May 2024

Cuts? You mean more bureaucrats and fewer frontline workers

Studying the Royal Navy after the First World War, Cyril Northcote Parkinson (who developed Parkinson’s Law – ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’) noticed that in 10 years as the number of sailors was cut by 32%, the number of admiralty officials rose by 78%. This led him to understand that bureaucracies grow by 5%-7% a year ‘irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done’.

And that’s exactly what is happening in today’s austerity Britain – more bureaucrats yet cuts in frontline staff.

Osborne’s Treasury increased its spending on staff by £2.5m during his first year in office as he set up the utterly useless Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and equally pathetic Office for Tax Simplification (OTS). With the OBR’s help, our debt levels are heading uncontrollably upwards and the OTS gave us 2012’s catastrophically inept ‘omnishambles’ budget.

At Francis Maude’s Cabinet Office, staff costs also rose – by £1.7m – and the Cabinet Office was meant to be the department coordinating spending cuts. Ofwat, the hopelessly ineffective water regulator, increased spending from £11.5m before the 2007 crash to £17.4m last year – a rise of 10% a year. The cost of Ofgem, the equally worthless energy regulator, doubled from £38.8m  before the crash to £78.7m. And so it goes on, in department after department – more money spent on pointless, ineffective, underperforming, overpaid bureaucrats.

A quick glance at the Guardian ‘non-jobs’ section (see diagram) shows hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary public-sector non-jobs still being advertised. There may be cuts in frontline services, but Britain’s bureaucrats have never had it so good.

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