If there's one thing we've learned from Burning Our Money, it's that uncovering exactly how our £500bn taxes get spent is tricky. Sure, the government publishes the Big Numbers, and likes to boast about how much more it's shelling out compared to those meanies who used to be in charge. But when it comes down to the detail of spending, it's a lot harder to unearth the facts. For example:
- Who exactly gets the c £60bn the government gives away in grants and subsidies each year? We know it includes set-aside farmers, mime artists, and community empowerment facilitation collectives, but for that kind of outlay, we have a right to the names and addresses; and
- Who exactly gets the c £170bn pa the government spends on procurement and capital projects? The headlining Accentures, BAEs, and GlaxoSmithKlines we know about, but who else, what are they doing, and how much are the contracts worth?
True, some of this you can already discover. But only if you've got a postgrad degree in government accounting, no day job, and you're prepared to spend your days burrowing through mountains of obscure quango reports and accounting appendices. Besides, a lot of the info is missing: the government simply does not feel it necessary to tell taxpayers.
This has to change. If we're to have any hope of putting the brake on government profligacy and waste, we need to know exactly where all the money's going. And at a time when government is subcontracting more and more to the private sector, we need to know who's getting what.
To be precise, what we need is our own Transparency and Accountability Act. This is the bill currently going through the US Senate- with bipartisan support even including Hillary- that will require the Federal Government to establish "a single updated searchable database website accessible by the public at no cost that includes for each entity receiving Federal funding... for the last ten years...an itemized breakdown of each transaction, including funding agency, program source, and a description of the purpose of each funding action".
The National Review comments:
"Staffers on Capitol Hill are calling the proposed database a “Google-like tool for federal accountability.” For the first time, it would shed some light on which companies and organizations are receiving federal money, and how much they are getting.
Louis Brandeis famously observed that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” — and nothing needs disinfecting like the festering federal budget. Many taxpayers would be surprised and disturbed to learn how much of their money drifts quietly away to various questionable causes... Making this information readily available to the public — and especially to the diligent denizens of the blogosphere — would encourage reform."
Yes folks, it's Open Government.
Er...didn't we hear that somewhere else once?
Well, I for one have struggled long enough with the intricacies of Appendix 4a of the Community Empowerment Facilitation Agency's PSA Technical Note "Fairness For All" Draft Protocol Efficiency Programme.
Now I just want to know where the money's going.
PS Hope you're all going to enter Conservative Home's 100 Policies. Sadly, tax cutting policies are unlikely to make much headway with Dave, so it's not really worth trying. But there's no reason why he wouldn't back a Transparency and Accountability Act. Which is why this will be the Tyler contribution.