Too much of our taxpayer cash is wasted. Whether it's building an airport where planes can't land, or NHS trusts ordering fax machines long after they've become obsolete, these tales of fiscal farce have drawn public ridicule for years.
Next year, the Government will spend £840 billion. That's some £31,000 per household - an eye watering sum of money. Yet incredibly there is hardly any Parliamentary oversight of how this money is spent.
In fact, there's so little oversight that a month ago just under £300 billion of spending was voted through by the Commons without any debate – or even a vote. This needs to change, which is why I am making the case to establish a powerful Parliamentary spending watchdog, a Budget Committee.
In recent years, parliaments around the world have been setting up budget committees and parliamentary budget offices – such as the well-known Congressional Budget Office in the US. Yet our Parliament has not kept up. In fact we are so far behind that experts consider the Commons to have one of the weakest spending oversight systems in the developed world.
With a powerful Budget Committee, Treasury figures would be subject to independent checking. Detailed questions could be asked before projects and plans are signed off. Accordingly, before Parliament signs off on further vast sums for projects like HS2, serious work could be done on where it is going, what difference it will make and whether existing budgetary governance is adequate for that project. Taking a longer-term approach would mean risks as well as long term costs and benefits could be assessed.
The work of the Budget Committee would not just apply to the oversight of individual projects. It should also cover Government spending reviews too. All too often complex and detailed budgetary work is decided in a flurry of salami-slicing as the Treasury rushes to meet the spending review deadline. With a powerful and independent Parliamentary Budget Office, spending reviews could be made rolling, led by Parliament, with a zero-based approach focused on cutting waste and seeking efficiencies.
We have achieved so much in managing the economy. Employment is now at record highs, while wages are rising above inflation. In Dover and Deal 7,700 more jobs have been created since 2010. That has been driven by more than £500 million of investment, including a new shopping centre, a new leisure centre, the fast train and major seafront regeneration.
Now it is time to focus on spending taxpayer's hard earned money better. If we manage to save just one per cent of that £840 billion, that would mean £8.4 billion – a sum equal to 2p off basic rate tax, and not far off from the entire annual spending on policing.
It's time we got more bang for the taxpayer buck.
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