Ed says that he wants to end the “fast buck culture”. In Westminster some MPs make bucks faster than others, and recently things have become so bad that it has been necessary to make an example “pour encourager les autres”. Few seem to have made bucks faster than Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson in the last couple of years, and Ed might want to look a little more closely into that. In fact it is when people and organisations can combine guaranteed substantial income provided by the taxpayer while also having the freedom to pocket what they can from “enterprise”, mainly meaning contacts (and contracts) made as a function of public office, that bucks can be made superfast.
The British Council makes money in many ways. The first is by the priming provided by the taxpayer which ensures that it is there – about £600,000.00 per day. It makes money by not having to fund its employees’ pensions, as these are paid for by the taxpayer on the current account. It makes money from contracts which are not open to others such as the “Connecting Classrooms” programme which you will surely have seen advertised nightly on the BBC (who have no business to do any such thing), or the Military English programmes with the MoD, and others with the DFID – i.e. more taxpayers’ money. With security and unwarranted prosperity assured by the taxpayer they have a substantial, indeed bloated, platform to enter into competition with genuine enterprise at home and abroad. Then, in addition to their tax-privileged schools and other resources, they use their taxpayer funded network to win further contracts overseas for themselves which are simply not offered to genuine enterprise. And because that, plus tax breaks at home and abroad, is still not enough privilege for them, they also own a for-profit limited company which can sell access to Britain’s diplomatic network to international banks, airlines, oil companies and so on. And that company, BC Trading International Ltd, pays no tax because it “donates” all its profits to charity. The charity being, of course, the British Council. It sounds too good to be true, but that is what organised privilege is all about.
Ed says “you’ve been told that if companies are big enough and powerful enough they can get away with anything”. For companies read organisations. The devious British Council gets away with the absurd claim that it “builds trust”, while being at one and the same time an arm of government, a charity and a club with a license to charge for the facilities paid for by the taxpayer, and also having a mechanism which ensures that it can do things for money which are not consistent with its (Royal) charter. It deadens enterprise, increases public expenditure, reduces the tax take and encourages cronyism, cynicism, inefficiency and unwarranted privilege. It also does a crap job. I say to Ed: start there.