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

Share
Related Topics

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific