When spending one’s own money we are generally very careful, but few of us can maintain the same standards when spending the money of people we do not even know and who cannot know us.
No one paying for the Money Advice Service ever thought it was good value. I doubt even Otto Thoresen did and it was his report that was tweaked by a Labour Treasury to create the body in the first place.
Pioneers need to be brave and bold and must often waste money, and because it was yours and mine and not theirs or their friends. Those at the MAS were heroically bold and wasted more or less all the vast budgets they were accorded by the FCA from funds you and I paid for.
Those who created the MAS spent it all on action-free web pages, smart offices, great team-building and producing spurious web statistics to pretend success. And all those key commentators who had long called for the ending of advice ordinary people felt they could afford (but the cognoscenti felt was far too expensive) salved their conscience by referring those ordinary people to the dry, dull web pages that sadly ensured no one did very much of anything.
The Government has now sought to end the wastage, and thank goodness that it is the case. But there is a parallel here with current and ongoing wastes of money, and the amazing ability of those with huge budgets, but who cannot be held directly accountable, to waste taxpayers’ money, just like the FCA and Treasury have done with ours.
The hardest challenge left now in relation to the MAS is to find someone who might feel personally responsible for that wasted £400m that has been spent on it since its creation. Who was the mandarin or minister who enacted it all, and what misconduct rules will see them fined like the senior bankers have been?
There was a clear failure to spot or stop the rip-off while it was happening. For a time the politicians behind the MAS have seen their careers flourish, but yet they to continue to live in happy anonymity.
What is more, I am not sure the eminent investigative journalists who should be exposing and highlighting this shambles feel inclined to do so. Perhaps because they were all for seeing advisers’ money being spent on a grand experiment in competing with advisers.
I would love to see an expose of just how the decisions behind the MAS scenes were made that wasted £400m. Is anyone up for writing that book?
Tom Baigrie is chief executive of LifeSearch