Editor-At-Large: Paying workers to give up their jobs is bad housekeeping

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If I get a nasty tax bill and have to cut back on my spending, there are obvious, if unpleasant, measures. Cut up credit cards. Set a daily cash budget and stick to it. Stop shopping, except for essentials. No frocks. Travel off-peak, shop for cheaper energy deals. Not exactly rocket science. To pay off debts you need a simple plan. Families are trimming their expenditure carefully as up to 600,000 public-sector workers face redundancy. So, we are told, is the Government.

The new team is big on grand gestures, and, until now, hazy on detail. It asks people who are good at flogging food and frocks to form committees, act as unpaid advisers. It's just Cool Britannia for the age of The Apprentice and Dragon's Den.

The coalition might be full of wobbly-chinned men with pot bellies and receding hairlines, but they love emulating Arnie and talking mean – Francis Maude, George Osborne, Eric Pickles and David Cameron regularly tough it out, competing to eliminate the £153bn deficit. This week is the Big One – the Comprehensive Spending Review, which may not be as ruthless as first intimated. In fact, many of the so-called big savings turn out to be less effective than my cutting up bits of plastic and cooking root vegetables.

Last week, Maude announced his long-trailed quango bonfire. Nearly 200 were abolished, 118 merged and 40 are under review. He's already backtracking, saying that it wasn't simply about savings, but "transparency". Many of the offending bodies just become something else – committees of experts or charities. Closing down quangos costs a fortune in redundancy payments, pension entitlements and rental contracts. The Film Council estimate its winding up costs at £11.3m, when its annual costs were £3m. The regional development agencies joint budget was £1.4bn a year – and it's going to cost £1.5bn to close them down.

The Audit Commission, axed by Eric Pickles, will spend £75m on redundancy and a whopping £400m on pensions. And I am sure that all the proposed committees of "experts" will be entitled to claim expenses. They will still need stationery, phones and places to meet. Sir Philip Green said that if government procurement was centralised, there could be huge savings. This will never happen because Pickles and co want government departments to take more responsibility. Sadly, Sir Philip's blue-sky thinking will languish in the pending tray.

Back in July, Francis Maude whinged about civil servants who didn't do anything, but existed on full pay waiting to be deployed to fresh tasks. Now he's locked in battle with the six unions who represent them, over a redundancy agreement, which the Public and Commercial Services Union, has turned down. Mr Maude is now trying to repeal legislation passed by Ted Heath which forces government to consult with unions over civil servants' pensions and redundancy. The union is threatening strike action.

Meanwhile, in the three months up to 13 August, the Government spent £9.8m on 50 new contracts with consultants. The Treasury spends 80 per cent of its entire staffing costs on consultants on short-term contracts. You and I make economies by exercising self-denial. Politicians call a consultant and shuffle paper about.

For poise, cut and flair ... consult the Japanese

Today is the last day of the brash, exciting and loud Frieze Art Fair, bigger and more popular than ever. It's a great opportunity to see small galleries from places you'd never visit, and the Frieze projects by young artists are well worth a look. But if you fancy a more contemplative experience, the exquisite installation of Japanese fashion at the Barbican is a visual feast. It's impossible to date most of the pieces, which celebrate the artistic innovators of the past 30 years. And therein lies the problem for designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo – their creations have none of the built-in disposability of western fashion.

Commercially, it's hard to get customers to chuck out one look in favour of another new look for next season. Their forte as designers lies in marrying traditional Japanese cutting and folding skills with sophisticated technology. The fabrics in this show are mindblowing. Now in his seventies, Issey Miyake has developed a stunning new range made from recycled plastics that transform from flat origami into flattering clothing. The line between art and fashion is blurred, but this is wearable sculpture. I've carefully preserved every Issey dress I've owned since the 1970s.

I don't want sauce with my pizza

Now I'm suspicious. Whenever my supper is served by smiley waiting staff, I always assume it's because they enjoy their job and want to please customers. After all, being interested and friendly is surely the quickest way to guarantee a decent tip. Over at Pizza Express, however, staff may have thought that serving food didn't require any people skills, because the chain has hired an actor from a specialist school to teach waiters how to "flirt" and chat up customers. Lessons in "the mechanics of conversation" have been given to 40 staff in the Richmond branch and there are plans to extend the scheme further. The idea is to "build a relationship". Frankly, all I want in a Pizza Express is an American Hot, not a hot date.

Take your brain for a walk

Putting on trainers or boots and taking a brisk stroll keeps me sane and helps get things in perspective. And now neurologists in the USA have discovered that people who walk regularly every week are less likely to suffer from dementia.

They studied the brains of 300 older walkers for 13 years, which is hardly a snapshot sample, and found that those who walked furthest were half as likely to develop memory problems or cognitive impairment.

The ideal cumulative distance was between six and nine miles a week – easily achievable in several shorter walks. To walk any further didn't seem to offer any significant improvement.

Mind you, my memory problems start before I've left home – I can never find my favourite pair of walking socks, and I generally forget my reading specs.

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