In (partial) defence of the Tax Payers Alliance


Needing a good defence?

One of the things we love about this blog is the guest posts we receive from our readers. Some of them are from people keen to make a point, some from those wanting to discuss their work or workplace and some just want to start a debate. Today’s is firmly in that last category and we love it, even if we don’t necessarily agree with all of it. If you have a post you’d like to submit please send it to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve enjoyed (and possibly responded to) this:

One of the aspects of WLLG that I enjoy as an avid reader is the ability it has to represent different views, reinforcing the notion that Local Government is not a homogenous entity but has different views.  My last guest post was in defence of Eric Pickles, and the title of this one might be a surprise as well.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance is set up to represent the views of taxpayers in the UK and is a very successful campaigning organisation, which is well connected and well funded and has some very talented people working for it and in its alumnus.  Its role is to hold public services to account for the public money that we spend and to point out waste and inefficiency: this makes it perfectly understandable as to why certain people don’t like it; much like many have disliked Private Eye’s Rotten Borough column.

There is a real and legitimate role for organisations like the Alliance to hold public services to account for what they do and how they spend their money. I personally don’t believe that public organisations are any different to private organisations when it comes to waste and inefficiency, but I understand that as we are spending public money we need to be held to a different standard and a higher level of scrutiny.  The Alliance does a good job of this but perhaps is insufficiently nuanced in how information is reported.   There is a clear need to publish information that we as public services should, but often when that information is published the context is missing. 

An example of this is the school league tables, where the initial publication of performance tables was a combination of the effectiveness of a school and the ability of its intake.  Moving towards more of a value added measure, where schools show how they have improved their students, is a much more accurate assessment of the effectiveness of a school but is perhaps not as easy to understand.

The TPA have a long running campaign around what they consider to be non-jobs in public services, which seem to feature of late climate change officers, performance improvement officers and programme managers.  The Alliance has a clear world view on climate change (which it is against) and has a problem with the public sector ‘wasting’ money on this.  This is a perfectly legitimate position to take and as public services we should be entering into the debate as to why we think that the work on climate change and energy reduction is a good thing: a focus on the economics and the economic opportunities alongside the science of climate change would be a good start.

As Local Government we are sometimes reticent about talking about how we work and what we need to do to be effective organisations, although WLLG has started to shine the light into some of the previously dark corners.  It is right that we are held to account for what we do and justify our decisions: the strident tone of the Alliance sometimes doesn’t help that but it does get good headlines for them, and it is easy to see why they are such an effective campaigning organisation.

Being held to account is a good thing, as all Councils who have a good local newspaper or organised residents organisations will tell you: the TPA have certainly played their part in changing the culture to being more open and transparent, and the Freedom of Information Act has had something to do with this as well.  Being able to explain decisions in a nuanced way would be better in a less student tone and a more reasonable approach.

So Taxpayers Alliance, we might not always thank you for what you do but we welcome the fact that you are there and hold us to account.  We would also prefer it if you were more nuanced in the information you present, and the way that you present it, but then, none of us are perfect.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at:welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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3 Comments on “In (partial) defence of the Tax Payers Alliance”

  1. Daz Wright Says:

    A few points from me. I have a feeling there will be many more.

    The Tax Payers Alliance were not set up with any intention of promoting value for money for tax payers. They are broadly affiliated with the Conservative Party and exist solely to promote a singular agenda. One of the reasons that their reports are so comprehensively rubbished, on a regular basis, is their constant attempts to twist facts to suit their agenda.

    I also don’t think they are “against” climate change. They might dispute the anthropomorphic component of it but that is a very different claim. I would assume we are all against it in the broadest sense.

    I doubt there is any evidence that tax payers have received any benefit from the TPA, certainly not in tax being paid by the bloke who runs it.

    I do believe there is evidence that this article will promote “debate”.


  2. Holding public bodies to account for the money they spend and highlighting waste and inefficiency is definitely to be welcomed, but I don’t think the TPA’s method of adding up the spending habits of multiple councils to create a “Councils spend £XXXXm on such and such” headline is nuanced enough to shed much light.

    TPA argue – here for example http://www.lgcplus.com/blogs/spending-data-is-great-but-some-context-please/5037201.blog – they are simply starting a debate by publishing the data, but it’s going to be a pretty low level debate when the data you base it on lacks any kind of context or contains errors.


  3. There’s a very big difference between holding public bodies to account using objective measures and cherry picking data to bolster a particular world view.

    It would be nice to think that there is a lobby group campaigning for better value public services. That’s not the TPA though.


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