TaxPayers Alliance caught out confused on “wasteful” spending


by David Semple    
4:42 pm - July 6th 2010

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Q: When is state spending considered ‘wasteful’ by the TPA?

A: When it was instituted by a British Labour government.

This is the impression one can’t fail to get when reading the following two statements by the Taxpayer’s Alliance on the subject of government-developed iPhone applications, which improve civic engagement.

April 30th, 2010, posted on Taxpayer’s Alliance website.

“In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, citizens can now report broken street lights, potholes, graffiti etc. using an app on their iphones. Users can take a picture and locate the problem on GPS and maps and send it directly to the local authority so they can easily locate and solve the problem. Obviously not everyone has an iphone, but it’s a great innovation that involves citizens in looking after their community.”

July 6th, 2010, statement given to media by Mark Wallace, TPA campaign director, after news leaks via FOI requests that the previous government spent £40,000 on something similar.

“It seems many Government bodies have given in to the temptation to spend money on fashionable gimmicks at a time when they are meant to be cutting back on self-indulgent wastes of money…It is ridiculous not only that they are commissioning these apps but that some of them are supposedly secret on grounds of national security.

“Someone who is faced with losing their home because of high tax bills, or whose life is being ruined by crime isn’t going to get any reassurance from knowing there’s an app for that.”

The recent furore is over the government developing iPhone apps to provide DVLA services, to provide Jobcentre services and so on. Personally I think it’s a great idea – I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have a smartphone, and applications have a way of transferring across, once developed.

What I found particularly amusing about the blatantly churnalistic BBC report (some of which was cribbed direct from the wire service report by the looks of it) was this:

By the end of May there were over 53,000 downloads of the Jobcentre Plus app, although critics have asked why someone who can afford both an iPhone and the expensive running costs would need a Jobcentre Plus app.

Because even those who have been prudent with their savings and worked hard to amass them can be made unemployed, and even bottom of the chain workers can fit this particular bill?

Nice to know what the BBC generally thinks of the unemployed though; if they have anything remotely fancy, there’s something funny going on.

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About the author
David Semple is a regular contributor. He blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.
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Reader comments


“Nice to know what the BBC generally thinks of the unemployed though; if they have anything remotely fancy, there’s something funny going on.”

Yes indeed. I’ve been struck by how smug and abstract the references to the consequences of Coalition policies have been in BBC interviews and comment. Nothing nasty ever happens in Islington?

I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have a smartphone, and applications have a way of transferring across, once developed.

I don’t have a smartphone and I reckon the money could be better spent on making their bloody horrible websites work properly. Get it right and they could even be used on smartphones, making the development of niche-platform apps completely unnecessary…

Q. When is a LibCon blog post not a fresh observation?

A. When it’s already been posted elsewhere and replied to at length.

See:
http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/campaign/2010/07/wasting-money-theres-plenty-of-apps-for-that.html

and

http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/07/06/q-when-is-state-spending-considered-wasteful-by-the-tpa/

@Dunc

Totally right. Making an iPhone app is excluding those who own other Smartphones. It’s a waste of money and just press release buzzword nonsense.

@3
You may be new to these here intertubes, but where I come from it’s called “cross-posting”. It’s a good way of reaching a wider audience…

@3: Your post at Taxpayers Alliance is not really a ‘reply’ to the one at Though Cowards Flinch though, is it, because it fails to link to the Though Cowards Flinch article. So while it responds indirectly to some of the point raised at TCF – for example the fact that FixMyStreet may not be a government body but is funded by the DCA – it does so in a way which tries to hide that you have been challenged.

This is not just discourteous in blog etiquette terms. It also gives a good reflection of your working practice.

@Dunc – I agree, a lot of Labour’s spending sucked, particularly the half-assed manner in which money was committed. Departments don’t retain whatever expertise was developed as a result of spending, due to outsourcing or short contracts. This has been a feature plaguing Labour gov’t internet efforts since the beginning. But. The principle is sound – building additional functionality into types of phones which millions of people own and which more will buy, as 3rd Generation moves on to 4th and phones that use this technology become cheaper.

@Ian – it doesn’t exclude other smartphone users. Android is included as well, and I’m sure Bada will be right behind, as those become more popular.

