Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasur
Political Parties should be, and usually are, known for what they believe in; voters can, therefore, reasonably expect governments to focus on their Party’s territories of conviction and objectives. For the Conservative Party, these territories have comprised of supporting the national interest; creating a meritocracy and equality of opportunity; sustaining a homeowning democracy; backing free markets and lower taxation, and supporting businesses and especially small business. I add to this a less obvious objective, but crucial to achieving the other objectives: achieving good value from the taxes raised.
I suspect the Party’s reputation for the above objectives is holding up better than the media would expect; but there is clearly work to be done in housing to unblock supply, allowing markets to then achieve prices which are affordable to buyers.
A Conservative Government has also allowed increases in taxation – currently representing 34.6 per cent of GDP compared with 30 per cent in the 1990’s, when we are supposed to be the Party of lower taxation.
Between 2000 and 2004, I was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I was then asked to organise a major review of how taxes were spent and the extent to which citizens were getting poor or good value for their taxes. I was able to organise some 50 senior professionals to undertake analysis of public expenditure in each of the ministerial departments and in local government. We ended up with a total figure for potential tax saving through measures to improve taxpayer value of around £80 billion per annum.
Over the last nine years, the Government has done a reasonably good job in constraining public spending in some areas and particularly in local government; but in the other non-constrained areas, of which the NHS is the giant, spending has again escalated.
What is needed is professional, third party review and analysis of expenditure, department by department, cutting out duplication and waste. One of the worst cases of waste which could have been avoided was the £18 billion write off for the failed NHS Systems Programme, which failed for the simple reason of not building up needs and programmes from existing grass root activities, but rather trying unsuccessfully to impose a programme from above.
Inevitably, some of the value-achieving decisions have to be political: what is the Government doing which would be better if it weren’t done? A significant amount of the increase in public spending of recent years has also resulted from government getting involved in areas that arguably it never should.
It is also unfortunate that the positive achievements of taxpayer value over the last decade have been tarred with the mistaken concept of painful austerity. We should be talking more about taxpayer value, and explain that it is in the interest of citizens both to get good value for the taxes they have to pay, and potentially lower taxes as the result of better spending efficiencies.