David Cameron’s speech today contains two pledges on public expenditure which are likely to meet with widespread approval across the political spectrum.
Abolishing the Standards Board for England and cutting back on the Electoral Commission are policies by no means unique to Cameron – indeed the Liberal Democrats have made much of the running on the Standards Board for England question – but his clear statements are significant for the future of both:
We have also said we will scrap the Standards Board for England.
This is the body that judges the performance of Councils and Councillors.
That’s what the voter is supposed to do.
By abolishing the Standards Board, we will save £9.5 million.
But today, I can announce how we can go further.
Thirty years ago British elections were overseen by a handful of people in the Home Office.
In those days most people voted and no-one cheated.
Today, the same responsibility lies with the Electoral Commission, which employs 156 people full-time.
Since 2001 its annual budget has more than trebled from £7.6 million to £24 million…
…but we’ve never had lower turnout and we’ve never had more corruption.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
India’s Election Commission oversees state elections of areas the size of European countries every year, and a General Election of over one billion people every five years.
One tenth that of Britain’s Electoral Commission.
And its number of full time staff?
Twice as many people to oversee sixteen times as many voters.
The Indian Commission is more efficient because it sticks to the job it is meant to do.
We must demand the same of our Electoral Commission.
As I have said, all quangos in Britain must justify their existence by passing one of three tests.
With a Conservative Government, the Electoral Commission will continue to exist because it provides a vital independent and impartial oversight of our democratic process.
But it is clear that over the past few years the Electoral Commission has overreached this role with advertising campaigns and wasteful marketing initiatives.
So as part of our quango review, we will identify all the unnecessary functions it has assumed and see what savings we can make for the taxpayer.
The point about the budget of the Electoral Commission is well made. In the past I’ve often highlighted how the Electoral Commission spends more each year than the total expenditure by the Liberal Democrats on the four general elections since merger. Some areas of the Commission are valuable, some are even under-resourced – but there has also grown up a large bureaucracy around gathering in paperwork with which very little, if anything, is then done.