The History of STAG

Peter Webb, Chairman and co-founder of the Surrey Tax Action Group, recounts the STAG story

Now re-written and seen as a personal journey, with no expectation of a literary prize

How It All Started 2

How It All Started

My Dad often advised me to “see the funny side” in life. This, coupled with a terror of acting on stage due to early school experiences, and of making a fuss, probably explains what I am. But I can’t abide nonsense if it isn’t funny. Mistakes that I made in a career lifetime latterly as an industrial financial director helped teach me that Government is broken, but the political class and mandarins can’t see it. Her Majesty can though.

My journey spans over 25 years with only the 'middle' period acting collectively in STAG committee.

Perhaps it was the experience of losing a planning application and appeal in the early 1990s that first fired my sensitivity to things governmental. The application was supported by my local councillor and had no vices. But it was voted down on political Party lines with accompanying ‘speeches’ of a disgraceful kind. One in particular inflamed my poor ability to suffer fools.

Emerging from career, parenthood and so on and looking around one became more aware of this institution called government with its ‘silo’ bureaux and behaviour called politics supposedly for running the country. It didn’t seem right at all. Unless one had been personally involved in contract negotiation with a Government Department there was only sometimes a doorstep visit around election time to make one feel in any way connected or consulted as a stakeholder.

Then my expectations were temporarily lifted up by the first (and last) Government Annual Report 1999-00, well presented with a cover price of £2.99 and fronted by a picture of a woman police constable. The narrative and numbers with adornments and explanations were informative, giving intention, spending and financial health facts. This document would have matured admirably when that of the following year showed degrees of achievement and updated intentions. But its publication seemed to outrage 'Sir Humphrey' who ordered its suppression. 'We can't have democracy here and expose ourselves to examination' he seemed to say.

Pundits and commentators were saying what I felt about such as bureaucracy. Quotes from newspapers by politicians and others could have been dated at any time. Nothing had changed except perhaps for the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act.

Having perhaps a dormant urge to write if not to speak in public I felt the urge to be ‘disgusted of Guildford’. That’s where I first met the late Steve Bowers, in the readers’ letters columns of the Surrey Advertiser.

That led to the urge to engage with my then MP David, now Lord Howell. I recall in 1994 getting a letter complaining about bureaucracy as far as PM John Major’s office (but no further) via Lord Howell which ended with the suggestion that Whitehall civil servants be rendered idle by set-aside as in farming.

My personal professional financial forensic streak and industrial background of systems and methods took me into the reform scene. I instinctively saw the most wasteful drain of taxpayers’ money in sloth and outdated attitudes stagnant in political theory and 'state religion'. Operations and managerial decision-making, method and machinery were beneath the dignity of politicians and consequently the senior Civil Service. The Local Government Committee 6th Report of 2002 gave all the learned arguments and opinions but no conclusion.

For local government, from the Layfield enquiry in 1976 up to the present day nothing much has been achieved. Layfield it was who opined that to increase voter turnout accountability meant feeling the pain of paying (tax). That in turn led to the perpetual tension in political minds between the need to raise revenue from, say, income tax and property tax, and the desire to make local tax feel like a price, a hybrid, and nonsensically so given mixed revenue sources and decision levels. Our local government became the natural field of play with the national picture yet to clear.

First Steps

In 1999 we moved house from Shalford in the Guildford constituency downsizing to Farncombe in the South West Surrey Constituency. Correspondence with my new MP Rt Hon Virginia Bottomley produced agreement (but no action) except possibly for sterile explanations from other Ministers.

In September 2000 a Green Paper ‘Modernising Local Government Finance’ was published. In his foreword the Deputy PM said: “Our local government finance system is complex. Few people make the effort to understand it. Fewer still succeed. In considering how to reform it we need advice including the views of those who use and pay”. Embodied proposals referred to grants, borrowing, council tax and business rates. The next stage after consultation was to be a White Paper.

On 13th November a submission (/STAG/DETRConsult2) was sent, copied to Virginia Bottomley, Christine Pointer Chief Executive of Waverley Borough Council, Nick Skellett Leader Surrey County Council, and others, under headings and concluding with Thomas Jefferson’s in bold “I know no safe depository of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

The White Paper was published on 11th December 2001, by the Office of the Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott as ‘Strong Local Leadership Quality Public Services’. Its only achieved purpose was to provide for ministerial subjectivity in grant redistribution. Clearly that principle had been introduced into grant formula calculation which led to the outrage that followed the 2003-04 council tax increases and triggered the birth of STAG, along with other protest groups.

