’s claim will save the economy and create more jobs.

    What she found out about this taxpayer funded contract tells another tale.

    There were about ten workers on site. Three were specialist engineers and of the other seven, two were local and the rest from Lancashire. Another contracting company was there for three days – from the South of England. All of them had been in work, were always busy, and this was just another contract that they had to get done quickly.

    The team were laying up roadway – using a system made in Germany, with specialist sealing materials made there. The road-laying machinery they were using was all Japanese.

    Now, you can argue that the workforce will be spending money on local accommodation and food. In addition, as a free trader, you can argue that the money spent in Germany and Japan can come back to Scotland through German and Japanese tourists buying quality Scottish goods and services.

    What you cannot argue is that this spending is in any way proportionately benefitting any recovery of the Scottish economy through fiscal stimulus. We are leaking taxpayers' money out of Scotland to benefit others.

    What’s more, remember this story any time a politician tells you that capital infrastructure spending will help provide more Scots with long-term jobs and especially those who are less skilled. It doesn’t work like that any more. Infrastructure is a specialist game. And more, the money spent on these projects may well come back to Scotland through other trade, but almost always the spending that comes back will transfer money from the less well off taxpayer to the well off quality businesses.

    This is not good public policy.


    Tuesday, May 01, 2012

    Stand up for us - and our money

    Two stories tell a bigger tale over the past three days.

    In the first, it was reported that Fife Council had been paying someone to collect cricket balls hit over a fence at a cricket ground. That cost local taxpayers £3000, supposedly on the basis that the cricket players might injure themselves trying to retrieve the balls.

    Then we heard about £20 million spent on taxi fares over the last three years to ferry parents to see their children – again taxpayers are footing the bill.

    From the truly barmy to the expensively serious, local councils have a bad habit of tripping over their own purse strings. The larger story is that what is in their purse is other people’s hard earned money – often passed down from central to local funding. While given willingly for those in true need, there is nothing that angers our supporters more than seeing their hard-earned cash being used badly.

    Times are really tough; the mantra that there is no more money has never been more true. We believe that those standing for election in the coming days owe us better stewardship. Rather than a widespread eagerness to spend yet more of our hard-earned cash, it would be great to see some Councillors stand up to represent us with canny respect for our need for public parsimony.

    We can use every pound we earn, and they take too many of them from us as it is. Wasting them is really aggravating.


    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    A determined commitment to avoid being canny.

    Should we be getting confused? Recent pronouncements and actions of the Scottish Government appear to emulate a whirlwind of doing over thinking.

    The word "canny" is often cited as a key attribute of the Scot, but nearly one year into its tenure over Holyrood, the present administration is reaping the results of those political cliches - "working very hard" and "determined commitment".

    The problem is that as more and more policy outputs become visible, others in the public policy arena begin to pick away at the realities. There's a submission to Holyrood's energy committee today that the real long-term jobs from its subsidy-rich renewables policy are minimal. This news came on the same day that 43 groups across Scotland have been awarded over 6.9 million pounds for the next three years under the Climate Challenge Fund. Big Government has unstoppable momentum.

    Then there's the consultation, closing tomorrow, about an experimental prototype of a public service website for Scotland - DirectScot. It offers access to information, services and applications from a wide variety of sources. This "news" about this oh-so-modern energy efficient way of delivering services without paper, people or travelling for those that do not often have or use computers, comes on the same day that Alex Salmond suggests to a group of school-children that Scotland's "water company" could be developed "so it can do things internationally" while all round him experts sagely point out the vast energy costs of what would be a totally new infrastructure network. (Unless we literally bomb the English with water - but then we'd need an airforce.)

    What we are seeing here is a peculiar version of that further determinedly political cliche - "doing the right thing". But is this canny? And is it even wanted? The tide of sentiment against alternative energy windmills is rising as is the suspicion that so much of what government does is driven by objectives quite separate from those stated. One of our supporters has just written to point out that the Climate Challenge Fund in Dunbar is paying for, among other things, a food and compost worker, a neighbours together facilitator and a sustainable transport advisor (bike enthusiast in plain language). And worse, the programme is offering services for free that are already provided by private firms.

