Thursday, February 01, 2007

Domesday Update

Another upsetting read

Yesterday we got the latest version of Gordo's Domesday Book. The 2007 National Assets Register attempts to put a value on all central government assets. Well, not quite all- for reasons of national security, James Bond's department is omitted, and for reasons of national embarrassment some of the further flung quangos are also excluded.

So what do we learn from the 1,000 pages?

  • Total asset value is put at £337,104,120,000- around a quarter of GDP
  • 10 and 11 Downing St- £15m
  • Diana Fountain- £4.2m... which is about the same as its annual maintenance bill
  • British Ambassador's opulent Lutyens mansion in Washington- £6.7m
  • British Potato Council's HQ- £159,000 (and remember- it's nearly time once again for National Chip Week- 12th to 16th of Feb)
  • Toddington Services £4.2m- sure to be a major player in National Chip Week

Some of the valuations look light. For example, the contents of the National Gallery- all those Rembrandts, Monets and Constables- must surely be worth a multiple of the £52m quoted.

But outside of land and buildings, many of the valuations look pretty optimistic.

Take intellectual property. Consider, for example, the value of that multi-billion pound NHS Supercomputer. It's costing a packet, so you'd hope it's worth a packet.

But according to the Department of Health, as at March 2005 the work already completed was only worth about £150m. More specifically, the Choose and Book (or pick and mix) system was worth £14,952,000, and the troublesome data Spine was worth £102,528,000. Both amazingly precise figures that beg many more questions than they answer. But certainly far less than the billions we've shelled out.

The MOD's intellectual property valuations are much more bullish. They reckon they have £22.6bn of such property, which sounds very impressive.

However, it turns out all they've done is to add up all the development costs of their new weapons. So for example, instead of writing off the nightmarish cock-ups which have driven the new Nimrod so ludicrously over budget, and swallowing a handful of aspirins (see this blog), they seem to believe the accumulated costs are an asset.

Lies, damned lies, and the accountancy of asset valuation... yes, of course.

But what we taxpayers want to know is not what we've been forced to pay, but what value we've actually got in exchange.

It's a fundamental problem with almost all government expenditure- spending money is not the same thing as creating value. Spending money is easy: creating value is not.

Personally, having read the latest Domesday Book, I don't feel richer.

But I do feel angrier.

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