Monday, 19 December 2016

Think Big Is Think Bad

Tax and social security are quick to  investigate beneficiaries claiming benefits while buying Lambourghinis.Yet when the nation wastes money on expensive projects it's viewed as a symptom of national virility and something to be proud of. Prestige projects are welcomed enthusiastically by ministers, politicians , the media and the vested interests who'll build or benefit.All think big and even now with Britain's finances in a mess, stringency the rule and local government crippled by cuts,Theresa May has  endorsed two huge white elephants in Hinkley Point and HS2 .

Big projects always turn out to be bigger disasters diverting enormous resources from better purposes and  always overruning. They never fulfill the big expectations held out for them and waste the resources of a nation  strapped for cash  forced to cut everything to meet a horrendous deficit and imposing a bedroom tax to force poor tenants to  pay more for living space.

The  health service is falling apart and needs twenty billion more by 2020. Instead it has to cut by a billion.Local government has to cut spending by a quarter by closing childrens' centres,libraries, youth facilities,social services support for old people and rubbish collections and even selling off town halls. Yet we can afford to squander billions on computer systems that not only don't deliver but end up costing two or three times the original estimates.?

Look at transport.Commuter lines into London, Manchester Birmingham and Leeds are now cattle transport.The companies can't make the the trains run on time,Southern is slashing services , Network Rail has had to be expensively renationalised and road congestion is up 40% in four years.Yet the Department is is Gung Ho for a High Speed Train which will take twenty minutes off the journey to Birmingham and  an hour off that to Leeds (which it won't reach until 2033).The cost has risen from an initial  thirty billions to eighty billions and almost certainly more in the future. To to save money services to Heathrow and Meadowhall have been cut and they can't afford to run the line into Euston .It will, decimate villages, towns and the countryside,all  to give a lower return than investing in  breaking  bottlenecks now . 

We need  the army navy and airforce to protect us and to intervene where our interests or humanity are threatened..Yet conventional forces have been cut back to the lowest level in two hundred years because so much is being spent on Trident Missile systems we'll never use (and can't without American permission) at a life time cost of 205 billion pounds .We're  acquiring two huge aircraft carriers we can't land planes on  and which will need several of pour shrinking numbers of destroys to protect them. We've got  high technology planes to fight a Cold War that's over but can't afford safe vehicles to protect our  troops from being blown up by primitive improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries where British troops have  taken on battles they couldn't win  in Basra and Helmund where they had to be rescued by the Americans. 

 This coming winter pensioners will die of hypothermia or sit huddled for warmth because they can't afford to put the heat on .Yet government intends to throw billions away on Hinkley Point by getting the French to build a nuclear reactor with Chinese moneywhich hasn't yet worked anywhere then make the consumer pay for it by huge electricity charges. The original cost of this white elephant was twelve billion but it has already gone up to twenty before it's even started on a project which will overrun, and which,once started must be finished at whatever cost escalation the French want.If we have to have nuclear for base load  two or three modern American or Chinese designs could do the job better and far more cheaply.

The list goes on.In several years on the Public Accounts Committee I saw too much government waste on computer programmes, like the NHS computer estimated to cost two billions  which had risen to 12 before it was stopped,on defence contracts and on coming to soft deals on tax with big multi nationals Yet the biggest failure was always governments' love of  taking on prestige programmes it can't afford which will only materialise years ahead

 London needs more passages over or under  the Thames for the growing traffic pressure but the only  proposal is to build a 185 million garden bridge for people to walk over smelling the roses,though it may also become a "hedgehog superhighway".Even if it's cancelled as it should be it will still cost the tax payer fifty millions.The M62 across the Pennines is choking up but government  proposes a twenty five billion nineteen mile tunnel under the Peninnes for HS3 and has no plans to double roads or rail tracks now to remove the bottlenecks. The trans-Pennine rail  needs electrifying but instead the department is too re-build an Oxford to Cambridge line closed for lack of use. There is a huge need for public housing for rent for those who can't afford to buy. Government won't borrow to build it ,and won't let local authorities  issue bonds to build council houses even though they produce an asset with a return.Instead we get luxury flats for foreign millionaires and "affordable"houses which aren't

It's more than time to give up the pretence of being a great power and a rich country and recognise that we can't afford  big bills for big projects.We can't even pay our way in the world .We import more than we can export and have to sell off  companies,property and farms to pay for it .A country in that situation whose budget is in deficit and where every provision is cut  must avoid grandiose follies and put the money into financing the NHS properly,building public rented housing  and  rebuilding an infrastructure and a transport system which are disintegrating for lack of investment. It's more than time to cut our coat to suit our shrinking cloth.Forget think big .Just think   

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