    This isn't canny, this is stupid. Scotland needs to recover a balance between the people and the state. A government-subsidised whirlwind of over-eager initiatives is doing nothing for our poor - except using up their money. Mr Salmond is an energetic man and Holyrood is full of people trying to do good with other folk's money. One has to wonder if in desperately trying to "do the right things" our government isn't indulging in a brave romance. It's just been announced that the new Disney-Pixar animated film "Brave" will receive a glittering European premiere on the closing night of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. At least we know that's fictional; are the achievements of our Big Brave Government equally so? We need to find out.


    Wednesday, February 08, 2012

    Knowing how to create employment

    One in three of those now out of work in Scotland is aged between 18 and 24. Does anyone know how to resolve this problem?

    Today's budget sign-off included the usual sentiments about "creating jobs", "the jobs crisis", "generating growth for jobs" and so on. We've heard it all before - again and again - yet we always seem to be hearing the same lament after all these promises - also again and again - there still aren't enough jobs.

    You might have thought that politicians would eventually admit that creating jobs appears to be a lot harder than they believed it could be. But sadly, they persist in the illusion that it is in their power to achieve good things with our money. As an example, a recent initiative in North Lanarkshire offers private sector employers 50 percent of salaries to give young people aged between 16 and 24 training, experience and accreditation. The hope is that by providing this stimulus the local authority can assist 5000 people into work.

    There are always two problems associated with any state sponsored programme that tries to create employment. The first is that the money spent, unless borrowed, has been taken from other places and destroyed jobs - and usually among markets that are more productive than those to which the subsidies are applied, so net job creation is actually negative. If the money is borrowed, it destroy jobs over a longer period through higher interest rates and distortions in the savings markets that support investment. There are no free lunches in economics.

    The second problem is about knowledge. State planners haven't a clue what sustainable jobs might be created, or where and by whom. If they did, they would be in business themselves coining in the profits. Paradoxically, most businesses don't even know where any extra long-term jobs might come from. They can guess, and businesses are imbued by optimism, but the reality is that spontaneous creation of jobs in the decently large numbers we need to resolve Scotland's unemployment is not something that is open to insight - we just do not know.

    Where does that leave us in trying to resolve the unemployment problem? The answer is that one has to allow job generators to compete vigorously in their market place - and to do that you need to free them up to waste cash, make mistakes and find things out. It's a key adage of economy that the process of engaging in competition is about gaining knowledge. Knowledge gained means understanding of what to do next - and doing new things means new jobs.

    A government that spends money on job schemes for some people (new housing money seeking to generate labourers jobs) while taxing enterprising activity by other people (the public health levy that costs jobs in retail) is not doing anything to generate new knowledge which might find Scotland's long-term sustainable jobs. It's also not creating jobs, it's shuffling them about - with a slice of value taken out of the transfer by bureaucratic planning. The poor get a rotten deal out of this.

    So, thanks for the new budget Mr Swinney; nice rhetoric, pity about the content. Give us our money back. Less spending > Lower tax > Higher growth > More jobs.


    Thursday, February 02, 2012

    Big Arts - Small Country - Whose Money and Who is Spending it?

    It has probably been missed by most Scots that this year has been designated to be "The Year of Creative Scotland".

    Funding for that was announced yesterday by Finance Secretary John Swinney in the form of a series of grants allocated to national arts institutions. The total budget is 1.1 million pounds for the year.

    The Arts are always a problem for the state; while reputable organisations with programmes planned years in advance need spending trends to be reliable and consistent, there are always a few nutty ideas in the mix that raise the wrath of the public. Government gets it in the neck either way, appearing to support the dull and worthy as well as the bonkers.

    In Scotland, the funds are small, about 22 pence per person, but there is something more important; 840,000 pounds of the money spent comes from Barnett formula allocations. Scotland's grand claim to be flourishingly creative comes from the English purse.

    This highlights once again the unsatisfactory nature of Holyrood devolution within the Barnett context. The Scottish Government claims to be "investing" and "enhancing" Scottish culture, but in fact there is almost no financial linkage between its decisions and what is done. It's just a lump of UK Quango money being spent here.

    When you look at the detail of how the spending is done, is it surprising to find that the money is disbursed through a second tier of unaccountable quangos via "partnerships"? EventScotland, VisitScotland, Creative Scotland and VOCAL are all employed to take their slice of the money being spent.

    Is this likely to be an efficient use of taxpayers money? No, it's use is not well controlled, it's not properly transparent, and it is very unlikely to be efficient at enhancing creativity in Scotland. It probably does provide a few easy jobs for middle-class Arts lovers, however, although they are likely to wear suits and carry briefcases with calculators in them rather than funny hats and intriguing costumes.


