Monday 26 January 2009

The strange case of George O, the money and the fiduciary challenge

To George Osborne's launch of It's Your Money, a document with a name that sounds like a gameshow. But isn't. Apparently, says George, it's a "new plan for disciplined spending in government".
His soundbite on this subject is "We really do know it's your money". That's helpful then.
George is launching It's Your Money, a blueprint for more financial discipline in the public sector, at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, where chief executive Michael Izza mentions he would have loved to respond to the document but unfortunately he wasn't offered a copy before George arrived.
Anyway Michael says there will be a response soon.
George's general pitch is that the public sector is too flabby and wasteful and not transparent, and things need to change.
He seemed to be suggesting, with very little irony, that the public sector should be moving to follow the private sector in its methods. And he occasionally threw in a number or an example to show why.
Oddly no one in the audience felt moved to raise the point that the private financial sector doesn't appear to be doing very well, with its methods generally or its financial transparency these days.
Financial records for government departments need to be more transparent and accessible to the public, George said. And he wanted a new code of fiscal discipline for civil service accountability, so senior civil servants had to take on a responsibility to manage the budgets in the best interest of us all.
But when asked if they would be sacked if they didn't met financial performance standards, George was less clear, he hinted that their career in the civil service might not be very "successful" in such a scenario.
When George set out the Shadow Cabinet's plans for a new career path for these more powerful, better qualified financial directors for whom there would be new pay scales, it all sounded good news for qualified accountants, some of whom might have been in the room, who might be looking to move out of a shrinking private sector.
There was a hint too that the Conservatives might be looking to set up an "independent organisation with power to dig into wasteful spending": a watchdog in all but name, something like the FSA for the public sector. Ah yes, the FSA.
Many of George's aims seemed reasonable. Of course, we all want to feel our tax pounds are not being wasted. We want them to be spent usefully, and certainly not used for pointless first class travel when a phone call would do.
And certainly government departments should be looking to manage their budgets to make them work as hard as they can.
But the oddness of these proposals was there seemed very little reference to the massive financial inconsistencies going on in the private banking sector right now.
Over-loaded salaries and gambles with people's hard-earned money is not right in either private or public sector, but no one in the public sector has a salary that has skyrocketed like those in the City.
And when times are bad, which feels like it is safer, and working for the public interest, the public sector or the private?
It is too easy for the Conservatives to knock the public sector, without considering all that we depend on the state for, especially when times are tough.
Yes, let's make sure our money is used wisely, but let's not pretend that the private sector has all the answers.

1 comment:

Calix said...

It sounds like quite an odd occasion with people in a different world - one in which the private sector still rules despite all evidence.

I love Osbourne's title 'It's your money' as you pointed out. Now time to spin the wheel and play or gamble - it's your choice.

On a more serious note, 'it's your money' suggests a selfish 'what's in it for me?' approach - the very one that got us into this mess.