Cardiff Bay: Welsh Assembly. Source: James Stringer (via Flickr)
Public Services

The taxpayer’s pound is a precious commodity

During my time in the Senedd, I have shadowed the main Government portfolios and one of my biggest frustrations over the last thirteen plus years has been the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding government spending, writes Angela Burns MS.

Whether it be the colossal waste of money that was spent on the Circuit of Wales vanity project or the money poured down the drain undertaking the inquiry into the never delivered M4 relief road project, which as the Prime Minister has so graphically pointed out would unblock the nostrils of the Welsh Dragon, this Welsh Labour Government has a track record of not only failing to deliver value for public money, but failing to deliver full stop.

In my career before politics I was working in business, a career where my success, or failure, was judged on not only identifying the correct projects to invest in, but once money had been committed, making sure that the expenditure was accounted for in its entirety and made a difference. If I failed to ensure that this happened, then I would have to answer for my mistakes.

That is where things are so different with the Welsh Government. No one is held responsible for mistakes, no one learns from their errors and, when the inevitable does happen and when their mismanagement is brought to public attention, all too often wagons are circled, the spinning starts and after a few days of poor media stories, things move on and nothing changes for the better.

Over the last few months I have taken the opportunity to highlight some of the historic horror stories of Welsh Government spending. And not just the spending calamities but also the areas where the policy intent of the Welsh Government was not supported by appropriate fiscal resources or where money was being spent in areas that ran counter to the so-called overarching ambition of the Welsh Government.

My speech in the Welsh Parliament earlier this autumn also shone some light on what I referred to as the lesser known screw ups. Where there were no clear objectives, where there was no real capacity to scale up success, where there was no commitment to long term sustainability, where the projects that were failing were not terminated promptly enough, where scrutiny was ad hoc or non-existent or not reviewed by the people with authority or guts to make the hard decisions.

One such example of this fiscal incompetence can be found in the June 2020, Audit Wales report on Labour’s Rural Development Grants Scheme. The report found that £53m of grants were made without ensuring value for money. No checks and balances. No scrutiny.

Let me remind you of the words of Margaret Thatcher, spoken to the Tory Party Conference in 1983:

“The State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay—that “someone else” is you. There is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers’ money”.

This is why the role of the Office of Government Resilience and Efficiency (OGRE) is so important. It is only our party who truly believe in this mantra and understands the concept that the money we are spending is money that has been earnt by ordinary hard-working people the length and breadth of the country. We should spend it and account for it in the same way that we would our own household finances.

We want our taxes to pay for a good health and social care system, a transformative education system and decent housing for those who need shelter. We want our taxes to help build a thriving economy, to deliver the infrastructure projects we need and to support cultural and societal growth.

The taxpayer’s pound is a precious commodity and one no Government should take for granted.

Yet this Government, the Welsh Labour Government, have become ever more careless of that precious commodity, the taxpayer’s pound.

The evidence is clear and unambiguous, over £1 billion has been wasted by successive Welsh Labour Governments.

Sitting in a Public Accounts Committee Meeting earlier this week we learnt that the Welsh Audit Office were refusing to sign off the Welsh Governments accounts for the past financial year due to a lack of clarity over the treatment of three-quarters of a billion pounds. Where is the public scrutiny of this? Where are the headlines in the Welsh and UK media and where is the statement to the Welsh Parliament explaining what has taken place?

The Covid pandemic has had a devasting impact not only on physical and mental health of our citizens but on the health of our economy and public finances. This is what makes it more important than ever that every penny is accounted for and is allocated wisely.

The role of OGRE will ensure that a non-politician will have oversight on all major government spending. They will provide that much needed extra pair of eyes on spending and provide a check and balance to ensure that public money is treated with the reverence and respect that it deserves.

Let me make a pledge to you now.

Welsh Conservative policies will always have clear objectives, clear outcomes and rigorous management. Where policies are given every chance to succeed but evaluated and stopped if they are not working. No more Taxpayers pounds going into the endless abyss.

Angela Burns is the Member of the Senedd for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and the Shadow Minister for Government Resilience & Efficiency.