Minister Nick Raynsford’s Balance of Funding review followed in January 2003 which as its name implies was to consider whether the ‘balance’ between central government grants (c75%) and council tax (varying from 40% to 15% but averaging 25 %), was right. Business rates are linked to the inflation index and are given to central government to re-distribute. I made brief direct contact with members of the Group and got a response of sorts from members Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a Group Director of Tesco, and Steve Freer, Chief Executive of CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting). Professor Elizabeth Meehan, Director of the Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research, Queen’s University, Belfast, said that she would circulate a copy to all members. Others were addressed. A copy of my submission to Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin who said (January 2004) “I have noted your comments and will certainly feed them into future discussions.”

Quite why I’m not sure but on 9th March 2003 I was one of several invitees to a Westminster City Council trumpet blowing session for them to show off their efficiency in charging very low council tax compared to other Authorities, Data was provided. I didn’t fully understand the issues then and lack of confidence led to being accused of ranting at one point. It later became clear that the real reason for the disparity was the unique structure whereby there was a lot of housing which with other income needed only for 7% of income to come from council tax. It was on that occasion when I first met Emeritus Professor of Government the late George Jones with whom, thanks to the good offices of STAG supporter Gerald Gilbert, I was later to correspond on high theory. His LSE colleague, Tony Travers who was with him, was at that time often the expert spokesman quizzed by the media.

Westminster City Council had presumably been encouraged to act 'look how clever are we for such comparatively low council tax'. I was invited to be a witness at a question-and-answer session on 9th March. Others were Sarah Wood (LGA), Rita Hale (Consultant), Ian McLean (Oxford Uni), Cllr Kit Malthouse (WCC), Tony Travers (LSE). I don't remember my contribution, was accused at one point of ranting, but I have a letter of thanks. There was at the time an Audit Commission reference to a flawed system (of distribution but not apparently council tax). This was picked up by Sir Paul Beresford MP Mole Valley, on the local government Select Committee. (I was introduced to him over a pint at a Merrow pub. I accidentally knocked his pint over him). I see I also wrote to the Shadow Minister on Local government finance on 16th March 2004, one David Cameron! The Review continued into 2004 but I recall no conclusion that made any difference except to await the Lyons Inquiry.

Culmination was in House of Commons ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVENUE Ninth Report of Session 2003-04 Volume 1: Report the 12th July 2004. My written evidence was hinted at having been given in full in Written Evidence of 22nd April 2004. I was invited by Christine Melsom to the ‘Bennett Committee’ Meeting on 5th May 2004.

The Local Government Committee 6th Report 2002 discussed the history going back to Rates increase protests and the desire to get increased local election turnouts. The 'Layfield Hypothesis' of 1976 argued that for accountability local revenue raising needed to increase. Politicians can’t get away from the need to tax without FORMAL accountability

But my submission as above still stands and has not been understood or acted on. Loads of time and effort spent going round and round over decades keeps missing the point. See also my latest IFS quote.

The Birth of STAG

THE SURREY TAX ACTION GROUP (STAG), was born early in 2003 when local council tax increased by 19%. It was at art class that Peter Jelffs, waving his demand angrily, said to me “have you seen this?” I had but only to the point of being fearful for my bank balance. We agreed that ‘something must be done’, but, in Cpl Jones Mode, what?

We were at this time in close liaison with Christine Melsom’s Isitfair campaign in Hampshire. Independently I submitted on 15th September 2003 (STAG/BoFsubmit). I appeared with Isitfair before the ‘Bennett’ (Local Government Select Committee).

We, as STAG, believed that council tax was a local issue and councillors must be strongly asked to explain. It constituted a cruel attack on the sometimes asset rich but, certainly in the case of pensioners, cash poor.

A letter of the week in the local paper brought support and local village meetings were held. High Street protesting and recruiting took place. At the peak we listed 400 supporters in South West Surrey, on a new-fangled spreadsheet. A Committee was formed and bank account opened. The Internet produced contact with others outside Surrey. We discovered that we were not alone. Christine Melsom of Isitfair was out there and would soon lead us into Trafalgar Square making a fighting speech. The people including Matthew Elliott, who became the TaxPayers’ Alliance, were there too. Matthew, joint founder of the TPA went on to become Chief Executive of the Business for Britain European referendum campaign in 2014 saying publicly such as “Sir Humphrey dusts off his plot for EU rule”. He (see portrait below) was later associated in that with Dominic Cummings successful organiser and now until recently PM Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff.

Local recruitment and thought focussed on the council tax invoice. On 28th March a Letter of the Week was published in the Surrey Advertiser: ‘Tax Rise is a Challenge We Cannot Ignore’ and included: “Government in Surrey costs well in excess of 1bn. To pay for this our council tax, to be increased by 20%, is collected by our local councils who take about 25%. This has added to it around twice as much again from our VAT, Income Tax and so on, and business rates, which is ‘granted’ back by central government”. Surrey County Council emerged as the Big Spender.

