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Monday, May 23, 2005
Carpet Baggers in Partnership

All taxpayers should beware the carpet baggers of the bureaucracies that surround us. They can always justify what they do as necessary and important by declaiming broadbrush visions and worthy goals. How can "promoting regional economic growth" or "developing the arts" or "helping inclusiveness among the disadvantaged" ever be wrong?

Look inside these worthy aims and you find what actually goes on while they spend our money. King among the buzz phrases now are "partnerships". Worthy types in suits meet others to develop these arrangements. Endless meetings on plans and structure and programmes of consultation abound.

What this means in reality is one tax-funded salary meeting with other tax-funded salary in tax-funded rooms in tax-funded organisations. Arts Council staff regularly meet with County Councils to discuss art in the community in schools, public buildings and open spaces in its "creative partnerships". OK, so now we've got an art bureaucrat, a county planner or two, an educationalist, a community architect and a town manager - no doubt with a publically funded tame artist or two in attendance - all in one room that we pay for - talking about a programme we didn't ask for and never hear about.

"Economic partnerships" are another boondoggle. At the top level you get the big companies in a local area meeting with the local economic development team. They talk about something called "strategy". That means second guessing the labour force, housing market, transport needs, and business content of the local community. They are then usually split up into "partnership working groups" on transport, workforce, occupational health and so on. You then get meetings between economic planners, transport bureaucrats, and skills advisers with an occupational health observer working out whether forcing everyone out of their cars and onto the buses (central government policy) will damage regional business competitiveness (regional government policy) or promote healthier lifestyles (health service policy) or make skilled workers move elsewhere (nobody's policy).

The truth is that our world is far too complex to plan. We are doing ourselves a dis-service when we provide tax revenues to bureaucracies that then adopt the conceit of partnering. Clamping down on tax and hence government spending has its own added value; it prevents wasteful intra-governmental chit chat.

- Eben Wilson, TPA Editorial Director