Ooooh – a good 20 years ago, I thought about an idea for a short story very loosely based on Kafka’s The Castle. Basically a man enters a city. The city is run by The Company (with CIA implications). The closer you get to working directly for The Company, the higher your status. So, for example, a secretary in the accounts pool would be of higher status than a private business director outside The Company.
As the man gets closer and closer to the core of The Company, he gets closer and closer to finding out what The Company actually does. We journey with him through the infrastructure of the City. There are companies set up to provide products and services for The Company. There are houses built for the employees and more houses built for the builders, electricians, plumbers, carpenters etc. There are roads and shops built for the workers. There are schools, hospitals, police, fire and ambulance services. All the employees of which need to be housed and facilities built for their entertainment, creating even more employment, with even more resources necessary for the greater population. Dental surgeries crop up. Opticians, jewellers, upholsterers, furniture retailers, supermarkets, petrol stations, electrical goods retailers, coffee shops, cinemas, parks and gardens are opened up, a radio station opens up, transport facilities are put in place, car sales, bicycle sales, motorbikes, scooters, toys, games, sports equipment etc etc etc. Importers build warehouses to hold their stocks before shipping out to the wholesalers who then ship them to the retailers.
The City is a perfect little microcosm of society. But what does The Company actually do? The Company is a finance institution, selling insurance, mortgages, loans, pensions, healthcare etc. The entire city is a self serving non-entity. It doesn’t do anything. It exists only because The Company sold mortgages to its employees to build their homes, loans for their new cars, insurance for the cars and the homes, pensions, healthcare and general credit arrangements. Since the company existed and employed these people, it needed products and services thus attracting satellite companies which also needed products and services and so the city grew into a perfectly working, self contained unit and the stuff Audit Commissioners’ dreams are made of. But it is completely and utterly irrelevant in its own right.
This is my template for Torridge. The Audit Commission rates the waste management team in Torridge as one of the best in the country and I am very happy to read that as it concurs with my own observations, without actually having too much experience of other councils. But Torridge cannot justify its existence for that alone. So what else does it do? I will endeavour to find out how much Torridge actually spends on facilities and how much it spends on itself in order to do this. The maths is easy. If the cost of facilitating is greater than the cost of the facilities, then this is an abject waste of public funds.
A cursory glance gives £6,466,000 on the structure of Torridge, not including staff wages of £8,355,000 (including pensions and benefits, I think) with £2,866,000 spent on services. Now this does not give the whole picture. Another set of figures gives cash outflow of £39,013,000 including wages (£8,355,000), other operating costs (£10,138,000) Housing benefits (£19,691,000) Precepts (£788,000) and Payments to Capital Receipt Pools (£41,000). And cash inflow of £37,994,000, some £1,019,000 over budget.
So, yes, take out housing benefit of just under £20 million and we are looking at a basic spend of just under £18,500 for services, just under £3 million in actual facilities and services. In the second set of figures, they have lumped everything together in the “other operating costs”, where I have taken out just under £3 million for actual services, leaving around £7 million for Torridge and £8 million for wages.
So it costs around £15 million to benefit the area by less than £3 million. Go figure.