Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar

We shall learn  in due course whether the Grenfell Tower conflagration was the result of saving £1.5m by using a less expensive cladding material, or turning down the preferred bidder because someone else was cheaper, maybe both or maybe something else entirely.

However, there can be little doubt that any savings will already have been far outweighed  by the enormous expense of paying for alternative accommodation for the displaced families, and the £5 500 per family grant to enable them to survive in the short run and re-equip in the long run.

Add to this  the further cost of finding and paying for temporary alternative accommodation for the thousands of families forced to leave other tower blocks because they are now discovered to be unsafe.  Doubtless the same firms that  put up the inadequate cladding in the first place are receiving premium rates for removing it and will in due course be the preferred bidders for putting up the right stuff.

The message is that the combination of deregulation, (the "bonfire of red tape" is a grimly appropriate metaphor), cuts in council inspection services and the penny-pinching temptation to save "public money" by going for the lowest bidder, (in fact I think, though an not sure, that in some cases councils are forced to accept the lowest tender),leads both to false economies and public danger.

The financial costs are, of course petty compared with  the horror of the deaths and injuries, and the massive anxiety and  inconvenience caused to the families affected, both at Grenfell and elsewhere.

This terrible tragedy merely helps us to highlight how other attempts to cut public expenditure to the bone have actually boomeranged. An article by  Frances Ryan, published in the Guardian back in April, lists the costs of various examples of Tory ineptitude.

  • two private firms have been paid £700m  to conduct Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments on disabled  people.  Four out of five of their rejections are overturned on appeal:
  • the flagship Universal Credit system has been delayed seven times,  is now five  years behind schedule and has so far cost £16bn (sic)  In the areas where it has been implemented the six-week waiting period has led to the need for mass emergency food parcels, and to rent arrears and evictions:
  • councils have had to spend more than £3.5bn on temporary accommodation for homeless families in the last five years (that is, even before the tower block cladding scandal) 
The conclusion must be that, on top of the misery they cause, and the increased shabbiness of our environment, the cheeseparing approach to public expenditure, the lie that "savings can always be made through cutting waste" can often lead to more rather than less public expenditure.

A contributory factor must be running down of both local and national government personnel through he outsourcing of services.  This leads to the public sector being left without expertise and enables the well-resourced  private sector to run rings round them in the drawing-up of contracts.

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