@3, I see it’s Mark Wallace wheeled out by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (representing less than one tenth of one per cent of all taxpayers, and still no sign of those pesky accounts or a list of donors), rather than Matthew “Gromit” Elliott, but the record is as broken as ever.

Perhaps you can answer a question for me: is the opinion of your so-called “Research Fellow” Mike Denham (aka Wat Tyler), that the prison population should be drastically increased, TPA policy? And when are you and he going to provide the first shred of evidence to back up your whining that the BBC are campaigning against the Government?

And, when you’re not being another of those clever people who talk loudly in restaurants, you might tell us why public service is such a bad thing, while one of your former staffers has just gone through the revolving door to become a SpAD.

Non-job of the week? You certainly are.

Nobody with a brain takes the taxpayers bullshit outfit seriously.

@ 9 Sally

I wish that was true.

The BBC used to wheel then out with monotonous regularity on the radio like they were some neutral academic body with an interest in taxes. (I used to sceam at the radio in frustration).

That has stopped somewhat since they were outted as a bunch of wealthy Thatcherite wing-nuts with an agenda, (some of whom do not even pay UK tax).

But it still goes on. “The City’s view” is often trotted out as some apolitical viewpoint by financial journalists who do little to hide their neo-liberal, free-market agendas. See: Declan Curry on Radio 5 Live, who was one of the most prominent scabs in a BBC strike against pay cuts in 2005.

11. Richard P

“I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have a smartphone”

Me too, and I’d point out that iPhones, though they may be very hyped and very trendy, only hold a small-ish proportion of the smartphone market. Symbian-based devices have a 44% market share, RIM 19%, Apple 15%, Android 10%, and the rest is Other.

If the government does choose to develop software for smartphones, I sincerely hope it is producing software for the most popular smartphones and not just those which happen to be hyped in the media or popular among politicians.

12. Matt Munro

“Because even those who have been prudent with their savings and worked hard to amass them can be made unemployed, and even bottom of the chain workers can fit this particular bill?”

Surely the point is if you are genuinely unemployed and your income looks like dropping for the forsseable future, the FIRST thing you should get rid of is non-essential, expensive electronc toys ? Otherwise if you whine about how difficult it is being “in poverty” with an iPhone in your hand you won’t get taken seriously.

And what about the majority of the population who don’t have smart phones ?

Actually, if you’ve just been made unemployed, the /last/ thing you should do is start selling off your assets.

You can claim contributions-based JSA without said assets being taken into effect, and even the means-tested version only really takes account of savings.

Being unemployed isn’t the same as being in poverty, and there’s no reason why the unemployed should become impoverished immediately. Once you /are/ in poverty (lack of assets being an indicator thereof), it’s quite difficult to get back out again.

If you want to maintain the same standard of living while unemployed, then yeah, your assets are going to suffer – but it should be possible to cut back significantly on your discretionary spending and not have to raid your assets to get by. If that’s /not/ possible, it suggests that unemployment benefits aren’t generous enough.

14. Chaise Guevara

“Surely the point is if you are genuinely unemployed and your income looks like dropping for the forsseable future, the FIRST thing you should get rid of is non-essential, expensive electronc toys ? Otherwise if you whine about how difficult it is being “in poverty” with an iPhone in your hand you won’t get taken seriously.”

If you’re going to make people flog off all of their assets that you could potentially be jealous of before signing on, then you’re going to set up a system where claiming JSA means selling good stuff off on the cheap and probably having to buy it new from scratch. Any more great ideas about how to punish people for being made redundant?

“And what about the majority of the population who don’t have smart phones ?”

I don’t know, actually, they must feel pretty disenfranchised, what with Labour planning to close the Jobcentres, sack all their telephony staff and shut down their websites once they had iPhone functionality. I mean, I assume that was the plan, or the above wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever.

15. Matt Munro

@ 13/14 – I wasn’t suggesting anyone be forced to sell anything – I was suggesting it is absurd to plead poverty when you own an expensive gadget – surely even the most left wing relative measurement of poverty would not (yet) claim that smartphones are an essential – I don’t haev one and I can’t say I feel hugely excluded because of it. That aside, the running costs of smartphones are significant, I think £35 pcm was the cheapest tariff I could find when I reasearched it. On JSA I would suggest that £35 would be better spent elsewhere.