    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Scottish Enterprise - Living the high life - at our expense

    It's a tough life boosting Scottish business and industry. Top quality seven-star hotels and fabulous restaurants are involved, along with large quantities of fast food and trips to ASDA and IKEA.

    Scottish Enterprise's role is to stimulate economic growth and improve the business environment in Scotland. Last year it supported 550 business improvement projects for Scottish business. Its Chief Executive earns £200,000 per year, with five other executives earning £100,000. Its turnover in 2010/11 was £227 million.

    As part of our campaign for better transparency and accountability in Quango spending Taxpayer Scotland today reveals the full credit card spending of Scottish Enterprise for the last two years based on an FOI request for this information.

    Click here to see the full breakdown of Scottish Enterprise credit card spending
    (8MB excel file)

    Some of the key findings of this research are:
    - A total of £2.3m was spent from April 2009 to March 2011
    - Of the £526k spent on hotels £391k was on 4*, 5* and 7* hotels.
    - £1,373 was spent at the 7 starred Emirates Palace Hotel in Dubai.
    - Large amounts were spent at restaurants abroad, including: £1,367 at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong, £3,252 at Bathers Pavilion in Sydney, £5,306 at St. Andrews and £5,187 at Fishtail both in New York, £5,642 at Brennans in Houston and £2,426 at Restaurante Pedro Larumbe in Madrid.

    Other less glamorous, and rather weirder, purchases include:

    - £7,612 was spent on fast food, £7,510 on alcohol, and £11,887 in "bars" between April 2009 and March 2011.
    - £37,931 was spent at Tesco and £8,417 at ASDA while £1,240 was spent at florists.
    - £89 was spent at Fandango, a cinema ticket booking website.
    - Somebody forgot, probably his, shirt and spent £39.90 at Get Shirty.
    - £207 was spent on party consumables including "party plastic".
    - £17,393 at Amazon, £3318 at IKEA and £5119 at B & Q.
    - £982 was spent on Cufflinks.com
    - And three teddy bears appear to have been purchased from the VT Teddy Bear Company in Vermont.

    Click here to download the full breakdown of this credit card spending
    (1.8MB ZIPPED xls file)

    Eben Wilson, Director of the TaxpayerScotland said:

    "Scots Taxpayers should be seriously concerned about the amount of money being spent on Scottish Enterprise projects. Their own performance measures show that 136 international projects within a total of 550 were underway and we appear to have paid more than £2million for that effort in expenses. We are supporting very high travel and accommodation costs at top hotels and restaurants. Of course the organisation's job is to promote Scotland worldwide but you have to ask if this is good value for what is achieved."

    "Scottish Enterprise also need to explain many of the items bought with their credit cards which suggest there might be some loosening in expenses control, like the huge amounts spent on drink, or large costs at domestic retailers like IKEA and B&Q. Scottish Enterprise needs to re-think where and why it spends this taxpayers' money and show us that it creates valuable results."


    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    High Speed Glee

    A little noticed report this week announced that the HS2 train project team "will engage with the Scottish Government with immediate effect on plans for a line beyond Birmingham".

    This is a good example of political "me too-ism" at work. There's a potential barrel of pork out there, so the Scottish Transport Minister, Keith Brown, gets in there to see if our bloated public sector can gobble up yet more taxpayers' money.

    And gobble has to be the right word. The argument is that there are "growing constraints on the West Coast Main Line that will strangle rail services into Scotland", despite the fact that the route upgrade has only recently been completed.

    In addition, there is a Fast Track Scotland group - formed last year to champion high speed rail by the very same Transport Minister. They have "stated unequivocally that the case for this (extended HS2) service is strong, but stronger still when Scotland is involved from the beginning".

    What? Any case for a upgraded railway will need some serious cost-benefit analysis and we are not convinced the benefits exceed costs at any time, But it looks like a possie of Scottish Quangocrats are looking to pre-empt any discussion and hoover up any tax funding they can find to build a new and bigger train set. Our alarm bells had already started to ring loudly when we got the capping stone ....

    "Scotland must benefit from any Barnett consequentials stemming from spending on HS2 down south", says Mr Brown

    Ah, now we know what this is really about. Scottish snouts have to push in as fast as they can into the trough of taxpayers' money - just in case we Scots get pushed out by the snorting snouts of the English.

