28 May 2009

I have resisted the temptation so far to comment on the scandal of MPs expenses, however it does raise a much more important question – how are our taxes spent?

What I find difficult is the inexplicable refusal of anyone named to admit what we all know to be reality i.e. they have been caught “with their hands in the till”. The answer……in line with the general mentality of the public sector is to have an inquiry, convene a panel, take ages and come up with a compromise.

Is business any different? I would split businesses into those that are owner run and those which are larger e.g. PLC. In the latter there is always an expenses policy and most people lower down in the organisation adhere to them under threat of dismissal if they falsify claims. Higher up some of these organisations are run as personal fiefdoms by individuals who have lost all sense of reality. Just look at the extravagant expenditure incurred by Fred Goodwin or the arrogance of the US car manufacturers flying around in private planes. It is not their money and so they regard it as a “perk” and there are too few people prepared to challenge them. Exploitation in my eyes.

In an owner run company there is a knowledge that every penny counts and so expenses are kept to an absolute minimum and have to be justified. No expense account lunches here – a sandwich during a meeting is the most that can be expected. In NWES expenses are minimal. Staff members understand that we can only spend what we earn and so if we increase mileage rates for example then there is less to pay on salaries.

We have heard so much about “moral compasses” from our politicians over the years but most have been shown to lack these. Forget the rules, common sense should dictate what can be justified and what cannot. There is a simple solution which can be implemented within a week. ALL employees in the public sector should adhere to a single set of rules which apply to all publicly funded organisations. Most businesses could supply a template to be adopted and then there would be no need to hold special committees etc. It would be transparent and those of us who pay taxes would know that our money was being used wisely.

I know that this will not happen because it employs common sense and a quick and workable solution. Also there are too many people with a vested interest in maintaining their perks. Still we can hope!

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