Friday, September 17, 2010

Paper Factories Still Booming

Another consignment ready for processing

Tyler was once told by an ex-Cabinet Secretary that Whitehall is "a bit of a paper factory". Tyler was shocked - he'd previously believed Whitehall's output comprised nothing but high quality governance services.

The funny thing is, despite all that stuff about e-government, Whitehall's observable output still largely comprises paper. And we'd like to know what it costs.

We don't know exactly how much paper the public sector gets through every year, but according to the government waste quango - who are surely the undisputed authority on paper usage - "office workers can get through 50 sheets of paper a day". No, wait... later in the same paragraph they go on to say "the average office worker uses up to 100 sheets of paper every day in a typical office". Well, whatever - it's a kakload of paper, and if those are averages across both public and private sectors, we can safely assume public employees are towards the top end.

So let me see... 100 sheets a day, say 220 working days pa, that's 22,000 sheets pa per public sector office worker. 6 million public sector workers employees, say half of them are safely tucked up in the office, so that's... blimey... that's 66 billion sheets pa. Or enough to go round the world half a million times.

WTF must it cost?

As it happens the National Audit Office has recently published a useful report giving us a pointer.

The NAO has returned to an old BOM favourite - the huge range of prices paid by different bits of the public sector for the self-same standard items, and the fact that some bits are paying far more than they should be (eg see this blog). Despite all the promises, and the expensive Office for Government Commerce, the problem has not gone away.

Here's what they found on the cost of paper. They surveyed 112 public sector organisations, collecting prices paid for a standard box of 2500 sheets of photocopy paper (ie a box of 5 reams):

As we can see, prices are all over the place, and contrary to what you'd expect to find out in the real world, there is no clear inverse relationship with volume.

Anyway, the average price seems to be about £10 for 2500 sheets. And applying that to our estimate of paper throughput, we get an annual cost figure of £264m pa.

So there we have it. Our public sector paper factories cost us around a quarter of a billion every year just for the raw materials. And that of course excludes the processing costs - which are immense - and the recycling costs.

In fact, here's a suggestion - instead of spending so much on waste recyling plants, why no simply close a few paper factories.

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