Quango Unchained: Balancing the books and Hinkley Point
Do more with less seems to have become the glorious motto to which we all now subscribe. At home that means wiser food shopping and keeping an eye on the thermostat.
While at work, for many, it means fewer perks, fewer people to do the job and phrases like "efficiency savings" slipping into everyday parlance.
Times are tough and balancing the abacus is now the order of the day – every single day – financial insouciance be damned.
But at least most people know the sums they have to play with.
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You know your salary, what you have to pay in rent or mortgage payments, you budget your food shop, you save a little for a rainy day.
In short, barring an unforeseen emergency, you know where your cash is going and how much you will have left, if any.
The same can be said for most businesses or they can expect a call from the bank manager, or worse, the bailiffs.
All of which is to say: spare a thought for the poor people who are tasked with balancing the books at a council which has responsibility for caring for the elderly.
They know how much cash they have to play with overall: they watch it shrink every year. And in Gloucestershire they also know how much they will spend on adult services because they made a vow to protect care from cuts. But when it comes to how that money is actually spent and making sure the budget stays out of the red? That's when it gets tricky.
The county's over-65 population is expected to grow by 3,000 people every year while the number of people aged 75 and over, the age at which the council's adult services are most likely to be required, is expected to increase by 1,500 people every year this decade and by 2,300 a year between 2020 and 2035.
Combine those figures with the fact dementia levels are expected to double in Gloucestershire in the next 20 years and the complexity of setting a workable council budget should be plain for all to see – you have the same amount of money to spend and increasingly more people in need of help, but with only a very limited way of knowing exactly how many.
It's tantamount to trying to plan your weekly shop without knowing how many children you have.
Gloucestershire County Council is currently expecting to be just shy of £4million over budget at the end of 2013/14 – equivalent to less than one per cent of the authority's £431million budget.
The majority of that is down to a £7million projected overspend in adult services which has been partially balanced by finding savings elsewhere. And the council is expecting that to come down towards even. Credit where it is due: all things considered, that's pretty amazing.
HANDS up the politician who wants to be known as the man or woman responsible for Britain's lights going off.
George Osborne certainly doesn't and that's why a deal to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset has been agreed.
A great many people have bemoaned the fact that the UK is reliant on France to build the place with a little help from Chinese investment.
Others are angry that we are "going backwards" to nuclear power, rather than forward to sustainable energy production.
But the facts are simple: we need energy and we can't afford to build these places ourselves.
And if it's a choice of five new nuclear sites, as has been reported, or 30,000 onshore wind turbines, sign me up for the atom.