Journal Column – Time to end the ‘fat cats’ on the public purse

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Time to end the unaccountable ‘fat cats’ on the public purse

 
The BBC has been criticised for a number of things recently, but perhaps the decision to cease providing free TV licences to the over 75’s has caused the biggest uproar. Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t gone down well, but the BBC is seemingly undeterred. If that wasn’t bad enough, the corporation has recently announced it’s to make 450 job cuts, predominantly in its news department. The reason for the job losses is a need to cut £40 million from its budget.

 

£40 million is a big number, but to an organisation as large as the BBC it’s relatively small.  The vast majority of the 450 staff earmarked for redundancy will not be highly paid and the loss of employment will, no doubt, be hard for them to bear. It seems a tad harsh that they should be the ones sacrificed to cover the ineptitude of poor budget control by BBC bosses. The BBC employs over 75 senior executives earning over £160,000. However, one only has to do a simple search to find numerous instances of lamentable cost-control by BBC management.  For example, they overspent by £107 million the refurbishment of Broadcasting House and then there is the projected increase from £60million to £87million the cost of building a new set for EastEnders. Not only is it costing more but it’s still not finished.  The new set was supposed to have been ready in 2018.  The current estimate for completion is now 2023 and given this dreary soap opera is fast losing audience numbers it seems rather pointless to waste so much money on a programme viewers seemingly no longer care for.

 

If ITN news presenter Alastair Stewart can be forced to quit after someone took offence to his quoting of Shakespeare in a tweet, then surely a similar fate should befall inept BBC mandarins whose actions and behaviour is offensive to the hardworking and conscientious?

 

The BBC is not alone when it comes to expensive, yet poor, management.

Whenever the public sector is challenged over high executive pay, they always respond by saying it’s to ensure they attract and retain talented executives. Frankly, I tire of that clichéd mantra; while it may have been the case in the past, it isn’t anymore. The fact is, most of them are mediocre at best and some so utterly incompetent their management and oversight has led to some disastrous outcomes. Detailed here are a few small examples of some of the more jaw dropping.

 

Take HS2. The chief executive is paid a staggering £625,000 per year. Yet this allegedly talented manager has seen the project he’s in charge of delayed by seven years and the costs risen threefold from £34bn to £106bn.  If HS2 was a private enterprise it would be bankrupt before a single journey took place.

 

Next, the Highways Agency, whose chief executive is paid around £335,000 per year. However, despite clear warnings and concerns over the dangers of so called ‘smart motorways’ decided to forge ahead with them anyway. To date 38 people have been killed as a result of their decision to implement the deadly scheme.

 

Next we have education. The average salary of a university vice chancellor is £250,000 per year.  Yet many universities have been criticised for luring students with unconditional offers to study “half-baked” degree courses which aren’t professionally accredited, thus making it harder for students to get work.  Furthermore, many universities seemingly have little interest in the employability of their graduates, since they receive the fees regardless of whether the student pays off their loan. Not exactly the strategy, outcome or return on investment one would expect from a highly paid specialist in charge of delivering quality higher education to the nation’s youth.

 

Then we have the NHS. Our ‘envy of the world’ is sadly one of the worst offenders when it comes to poor management.  Wasting taxpayer’s money is bad enough, but in the case of healthcare, bad management can cost lives too. I could fill an entire edition of the Journal with examples of dire and deadly NHS mismanagement, but will just mention two.  Firstly, a manager boasted the recent coverage of ex Python Terry Jones’ death meant his trust ‘got away with’ reports over the demise of two dementia patients.

 

Secondly, there was the case of the chief executive of an ambulance trust that introduced a secret policy to delay dispatch of ambulances after people called the emergency helpline. It was estimated 20,000 people were subject to deliberate delays under this covert operation. An enquiry found that at least 25 people died as a result of the policy.

 

If the owner of a private care home can be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison after a resident in his home died from poor care, then why can’t the managers of the hospital trust and the ambulance service?

 

Readers may be interested to know that there are more than 38,000 government workers paid over £100,000 and over 9,000 earning more than the Prime Minister.

Seems our public sector managers want all the pay, glory and credit when things go well, but none of the blame or responsibility when things go wrong.   Oh no, for them the ‘buck stops with someone else.’ Boris Johnson has promised to end this. Let’s hope it’s a promise he goes on to keep.

paper This column was first published in the Newcastle Journal on 6th February 2020