Interesting that you are both assunming that the unemployed are comprised of middle class media types who have fallen on hard times, there are probably a few of those in the trendier parts of London at the moment but I doubt they are representative of the unemployed outside your gilded little social circles

16. David Boothroyd

Is it not quite possible that someone might have bought an iPhone while in employment, and then been made unemployed or redundant (perhaps as a result of some crazy government slashing spending, for instance), then they would be unable to cancel their contract immediately and would welcome the ability to make use of it to make their unemployment last as short a time as possible?

17. Matt Munro

@ 13 “but it should be possible to cut back significantly on your discretionary spending and not have to raid your assets to get by. If that’s /not/ possible, it suggests that unemployment benefits aren’t generous enough.”

So Roman Abramovich gets sacked by Chelsea, his accountant manages to make it appear that he has no income and is technically looking for a job. He can reasonably complain that he shouldn’t have to sell one of his yatchs to get by ?

If you got a smartphone on a contract, then in all likelihood you’re locked into it until the contract ends – so shutting it down to save money isn’t really an option – if you cancel, they demand the entire outstanding amount of the contract up front (so 6 months left at £35/month = “give me £210 now”). If you bought the phone outright, the SIM card connectivity is typically in the £5/month range. Certainly no more expensive than PAYG tends to be.

There’s nothing essential about smartphones, but if you’ve got one, and have just been made unemployed, there’s no reason to sell it unless you’re on a self-flagellation drive. It’s just an asset – and quite a bit more useful than a stamp collection or monster sound system.

Now, if your post at 12 /wasn’t/ suggesting that people should sell their smartphones to support themselves, then I must have wool in my eyes (I’m not sure why you’re adding words like “force” and “essential” – I certainly didn’t reference either of those concepts, and I don’t think Chaise did either. Well, maybe allusions to forcing, but nothing strong).

As for my ‘gilded social circle’… lovely example of assumptions there.

Firstly, we’ve been talking about a subset of jobseekers (of an unspecified number) who have a smartphone and have just lost work, and what they should be doing with their assets in that situation. I’ve certainly not made any suggestion that this group is representative of jobseekers in general, and I would be wrong to do so.

Secondly, I grew up in a world of people on JSA or income support, who had no assets and no real hope of getting a job. I did that myself for a while, then got a job earning £3/hr, then lost that and lived on £15/week for a while (couldn’t re-get JSA!), then got income support, then got a reasonably-paying part-time job and started accumulating assets. Then I went to uni, spent all the assets and gained a bundle of liabilities, and gained another group of contacts afterwards who couldn’t get a job, so live at home slowly accumulating assets by virtue of having reasonably well-off parents.

Finally, I’ve got a partner who fully intends to sell off her laptop, mobile phone books, and all the other bits and bobs she’s got hanging around before claiming contributions-based JSA, when she inevitably becomes unemployed early next year (fixed-term contract and, well, look at the economy). It’s a completely unrealistic point of view, based on the idea that if you have any means at all of preventing yourself from needing to take money from the state, then you should do it. I’ve no idea what that view is based in, but given that we all pay national insurance contributions, I find it hard to reconcile.

17 – does he pay national insurance in the UK? If so, he’s perfectly entitled to receive contributions-based JSA for a limited amount of time, and he’s welcome to it. I can’t imagine he’d have too much difficulty finding a new job from those listed down at the jobcentre (and he’d have to apply in order to keep his entitlement), so chances are it wouldn’t be paid for long anyway.

20. Matt Munro

@ 19 – All I can say is there is clearly something wrong with a system that means he would get money back from the taxman (the fact that it’s for a short time/a small amount of money is irrelevant) whilst being one of the most asset rich individuals in the world.

I wasn’t suggesting that people should sell assets to avoid making claims, I was suggesting that having money tied up in (rapidly depreciating for electronics) assets is not particualrly sensible if you are anticipating cashflow problems, although I take the point about phone contracts.

Is the “how to change a wheel” app a good use of taxpayers’ money?