    What a lousy way to run a country - or a railway. Assume a compliant electorate, replete with tax potential to pay for a glorious central planned Mecanno set. Such fun for those with the power to take our money from us. And for what? So that rich folk can go faster up and down Britain on subsidised transport. Gae us wur money back, we need it more than they do.


    Monday, January 09, 2012

    Release the people

    We are all going to be distracted by a furious argument about an independence referendum over the next weeks. That's a pity, because it's the wrong argument to be having at this time.

    It's the wrong argument because the real argument at the beginning of 2012 is whether either the Westminster or the Holyrood governments are serving their taxpayers well with the decisions they have made over the past two years.

    They have used state spending to "kick start" the economy. In the process they have set off a whole series of capital and other missions, while retaining state funding for most other services near to existing levels. Don't be fooled by the "cuts" brigades; government spending is still going up and your taxes are paying for that and the new borrowing it has entailed.

    Today's Purchasing Managers Index from the Bank of Scotland is telling. There has been a tiny rise in the headline measure from 51.1 to 51.2 over the past month. That suggests some expansion.

    But the stripped down evidence is not so good. It looks like manufacturing growth is still slowing down, while services are growing. The former's index fell to 44.5 in December. In addition, Scotland's growth is less than that of the UK as a whole.

    Figures elsewhere on planning applications for domestic and industrial developments are also not good - they were down between a third and a half last year.

    These indicators, for us, illustrate the lie that a Keynesian expansion led by state spending will improve Scotland's fortunes. We are less convinced than ever that politicians can "run the economy" on our behalf. They are far too interested in themselves, the power they can retain and their electoral imperatives.

    There are at least some voices around in the body politic of 2012 who are saying that state largesse is not pulling us out of the recession and that we need to see tax cuts. Our hope for 2012 is that these voices will multiply - it's our money and we can do more with it than those having a huge barney about referenda and who refuse to tell us how the power they want to obtain will do anything for us given their present track record.


    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Sloganeering is not an argument

    It is good to hear that Ayrshire hospitals are drafting in volunteers from the local community to support patients who need help eating and drinking. Our tax pounds are being well stewarded through this innovation.

    Predictably, it is reported that the nurses' union say that these volunteers should not be used to provide patient care “on the cheap” while nursing posts are being cut.

    Let's dissect that statement. Frist, the phrase "on the cheap" is merely a derogatory slogan and not an argument. In one sense, providing this service cheaply is exactly what the NHS needs to do. It releases nurses to concentrate on clinical care, and it provides pastoral support to the elderly frail which improves the quality of their lives. (This is probably why many continental hospitals have family members in their wards providing this support).

    Secondly, the money and time released enables the NHS to enhance its productivity, something that it desperately needs to do. Private business is continually innovating to improve its output per pound spent and NHS managers should be doing the same. There are a whole host of suggestions that have been put forward by the The King's Fund and others on this.

    What this is really about is the tendency for public sector unions to try to control the way their services are managed - for their own benefit and not the benefit of their clientele. Taxpayers should support any move that sees such common sense prevail within the NHS.


    Wednesday, October 05, 2011

    The Really Fat Cats

    On the same day that the the National Forum for Obesity clamour for a tax on fat, we are treated to the revelation that more than a hundred top civil servants get pay offs in six figures. With inflation proofing, some of those retiring wiil soon be getting annual pension payments nearing £100,000.

    Is there any wonder that poor folk are down at the chippy or burger bar when officers of the State can gobble so much pork into their own bank accounts? It's so easy to spend someone elses money on someone else, especially if your own colleagues are writing your renumeration contract.

    This isn't just sour grapes, there is something dreadfully wrong with this largesse when thrifty hard-workers putting away a full quarter of the average wage (somewhere around £550 a month) are watching their money-purchase schemes lose their value daily on stock markets around the world.

    Public service "takings" simply must be brought into line with reality - even for the top nomenklatura - and reality in this case must come from some measure of value added by public servants. A £70,000 annual pension involves monthly payments more than ten times paid by our thrifty average wage-earner. (Few save half that amount).

    We do not subscribe to the labour theory of value, but we do believe people should be paid for the value of their productive output. Measures must be found that build incentives into the work of state employees based on results. It is not good enough to say that the work of government is unmeasurable - there are always comparitors that can be used.

    A small country like Scotland cannot afford to pretend it is a grand imperium, the state divides us when it spends our money in this way. Good folk of modest means deserve better.


    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Dual Mandates and Taxpayer Trust

    The news, revealed by The Herald newspaper, that 23 Holyrood parliamentarians have dual mandates and accompanying dual salaries is shocking.

    Whether most of them are donating their salaries to charities or other worthy causes is beside the point. This is our money. Taxpayers across Scotland have earned these funds, paid them to the government, and now it is being given away. That is not what we pay our taxes for - that's abuse of power.

    If Scottish politicians want to be respected, they really do have to up their game. Enjoying "takings" like this at our expense is, as the head of the GMB union in Glasgow has said, "obscene".

    Politicians at all levels in our society have an obligation to represent us fairly, that means sticking to the contract we adhere to when we pay our taxes. We allow them to spend our money on the basis that we can de-elect them every few years; we also expect that money to be spent on the basis of pre-announced ideas on policy, values and social intent.

    We were not told that some of our money would be taken to be passed on in an arbitrary fashion - at the whim of individual politicians. Those who have been elected to Holyrood should stand down from other posts immediately - they are not going to earn any trust from taxpayers until they do. In difficult austere times, the one thing they need is our trust.


    Sunday, July 03, 2011

    Which side of the road is Mr Salmond planning to drive us on?

    One of our in-office jokes is to imagine some rigorous tax-saving policies we would offer to Holyrood were we the First Minister. (You have to dream). We then always tack on "and finally, we propose that we all drive on the right hand side of the road".

    Our thinking is that the reaction to our last proposal would drown out all debate about all our other earlier policies such that they could be slipped through on the nod.

    Alex Salmond's in-yer-face challenge to the Queen on Friday over independence is of this ilk. However, we are not diverted by the smokescreen.

    We are often asked about our position on independence. To be frank, we don't have one. We are all Scots, we have all travelled outside of Scotland, we have all come back. We love the place, we belong here. Does that make us "independent" - in spirit, yes, in living space, yes, in daily life ... hmmm.

    We're as independent as the Chinese who service Walmart's retail supply chain, as autonomous as the Indian call-centre workers who service Aviva's insurance clients, and yes, as self-contained as the Englishman who uses North Sea gas supplied by Royal Dutch Shell to cook hot food.

    Our position on independence is practical, does it offer a better life of peace, a contained state and low taxes. This is where Mr Salmond needs to come up with some proper answers outside of bombast about warships, alternative energy and what monarch he will let us have. Let's look at the government record:

    On the spending side:
    Scotland is running an annual deficit of around £15billion.
    It's local authorities are more than £10billion in debt.
    State pension schemes have a growing unfunded deficit.
    Around 20 percent of our young workers are unemployed.
    We spend around 15 percent per head more on ourselves than the English, who pay for that extra Barnett spending.

    On the revenue side:
    Our taxes have gone up to the point where more than fifty percent of what we earn is taken by the state.
    We continue to see net migration of our talented young people.
    There is no known successful economy ever with such a high level of taxation.
    Scottish business is cautious about investing and growing their businesses in Scotland because of the intrusions of the state into their daily life and profitability.

    Mr Salmond needs to tell us how an independent Scotland will provide a better life for ordinary Scots. We need to know:

    What is his plan over ten years for the tax take by the state?
    What is his plan over ten years for the spending by the state?
    What borrowing does he envisage the Scottish government doing?
    What is the cost of this new debt burden on ordinary Scots families?

    Until Mr Salmond comes clean on these real issues, his suggestion that independence is a choice we need to make is bunkum. Fifteen million "Scots of the soul" living outside of Scotland are testimony to earlier failures to make our nation self-sufficient and inspiringly attractive as a home for life. His real test is to make self-determination mean just that - the development of a place of the Scots where they determine their own success - unsubsidised by others and unconstrained by state interference.


    Saturday, June 04, 2011

    Are we paying for the London Olympics twice?

    This week, those who applied for tickets for next year’s Olympic Games in London, found out if their application was successful. Many people have spent hundreds of pounds to attend major events, but some councils have also been spending thousands of pounds to ensure they have tickets too.

    A report this week highlighted how the government has ordered 9000 tickets for itself. Civil servants will have the chance to buy 3000 of those from a reserved pool, while the remaining 6000 will be reserved for ministers to entertain guests.

