Even though it feels like we’re drifting into some sort of elective dictatorship, there are still a few democratic watchdogs around, barking when they sense trouble.
The National Audit Office (NAO) is the taxpayer’s principal guardian against waste and corruption in public life, and they have bad news on Brexit.
In case you hadn’t guessed as much, the government will have spent some £4.4bn on Brexit preparations (deal and no deal) by 31 March this year. These “preparations” have thus far proved to be economically useless. The only possible justification of them is that they were (arguably) useful as a bargaining tool with the European Union – though that simply meant we were better able to bargain our way out of the EU and into a Brexit recession and lower economic growth for years to come.
Money not well spent, then.
Apparently, some £1.9bn went on staffing costs, £1.5bn on building new systems and infrastructure, and £288m on bringing in "expertise" and external advice.
Well, what else could the money have been spent on? The answer is quite a lot of useful stuff that could serve the nation well for many decades to come, even if we had to chip in for running costs. Here’s a few examples:
About 17 new NHS hospitals.
A “big” unit, such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham runs to about £500m. Smaller ones cost about £100m. Taking £250m as a rough unit cost, we could have 17 fantastic state-of-the-art hospitals being constructed for the cash spaffed away on Brexit preparations. Think how useful they might be for our coronavirus crisis.
Or, how about another brand new magnificent Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier – easily within the £4.4bn budget. You could chuck in a few planes as well, a tot of rum all round and Britannia would be ruling the waves.
Or, get the nation moving with a new motorway. The cost per mile to construct a new motorway is about £35m, so you could get more than 100 miles, or something about the same length as the M25, for £4.4bn.
Alternatively, if we just want to get the economy moving and fast, we could give every pensioner a one-off bonus of £350 – the bulk of which would spent fast. Alternatively we could give every child (say under 14) a ready-made investment/savings account worth £400.
But we didn’t. We spaffed it on unnecessary preparations.
As Carrie Symonds once shouted at her now-fiancé, the prime minster:
You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything.