Magazine article Public Finance

The Hardest Word

Magazine article Public Finance

The Hardest Word

Article excerpt

The old political adage 'never explain, never apologise' was cast aside this week as ministers competed to say sorry after failing to count around 300,000 foreign workers currently doing their bit for the British economy.

Home SecretaryJacqui Smith and Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain have both publicly donned sackcloth and ashes for misleading Parliament and the public with inaccurate figures. The Office for National Statistics was, inevitably, also dragged into the fray. Their apologies were no doubt intended to take some of the heat out of the debate over immigration, which is always guaranteed to get the rhetoric boiling over.

But beneath the political posturing there is a deeper issue relating to how public services are funded and provided.

The failure to accurately quantify the population of a locality - be they recent arrivals or UK born-and-bred - undermines the drive for quality services on which Gordon Brown's government has staked its reputation.

These figures are used to determine funding allocations for government departments and, further down the system, for local bodies such as councils, police authorities and NHS trusts.

So undercounting the population in a particular area means, in essence, underfunding the local services. …

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