Monday, November 8, 2010

Shortfalls – on a lighter note

The admission by the Dept of Education that spending on new school construction projects was behind target for 2010 generated a heated response.  One report begins:

MARY Coughlan's Department of Education has yet to spend almost half of its 2010 budget for building new schools and classrooms.

Only €381m of a total annual allocation of €712m has so far been spent on capital projects by the department this year.

With less than two months left in 2010, much of the remaining amount is expected to be returned to the Department of Finance.

Some 10pc of the surplus can be carried over to 2011 but any remaining funds will be returned.

Education chiefs have attributed the shortfall to massively reduced building costs.

How are we to view such ‘shortfalls’?  More reaction from the media here and here.  Reproduced here are two views from across the Irish Sea.

Alan Clark:  The following is an extract from Diaries by Alan Clark.

“We had one of the PES [Public Expenditure Survey] preliminaries today. … Was finally goaded by Fred Bayliss, the Under Secretary, who appears to be our Chief Accountant. He mumbled along, ‘… looks as if there is going to be a shortfall as our overall provision is £408 million and at present we are going to be pushed to get expenditure over £335 – 360 million’.

That’s not a f**king ‘shortfall’ I thought, or at least not my idea of one. It slowly sank in that he was rambling round for suggested ways of getting last-minute expenditure authorised so as to ‘approach more closely our provision’. ‘Look, Fred, Ministers in this Department are members of a government which is dedicated to – whose raison d’etre, you could say, is – the reduction of public expenditure. Surely it’s a matter for congratulations?’

Ah no, don’t you see – ‘It’s important to get as close as possible to last year’s provision in order to have a firm base from which to argue increases this year …’ This was crazy. Nightmare. Kafka. … Icily I asked in what other Departments of State ‘is this kind of budgetary practice prevalent’? ‘All of them,’ they shouted triumphantly. General Laughter, of the tee-hee kind.” (Alan Clark, 1994, Diaries, London: Orion Books, pp. 39-40)

Yes Minister: The following is an extract from the episode ‘The Economy Drive’.

Humphrey: He told you £32 million?

Bernard: Yes, Sir Humphrey.

Humphrey: I’m aghast.

Bernard: So am I. I mean, its incredible we didn’t know.

Humphrey: Oh, I knew about it.

Bernard: Then why are you aghast?

Humphrey: I’m aghast it got out. It means we get less money from the Treasury next year. Oh, good Lord, it’s after half past five. Sherry?

Bernard: Yes, thank you.

Humphrey: You still look worried Bernard?

Bernard: Well, yes. Surely, we want to save money?

Humphrey: Bernard, you know perfectly well there has to be some way to measure success in the Civil Service. British Leyland measure their success by the size of their profits. Or, to be more accurate, they measure the size of their failure by the size of their losses. But, we don’t have profits and losses. We have to measure our success by the size of our staff and our budget. By definition a big department is more successful than a small one.

Bernard: Are you saying that the North-West Regional Controller boobed by saving so much money?

Humphrey: Well of course. Nobody asked him to. Suppose everyone did it. Suppose everyone went around saving money irresponsibly all over the place.


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