    We believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and would like to know how many councils and other public bodies in Scotland are snapping up tickets to hand out to their staff. This is where we need your help. Below you can access a template for a Freedom of Information (FoI) request you can send to find out if your local council or Quangos are spending our money on freebies for staff.

    We know that around a third of London councils may not have bought tickets, but many other councils across Scotland could be buying tickets.

    You can also contact quangos who also have a habit of using our money for these sort of "jollies".

    When you get the results back, send them to us, and we will collate the information. Taxpayers have already subsidised these games. It is not right they should be paying again.

    Click here to download the Freedom of Information request template


    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    They are still at it ..

    Over the past few weeks we have asked our supporters to report any new wasteful and unnecessary spending to us that they see in their local areas.

    We are appalled to have found many recent examples of "strategy advisers", "co-ordination officers", "partnership managers", "economic development managers" and the ilk among new managerial posts being offered.

    These are in addition to a continuing array of peculiar initiatives involving Gaelic teachers in areas that would historically have spoken Lallans, along with carbon reduction officers and other "green" prosletyzing that abounds.

    All these spending plans come from authorities whose total outstanding debt at 31st March 2010 was £10.9 billion. Taxpayers are paying the interest on those debts.

    Holyrood's Concordat with the local authorities aims to freeze council spending. It does not seem to be happening and, judging by what Councils think it is justifiable to spend our money on, we would rather see a deal that demanded a gradual annual decrease in spending (and debt). That would pave the way for business and council tax reductions that would generate the new jobs and economic growth that Holyrood so desires.

    What are we fighting here? We cannot believe that it is crass stupidity, nor is it vindictive disobedience with central government dictats. Rather, it is a climate of self-opinionation within Councils that their role in being all things to all people on all issues is both vital and worthwhile. This has clear parallels with the way Westminster M.P.s think about themselves and their need for expenses. They believe their own grand designs are important.

    In short, they still "don't get it". The local Councils need to be reminded again and again that inventing new missions for themselves is simply not on - taxpayers have had enough and have no more money. In addition, widening the scope of existing missions like spreading green progaganda, purporting to help business with "advice", boosting tourism via vague promotions and - worst of all - partnering with other tax-funded bodies on special "exciting initiatives" should ring a loud alarm bell for every senior executive in every local council.

    It is those leaders above all who should stand up for taxpayers by reminding their staff that we are in a time of austerity when praise is given to those who practise parsimony at all times. We are still waiting for a single one of them to have the courage to publically declare a limited agenda on behalf of their own communitites.


    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Blues and Twos making five when they're all at sixes and sevens

    Taxpayers' antennae should be flashing and howling like the squad car's “blues and twos” at the latest revelations about proposals to create a single Scottish police force.

    Apart from the fact that it might cost more than £90million to set up, we are now told that an additional £20million in VAT could become payable by a national force.

    It gets worse, the new tax would be incurred because central government is not exempt from VAT while local authorities are. And worse, the great, the good and sundry hangers on from various quangos and civil service departments in Scotland and Westminster are now heading into consultations, investigations and negotiations to see if they can get around this.

    Help ma boab! PC Murdoch is going to cost us a fortune! Let's look at this madness more closely.

    One tax-funded body – the Executive – has suggested that another tax-funded agency – the police - should be made into a monolith. Another tax-funded body, a police authority, and other tax-funded experts from local government have said this will mean the police will have to pay more tax. All these tax-funded people now plan to lobby the tax-funded civil servants of HM Revenue and Customs to see if they can avoid paying tax. To do that, they may have to turn to tax-funded politicians in Westminster to engage in a tax-funded legislative process so that the tax-funded police don't have to pay tax.

    We have a bad feeling that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just think of what will be required when a national police force has to work out and formally document (for the purposes of health and safety and the Human Rights Act no doubt) how to police, say, large tourist events in the Highlands while ensuring best practice in dealing with hardened drug dealers in Easterhouse. Can you too see the endless meetings to discuss and co-ordinate strategy, procedures, evidence reporting, equality legislation, victim support, social service liaison, uniforms, vehicle purchases, truncheon design, boot type, trouser lengths and hat sizes.

    Well, it would be funny, but ….

    Two fundamental rules of political economy apply in all such initiatives and taxpayers risk having their pockets emptied if we do not think about them.

    Where do the incentives lie? … and... Where does the knowledge lie?

    If the state wants to build a one-nation police force, the incentives for the police are to build a grand empire that allows them to do much more than taxpayers would really want them to be doing. In addition, we don't think anyone knows how to create such a large centralised entity without vast waste and unnecessary expense – they'll just keep having more and more meetings at our expense.


    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    Windmills and Windbags

    Are wind turbines poor at providing our electricity? Recent reports by the John Muir Trust – echoed by other academic engineers - suggest that the output of these intrusive machines is only between ten and twenty five percent of their rated capacity.

    Judging by a trip to the Ochils during today's fabulous weather where I saw nine sculptured monuments to taxpayers' funds standing stock still in calm air I think they may be right.

    Scotland's politicians have been strangely quiet about this – even although there are approximately 1100 megawatts in the planning pipeline of new wind power in Scotland. You might have thought that they would step up to the plate and answer a few questions about the impact of this on the taxpayer.

    Should we be surprised? I don't think so. Wind turbines are the end point of a cascade of interests and incentives. First, the global warming lobby, the anti-fossil fuels lobby, the anti-growth green lobby create the noise. Then the universities, corporate engineers and booster visionaries provide a view of a possible future. Finally, euro-funding, UK funding and other sources of public money appear - ready to support the need of Holyrood to be seen to “do something” in response to the lobby.

    So, politicians can turn to a host of well-educated people to back them up as they develop “strategies” to create green economic success. Even better for them, ordinary people will always find it difficult to question the validity of their plans. Implicit in this, however, is a rotten reality; politicians are acting with apparent discretion but without real knowledge.

    The John Muir Trust has done us all a favour – laying out the facts. You can read the report here.

    Turbines may have their uses on a small scale when individuals make a personal choice to use them to reduce their CO2 emissions. As an industrial idea they are what the Americans call a boondoggle; that's money spent by politicians who know it is being wasted but it provides them with other political gains. One of these is that they can be seen to be doing something by those who lobby them to take action.

    Whenever taxpayers detect the whiff of politicians acting with discretion but without knowledge, we should be extra alert. Politicians inevitably lose control to bureaucratic planners, centralised plans then gain a momentum of their own and one lesson of history is that they are horribly difficult to unpick and taxpayers suffer for years.

    Many people have pointed out that turbines will always have to be supplemented by other methods to back them up. That makes them doubly expensive. I think it is likely that there is something worse about them than that – that they are by definition non-sustainable.

    Wind turbines can only be created using the non-green economy. To take only one element; to forge and then machine the all important main bearings demands as much electricity as the windmill can create over many months, if not years. In that sense, they eat energy rather than creating it. Multiply that shortfall as you build an economy on wind power and you are on the road to ruin. Windmills eat your money.


    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Why salary transparency is important

    We have just published Scotland's Town Hall Rich List (see button on the right) a research report providing details of top salaried Council officials across the country. Some people consider this to be an invasion of hard-working people's privacy. We disagree.

    Taxpayers are, in essence, the shareholders in council programmes. (Officials would call them "stakeholders"). We have a rightful interest in the plans for spending our money. Peculiarly, we are also the customers for the services provided.

    Council officials are in a unique position. As statutory authorities local councils are given powers to spend money - most often as monopolists. That is, you and I cannot (yet) decide to have our rubbish collected privately by anyone other than the council, to have our local potholes filled in by anyone other than the local highways department, to have our national insurance contributions spent by anyone other than the local social services department.

    Additionally, councils have taxing powers - just try not paying your Council Tax! You cannot choose either not to take or pay for their services. That gives them a position of power over us on what they earn and how they perform.

    Now add in highly paid officials; how do we stop them layering their own nests with gold? There is no undercutting competition to put a lid on what they are paid for what they say they do. Unless we demand that they are fully transparent about their terms and conditions we cannot judge their work for us.

    Already, making councils publish senior staff pay has uncovered some interesting cosy arrangements. Pay rises across councils that track each other. They then claim that they have to offer these sums to attract talent, but the real comparison is between council pay and elsewhere, and not many private companies pay so many high salaries to department heads. Massive gold-plated pensions at taxpayer expense. Special redundancy payments, sometimes with hire-back consultancy deals. "Interesting" expenses arrangements. None of this is unlawful, but it does smack of a self-supporting clique or cartel that does not recognise the struggles of taxpayers to pay their bills.