22. Matt Munro

Not if you have an iphone 4 which you’d have to hold in one hand.

Nah, the system works well.

If you want to strip the hugely rich of their entitlement to contributions-based JSA, then they’d probably (and fairly reasonably) demand that they be exempted from national insurance contributions. Personally, I want the richest to pay more national insurance, not less (actually, I want NI to be abolished and income tax to be increased, but that would work out as the same).

The actual cost to the taxpayer of asset-rich people legally claiming contributions-based JSA is, I would suspect, much lower than the measly 3bn that illegal claimants cost it. So even if you think that people shouldn’t be entitled to benefit from a contributions-based scheme because, despite contributing, they have a bundle of other assets (imagine if you paid house insurance, the house burnt down, and the company said “sorry, you have 10 million in the bank so we’re not paying out”!), the gains to be made from legislating against it would be small. Would probably hit headlines, though.

If you are having cashflow problems, selling assets is definitely a potential solution – your original statement read somewhat differently to that, though ;)

You won’t get much more out of Mark Wallace tonight – it’s his TaxPayers’ Alliance leaving do (and I’m bitter not to have been invited). Let’s hope he’s not getting another government non-job alongside his former colleague Susie Squire: http://bit.ly/c77WPn

” I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have a smartphone, and applications have a way of transferring across, once developed.”

Depends entirely on who owns the data, who owns the routes to the data, and whether they feel the need to port the application to other platforms.

In short, no…applications that are produced in this manner, specifically for iPhones, do NOT have a way of transferring across once developed…and the idea that developing for iPhones was the best first use of funds for a JOB SEEKER app is ridiculous, especially given a secure web app would have been far cheaper and instantly usable by the most number of phone users.

Defending the indefensible here I’m afraid.

26. Chaise Guevara

” I wasn’t suggesting anyone be forced to sell anything – I was suggesting it is absurd to plead poverty when you own an expensive gadget – surely even the most left wing relative measurement of poverty would not (yet) claim that smartphones are an essential – I don’t haev one and I can’t say I feel hugely excluded because of it. That aside, the running costs of smartphones are significant, I think £35 pcm was the cheapest tariff I could find when I reasearched it. On JSA I would suggest that £35 would be better spent elsewhere.

Interesting that you are both assunming that the unemployed are comprised of middle class media types who have fallen on hard times, there are probably a few of those in the trendier parts of London at the moment but I doubt they are representative of the unemployed outside your gilded little social circles”

I liked this reponse right up until “gilded”. Well done for working out that I’m a middle-class media type in London and not, just as a random example, someone doing clerical work in Manchester for less than £7 an hour. I’m sure you’re right: after all, prejudice is always more accurate than reality.

Moving away from the personal bollocks: you’re confusing a temporary cash flow problem with lifelong poverty. It is entirely possible to be well-off enough to feel you can afford a smartphone (haven’t got there yet myself, but then don’t really want a smartphone either) and yet get hit hard by redundancy. The point is that in complaining about people who claim JSA and yet have a smartphone you are, by definition, eliminating anyone who could never afford a smartphone from the sample. Most unemployed people don’t have these wonderous things, but some do and shouldn’t be shafted on that basis alone.

There was a BBC report on the unemployed a few months ago that detailed a particular persons monthly spending, which included a mobile phone bill. They felt the need to explain that she claimed a mobile was essential for applying for jobs nowadays.

28. Flowerpower

I’d have no beef with a government spending my money to develop iPhone apps if they were running a surplus and all other areas were well provided for. But I draw the line when they have to borrow the money to do it, when there’s a recession, when schools are crap, when the NHS could do with a few bob and when the poorest in society are living below the dignity line.

29. Sid Facetious

If only you were as clever as you think you are. It’s a shame you spoiled an excellent post by claiming that by reporting the views of people who disagree with you, the BBC agrees with those people. Engage brain before typing?

30. Col. Richard Hindrance (Mrs), VC, DSO and Bar, Buffet, Dancing 'til Late

In Spain, unemployment benefit is calculated as a proportion of the worker’s original salary – usually around 70 per cent. In this way, the unemployed person doesn’t immediately crash down several levels into poverty: they will have to cut back on a few luxuries, but will still be able to pay their rent and maintain their social circle.

