In these tough economic times, of plummeting GDP and ballooning public debt, it is only right that all organisations, in both the public and private sector, look to cut costs wherever possible. Actually identifying such elusive efficiency savings is a notoriously tricky business; but if there is one place that can easily trim some unnecessary fat it must surely be the TaxPayers’ Alliance. For whenever a request is made for someone to spout some nonsense to a journalist from a moron-sheet, the TPA always seems able to find some spare part at a loose end just hanging around, killing time, busy doing nothing; or at least nothing so productive that they can’t drop everything and break off to chuck out a paragraph or two of blather for free.
A case in point is this article from yesterday’s Sunday Express entitled “Brown’s £1,200 Tax Bombshell”, which warns that “families face a £1,200-a-year tax bombshell after the next election if Labour win to meet Gordon Brown’s pledge to maintain lavish public spending levels”. The story is based upon figures calculated by the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies. One response, from Matthew Elliott of the (somewhat less respected) TaxPayers’ Alliance, reads
The Government must accept the urgent need for spending cuts.
People are heavily overtaxed already, and there is no way that anyone could afford tax rises equivalent to a whole new council tax every year. It is absolutely clear that massive savings could be made by ditching misguided policies, trimming bloated quangos and bringing the efficiency of the public sector up to the standard of the private sector.
The Government’s spending binge is totally unsustainable and must be killed off. The country cannot afford tax rises on this scale.
I’m certainly not going to argue with the idea that we should try to improve the efficiency of the public sector, and to trim any quango that is indeed bloated. But is it really true that “there is no way that anyone could afford tax rises equivalent to a whole new council tax every year”? What, not anyone? Not John Terry? Not Fred Goodwin? Not even Gordon Brown? Even closer to home, I’m far from flush but I reckon I could find an extra £100 a month if I absolutely had to. Of course, whether I should have to, or whether it is a good idea that I do, is another matter entirely. It is also something that the TaxPayers’ Alliance itself makes no real effort to answer, having decided long ago that any tax rise, ever, is just wrong.
But the problem with discounting fiscal measures on the basis that anyone could struggle to afford the consequences is that it leaves us pretty hamstrung when looking for ways to pay down our national debt. The TaxPayers’ Alliance thinks we should make public spending cuts; but what kind of cuts? If no one can afford a tax rise, can anyone in the public sector afford a pay cut, or even a pay freeze? Is there anyone in the public sector who can afford to be made redundant, even if they are only a Diversity, 5-a-day and LGBT Outreach Executive employed by OfTosh? If we are unable to countenance any action on the basis that it could make anyone worse off then it really does cut down the number of things that we can do.
Now, you may feel that all I am doing here is unfairly picking up on the clumsy use of the word “anyone” in the TPA’s statement. And perhaps I am. But the TaxPayers’ Alliance is not made up of stupid people, despite often giving that impression. For one thing, they gleefully reprinted the Express article in full on their website without correction or clarification. For another, when a recent report of theirs criticised the amounts of money that Local Authorities pay into their employees’ pension schemes on the grounds that the overall figure is equivalent to 21% of Council Tax receipts, they didn’t do so out if ignorance, unaware that Council Tax forms but a part of any council’s income; no, they did so in order to knowingly twist the facts, to make it seem as if councils are spending a fifth of their revenue on staff pensions, when they in fact pay in a far more modest sum. So, I can well believe that Matthew Elliott’s use of the word “anyone”, rather than being a slip of the tongue of an idiot, was a deliberate act to give his statement a more dramatic impact, and in preference to saying something more accurate, coherent, truthful; such as, for example, saying that he “feels” that it “appears” to him that “many” or at least “some” people “may” be unable to afford such a tax rise (you know, the sort of woolly back-covering that I often pepper my posts with). In deciding to go with the more striking – but bollocks – use of “anyone”, the TaxPayers’ Alliance has again shown itself up to be a lobby group of ideological zealots trying to make a political point, rather than a genuine pressure group working to look out for the taxpayer and to ensure we enjoy efficient public services.
Which brings us back to the start of this post, and the efficiency savings that all parts of the economy must look to make. Yes, let’s trim those bloated quangos, let’s; but while we’re at it, why not include wasteful think tanks in on the cull? Because speaking as a taxpayer myself, I don’t think that we’re getting value for money from the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Sure, it isn’t publicly funded, and one could reasonably argue that it is solely a matter for its paymasters to decide whether or not it is fulfilling its remit in a cost-effective manner. But the TPA does at least claim to speak for me, and while I may not directly contribute to its upkeep its funding still has to come from somewhere, and each pound that is blown on a staff member who could easily be replaced by a random quote generator represents an opportunity cost; a pound that could be more effectively invested somewhere – anywhere – else. And I don’t see how anyone genuinely interested in economic efficiency could possibly fail to agree.