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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Opening up the books

The decision by the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Government to open up its books to public scrutiny has inevitably started to make the headlines today.

The Guardian reports that one of the first things the media looked for noticed is that the government was owed nearly £600m in bad debts last year. They say that the data reveals tens of millions of pounds lost in unpaid student loans and overpaid benefits at a time when the Labour government was getting to grips with the scale of the crisis of the public sector deficit.

The data also shows that spending on consultants, in every case sanctioned by ministers, amounted to £1.8bn in the last financial year. This is a substantial rise on the previous year, when official estimates put the bill at £1.5bn, after several years in which Labour had reduced the consultancy bill in efficiency savings.

No doubt more will come out as jounalists get to grips with the 25 million or so individual pieces of information but it is clear that there is potential to save significant sums without impacting too deeply on front-line services.

The only note of caution I would strike is that Ministers should be aware that this plays to their advantage now but in a few years time they may well be on the receiving end. They should act accordingly.
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