Before Matt Munro has kittens, though – fear not! It only lasts six months and then if the recipient hasn’t got a job they will have to throw themselves on the mercy of their family or beg from the local Catholic Brotherhood.

@29 – the method of reporting is shoddy, that’s the point. Said ‘critics’ are unnamed, and no quotations are offered. It jumps from one criticism to a different criticism for which it does have a supporting quote, if you read the article.

And the original criticism, which I suggest lacks supporting citation, is also plain ridiculous. Are people with iPhones not allowed to look for a different job? It’s the sort of thing that anyone who’d engaged their brain would have discarded out of hand as something the trolls would get to online, but which a MSM outlet could ignore.

So my brain is engaged, Sid Facetious, what about yours?

Are people with iPhones not allowed to look for a different job?

Of course they are.

But they don’t need their own taxpayer-funded app to do so, do they?

33. Shatterface

It’s a question of whether it saves money in the ling run. Keeping someone unemployed because you aren’t willing to invest in making their jobsearch easier is a false economy.

34. Shatterface

‘Long run’. Feckin’ iPhone keypad.

35. Matt Munro

@ 26 & 34 I’m sorry but that is sophistry and bullshit. In no way is a mobile phone let alone a smart phone essential to look for a job – internet connection maybe (although there are free internet connections in every library).
As to the government “investing” in iphone apps – you are taking the piss right ? If not it’s exactly that sort of attitude that led to the expensive and unneassary expansion of the state in the first place – it is not the governments job to find you a job. It’s yours.

If you don’t have a landline (not common among people with smartphones, true, but reasonably common elsewhere with ordinary mobiles), a mobile is essential. Otherwise, it’s just a nice-to-have.

There’s no question in my mind that the two applications given as examples are wastes of time – although they are reasonably cheap, the money for the jobseekers one would have been better spent making the website itself vaguely better. The car maintenance one is just a bit…. silly. And none of us really want government to be behaving in a silly way.

37. Chaise Guevara

“@ 26 & 34 I’m sorry but that is sophistry and bullshit. In no way is a mobile phone let alone a smart phone essential to look for a job – internet connection maybe (although there are free internet connections in every library). As to the government “investing” in iphone apps – you are taking the piss right ? If not it’s exactly that sort of attitude that led to the expensive and unneassary expansion of the state in the first place – it is not the governments job to find you a job. It’s yours.”

What are you talking about? Where on earth did I say anything about a smartphone being needed to look for a job? Sure you’re replying to the right people here?

38. Matt Munro

No a typo – sorry

39. Chaise Guevara

Hah! Pointless rant by me then. Fair dos.

40. Jarlsberg

MySociety developed the excellent http://www.fixmystreet.com and produced both iphone and Android apps for it.

O/T, what happened to that Charity Commission investigation into the TPA?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. paul williams

    RT @libcon: TaxPayers Alliance caught out confused on "wasteful" spending http://bit.ly/csRMAM

  3. Richard Simcox

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  4. Luke Bosman

    Shock as Taxpayer's Alliance discovers it has two faces. http://bit.ly/csRMAM

  5. Matt Lodder

    TaxPayers Alliance caught out confused on “wasteful” spending: Q: When is state spending considered ‘wasteful’ by … http://bit.ly/aG9Znc

  6. Jane Ayres

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  7. Joanne Potter

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  8. kevinrye

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  9. Kieron Flanagan

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  10. Clifford Singer

    RT @longwayround: Shock as Taxpayer's Alliance discovers it has two faces. http://bit.ly/csRMAM

  11. sunny hundal

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  12. Richard Johnson

    RT @sunny_hundal: TaxPayers Alliance caught out being contradictory depending on "wasteful spending" http://bit.ly/csRMAM

  13. Dave Lewis

    RT @longwayround: Shock as Taxpayer's Alliance discovers it has two faces. http://bit.ly/csRMAM

  14. Kevin Mills

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  15. kevinrye

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  16. KatieCurtis

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  17. Daniel Simms

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  18. Rog Myring

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  19. Andrew Saffrey

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  20. Alex Ross

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  21. beefqueen

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