    And then there is the value for money spent on high calibre people at great expense. Local councils have come a long way from the lowly town clerk looking after public libraries, toilets and the local "midden". At the same time, electors still have a very practical view of what a Council is for; basic services well performed. We are not enamoured by the constructed managerial world of strategies for "sustainibility", "diversity", "community outreach" and other buzz phrases of the modern council. All of these provide instant justification for spending more of our money without us voting on the detail.

    Public provision of services is a thorny issue - local authority staff are well-meaning and often hard-working. But they try to do too much in a too costly way because there are no brakes on them. Transparency and accountability in all that they do is the way to curtail and contain their activities. Taxpayers need to have a strong say in all that goes on. That's why we will continue to reveal what "they" are doing and what they are being paid for doing it.


    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    So you thought you were safe tomorrow?

    The Scottish Government has jumped onto the carbon-reduction bandwagon in a big way with its latest paper on carbon capture. . Grandstanding at the front of this tumbril dedicated to the ruination of taxpayers - those living off the public purse are already allocating the money we will earn tomorrow - proposing to spend large sums on ... er .. something.

    Carbon Capture and Storage systems (CCS) are a gleam in the eyes of engineers - they have done some small scale experimenting, but no-one yet has scaled up the idea of pumping CO2 back into the ground into anything like an industrial scale.

    But the Scottish Government proposes to work with the UK Government, the European Union, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Health & Safety Executive, Scottish Enterprise, Industry and Academics. They will continue to engage with the European Commission through the Scottish European Green Energy Centre, promoting CCS expertise through the European Commission's Berlin Forum on Sustainable Fossil Fuels. The Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise will work with the Energy Advisory Board and Industry Advisory Groups They are already working with the Crown Estate, HSE, SEPA, Marine Scotland and DECC to develop a regulatory and policy framework.

    Taxpayers should be terrified by this wide alliance of publically funded "suits" - all determined to spend our money on what they call a "roadmap" - that's a plan to you and me - to, er, somewhere unknown.

    Bizarrely they claim that this boondoggle is aimed at "creating new jobs, reducing emissions and saving households and businesses money, thereby contributing to economic recovery and growth", while pointing out elsewhere that it will raise the cost of power by a substantial amount.

    And gratuitously, they add, "to address climate change." Well, you don't say; keeping that in reserve in case the saving money and jobs claim is seen through perhaps? (Like the recent paper from Australia which showed that for every "green job" created, 3.7 others were destroyed.)

    TaxpayerScotland is going to be asking some searching questions about what this road to ... er ... who knows where, is going to cost. It's so easy for these tax grabbers to justify what they plan to do on the basis of fervent belief. We plan to make it a bit more difficult for them to obtain our money to waste on finding out they are more than likely wrong.


    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Perfect Employers

    As an opener for this Blog, we offer a few examples of how Big Government can waste our money when it acts like a perfect employer. It can only do so because it has easy access to our tax money to spend.

    These have been discovered recently by our supporters. We want to hear from anyone who finds out about this sort of largesse. We can then bring pressure to bear.

    Looking after themselves first:

    A council spending half a million pounds on new office furniture, computers and other "nice-to-have" equipment, while complaining that it has to reduce services because of "the cuts".

    Holyrood spending tens of thousands of pounds on taxis and limos.

    COSLA spending tens of thousands on expensive conference venues.

    The Scottish Executive spending hundreds of thousands on Scottish Saltires as giveaway presents.

    Taking advantage through working practices

    Postmen earning more in overtime than their basic pay.

    Newly hired workers getting immediate holiday, then an upgrade to six weeks a year after only a few months in the job.

    Low productivity

    Dustmen refusing to collect rubbish on bumpy roads for "health and safety reasons".

    Local council workers off work (long term sickness) for months on end and still on full pay, but without a visit from personnel or any other questions being asked.

    Staff in the NHS spending more time in fire safety and "diversity" training than on resuscitation or infection risk management courses.

    Cuts for some, pay-offs for others

    Public servants being retired early on full pensions, which are then augmented even although they are immediately re-employed in another public service post.

    Generous golden handshakes to public servants when they leave their posts, despite other frontline workers being laid off.

    All the above will always be "justified" by public servants on the basis that good employment practice involves such costs. But that's not the point, good management involves offering good value for money. In private firms you go bankrupt if you don't match your costs to the prices that customers will pay you. Employers are always pushing down on their costs. Public services mostly operate as monopolies and usually without prices. They need to find ways of offering good value - listening to taxpayers and cutting out excesses like those above.



    'Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.'
    Frederic Bastiat