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No accounting for waste

Available on Amazon, Margaret Hodge’s study of government incompetence and corporate tax avoidance is engrossing if ultimately disappointing

05 May, 2017 — By Chris Roche

Who’s holding the purse strings?: Dame Margaret Hodge

MARGARET Hodge will be known, to the more mature readers of this paper as the former leader of the much-maligned so-called “loony left” Islington Council from 1982 to 1992, who went on to became a Labour MP for Barking in 1994.

In 2010, Dame Margaret Hodge OBE was elected to chair the powerful Public Accounts Committee and it is in this role that she writes what might arguably be better titled “Named and Shamed: How Corporate Corruption and Government Incompetence Combine to Cost us Billions.”

Much to my surprise, I found myself very quickly engrossed in this explosive account of the sordid underbelly of unfettered corporate capitalism, together with a no-holds-barred critique of systemic failures within the leadership of the civil service.

Ironically the book is a catalogue of unaccountability, rather than a record of success in dealing with moral, ethical, and political failings of which tax evasion and avoidance is scrutinised most closely.

All the major players are exposed, including Google, Starbucks and Amazon. Cynical, unrepentant and beyond accountability.

The systemic failings of governance at the BBC arguably make the most depressing revelations, with millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money going in severance pay to incompetent managers as “sweeteners” for failing to do their jobs properly, particularly following the revelations about Jimmy Savile, while he was a BBC icon and serial paedophile. Again, beyond accountability, due to the perceived infallibility of celebrity status.

Millions more of taxpayers’ money is recorded as having been squandered on disastrous contracts with service providers such as G4S and Serco.

This is a book that will enlighten you and enrage you in equal measure, but ultimately disappoints.

It should be a rallying call for changes to the civil service, parliamentary governance and corporate accountability, but fails to address the need for public as well as government accountability.

We have it within our power to boycott the Starbucks of this world and hold corporations to the fire for their actions. If we choose not to then we are complicit in the insidious corrupting influence of power, be it economic or political.

On finishing the book I am full of admiration for Hodge for being bold and courageous in calling big business to account, yet can’t help feeling her actions are as ineffective as the civil servants she criticises. Or to put it more bluntly, as effective as pissing down the back of the Bullingdon Club membership while they’re dressed in their Teflon-coated onesies.

Called to Account: How Corporate Bad Behaviour and Government Waste Combine to Cost us Millions. By Dame Margaret Hodge, Little Brown, £18.99
Chris Roche is an award-winning north London architect

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