Public/Private finance

Interesting post by @Cllr Tim highlighting the frustration that public service workers often have when trying to run a council service that isn’t the most popular.

“I pay your wages, mate” is one of the things you hear. One of the things I get in casework letters is the demand that someone should be sacked for something – either in a case that has gone wrong (and councillors often get that because we can be the last line of recourse) or sometimes even when council staff have in fact been following policy but it has still lead to an outcome the correspondent doesn’t want. “I didn’t get what I want, therefore you are wasting my taxpayer money, therefore someone should be fired.” “We all pay business rates so we deserve something in return.”

Why I’m writing this though is the key difference between public and private enterprise, and that’s when public money is wasted or spent unwisely, it’s always publicised. So the next thing you always get when trying to explain that some demanded scheme is unaffordable right now is the litany of whatever’s been in the Evening Post recently as an example of wasteful spending. Half the time they’re right. It has been a waste to lose money to Iceland (although it may eventually come back); it was wasteful to pay off 3 successive Chief Execs with huge golden goodbyes; and was it really the best use of the public purse to import granite from China to pave Market Square?

Another one I’ve had recently was that money spent on cycle lanes was a complete waste, because “no one ever cycles round here.” Trying to explain I’d just spent an afternoon at a meeting with Pedals, the local cycling pressure group, and the PCT, who think it would be great if more people cycled – fell on deaf ears. “Would you cycle here?” Well, you have me banged to rights there, as I still can’t manage the whole two wheel thing.

You can betcha bottom dollar that there’s waste going on in the private sector too, they’re just less closely examined, and have less of a responsibility to tell us about it when things go wrong.


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