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Mr Brown's big government is in the business of waste

By Oliver Letwin

(Filed: 06/07/2004)

Here are some striking facts.

1. The Civil Service is now the size of Sheffield.

2. Whitehall bureaucracy costs every household 850 per year.

3. The number of tax collectors has increased almost twice as fast as new doctors and nurses.

4. There are now more tax collectors and customs officers than people serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

5. Just one department - Work and Pensions - employs more people than there are soldiers in the British Army.

6. An extra 511 civil servants were employed every week last year.

7. The number of new bureaucrats and support staff in education has increased twice as fast as the number of new teachers.

8. 88,000 extra people were employed to work in education last year; just 14,000 of these were teachers or teaching assistants.

9. The number of NHS managers is increasing three times as fast as that of new doctors and nurses.

10. The extra size of the NHS bureaucracy since 1997 would pay for over 400,000 hip replacements.

11. For every extra police officer, almost one more bureaucrat has been employed in the Home Office.

12. The running costs of the government offices of the regions would pay for an extra 5,000 nurses or doctors.

13. Council inspections cost local government 1 billion a year.

14. There are more external targets on schools than days in the school year.

15. 12 pages of paperwork land on each head teacher's desk each day of the school year.

16. 15 new business regulations have been created every day since 1997.

17. A criminal's arrest takes, on average, three and a half hours to process.

18. For every job the private sector lost last year, the public sector took on almost two jobs.

19. There are more Defra bureaucrats than there are dairy farmers in England.

20. The increase in the Government's advertising budget since 1997 could have paid for an extra 17,000 heart bypass operations.

Next Monday, Mr Brown announces his spending review. He will tell us that he is going to do something about all this. Unfortunately, as the historical record shows, this will be pure spin.

Two years ago, Mr Brown announced that he was going to axe 18,000 jobs in Work and Pensions. Since that reductions programme began, the number of staff has increased by 3,500. On many occasions, Mr Brown has assured us that he will strictly control every penny of public spending. But he now admits that 20 billion has been mis-spent, that his administrative costs have gone up by 60 per cent, that he has underestimated his administrative expenditure by 4 billion, and that the taxi bills for the Cabinet Office have risen by 1,000 per cent.

But there is a deeper reason why any claim by Mr Brown to eliminate waste will be pure spin. Mr Brown's big government does not just arise from waste: waste is something you do by mistake. All governments do it. Mr Brown's big government is something that he has created on purpose.

This is a government that wants to be seen to be doing things. No aspect of life escapes its attention: not even children's play. The Government recently completed a Children's Play Review. This led to the funding of three bodies: Skillsactive, "to develop a national framework for training and qualifications in play and to provide regional training centres"; the Children's Play Council, "for policy and research work"; and the Children's Play Information Service, "a library and web-based information service to support play".

The desire to be seen to be active in every aspect of life has created a new logic of big government. Bureaucrats and administrators in units, boards and panels devise regulations and set conditions on specific grants in order to implement initiatives, so that compliance with targets can be monitored by inspectors in the ever-growing layers of government that control local activity.

How can we unwind this logic? Since the Government has grown too big, we need to make it smaller.

We cannot shrink the Government just by cutting out waste. We have to change the approach to governing: to govern better, we have to govern less; we have to let people make more decisions with less interference from politicians and bureaucrats.

Over the past two weeks, Michael Howard and other colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet have set out how a Conservative government will let heads and teachers run schools, let doctors and nurses run hospitals, and give patients and parents the Right To Choose the school for their child, or the hospital for their operation. Today, the shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, and I will list some of the layers of bureaucracy in the NHS that our Right To Choose policy will enable us to remove - and the mind-boggling amounts of money that can be released to improve heath care.

Just as the internal logic of Mr Brown's big government dictates ever bigger government, so the logic of our smaller government leads us to progressive reductions in the amount of government. To create real competition, and hence real excellence in the health service and schools, our Right To Choose policies have to prune the laws and regulations that make it difficult for new, charitable and private sector operators to supply care for patients, and schooling for pupils whose costs are met by the taxpayer.

Smaller government doesn't just mean lower taxes and better services. It also means less regulation and less bureaucratic interference in people's lives.

Finally, a thought for all those extra bureaucrats. Does small government spell doom for them? Not in the least. As we make government smaller, the economy will grow faster and create more (and more sustainable) jobs.

Since Mr Brown went on his spending binge, Britain has dropped from fourth to 15th in the International Competitiveness League, our growth rate has been the slowest in the Anglo-Saxon world. For each one per cent by which we reduce the burden of the public sector on the economy, we increase economic growth by about 0.1 per cent. By shrinking the state and setting the people free, we can also create prosperity and jobs.

Oliver Letwin is shadow chancellor