We raised all and any issues in the local press or in letters and emails to councillors. At the outset I met at length with certain local government people to hear their point of view and advice. One such was then County Councillor Chris Slyfield (long concerned about the pensions time-bomb) who became one of us. One result was encouragement to attend County local meetings in the Boroughs. The first half hour being open to questions without notice in front of the press.

It wasn’t long before brains kicked in and we realised that the whole local funding system is flawed. Council tax is effectively a centrally controlled property-based wealth tax. Councillors could and did deny responsibility, which sounded like ‘nothing to do with me, guv’’.

While on holiday in Cornwall in October 2004 I was interviewed and photographed for an appearance in the Daily Mail. I was also interviewed with TV camera at home for local news. It was around this time Peter Jelffs, the original prime mover, left the Committee believing that we ought to be just a pensioners’ group.

But we did gain recognition from the big-spender, On 13th January 2005 a group of us met SCC Executive at County Hall. Annual invitations for budget consultation in January followed until we saw no further point in 2010.

We had sport when they found themselves £50m short. Councillors were invited before a local “Select Committee” to suggest savings. Those devoid of ideas coalesced round stopping free biscuits with coffee at meetings. Wow!

The Lyons Inquiry

This was set up by the Chancellor and Deputy PM in July 2004 “at a time of considerable public and political interest in and concern about the funding of local government and council tax in particular”. Initial terms of reference were to make recommendations on the reform of council tax, to consider the case for shifting the balance of funding, and to conduct analysis of other options for local taxation, including income tax, non-domestic (business) rates and other local taxes and charges.

He, Sir Michael Lyons, said that he followed in the footsteps of Sir Frank Layfield (1976) which gives an idea of urgency and progress! He considered “place shaping” – what is local government for in 21st century? He concluded that council tax is “not broken” and many other things but on the settlement between central and local government he said only that “reforms are needed…”!

I had unaccountably been invited for a one-to-one meeting with Sir Michael and his Assistant in Guildford where I was able to hand over a statement of case. This anticipated the deployment of modern budgetary and accounting methods, and money and data moving ‘machinery’. I obviously gained respect because invited by his Office after his report to ‘plant’ a question with a broadcaster for his interview.

Surrey County Council

The over-riding impression resulting from that period was one of lack of engagement by individual politicians and councillors…. “it’s the Labour government’s fault” attitude. There were very faint signs though that ‘consultation’ was to be the new democracy. But council leadership were as ‘green’ as were we the ‘new kids on the block’. Consultation and question answering did not and does not extend to engagement leading to decisions even if we had been given access to budget books and financial plans. There was continuous delay and unresponsiveness in dealings with leadership probably due to the backwardness of the culture. Around May 2008 Leader Nick Skellett delegated Cllr Gosling to attend to us. He and his Chief Executive Dr Richard Shaw departed in December 2008

The ‘tax and spend’ atmosphere and tax policy, even if mitigated in part by capping, generated further council tax increases which fed further efforts to attack SCC. Topics and their character had been:

  • The biscuits episode epitomised councillors’ attitude to ‘savings’ at one time sought of £50m. They were like naughty schoolkids individually devoid of ideas whispering together and agreeing on what to say to teacher.

  • A SCC initiative for public access in Libraries to county councillors under the banner of “council tax unravelled” could not clarify a crazy system.

  • An unchallenged exercise suggested that over 10 years CT and total spending had doubled while the council remained broadly unchanged as an entity. £325m had been added to structural cost outcomes due to activity inflation, Parkinson’s Law, proliferation of senior people on high salaries generating their own infrastructure and doing politically correct and other non-productive and self-indulgent things. All this was overlaid by councillors and their support staff having wall to wall committee meetings. There was non-productive and self-indulgent activity, eg equality and diversity and risk register ritualisation, contagious and rising senior pay levels

  • Early complaints about the state of Surrey Roads, and refunds by the contractors led to initiatives with Civil Engineer Turlough Bamber. He concluded poor foremanship. The ‘strange’ contract all seemed to point to poor management by SCC which seemed to strain relations with the two main contractors. These contractors were attacked for overcharging and later making refunds. From my experience elsewhere I detected that they had been engaging in ‘protective pricing’. There was also evidence that the District Auditor was ‘on the case’.

  • John Glanfield, was guided in STAG’s direction by his MP Anne Milton. She had unaccountably sought me out at an earlier point before election as Guildford’s MP. He, an intrepid roads campaigner, and with Gerald Gilbert alongside, came into our orbit and succeeded in working with the press, and members of staff. He was able to analyse and report on the failures and sit in on current SCC efforts to improve.

  • I have a “Conformed Copy” of SYCC Transportation Service - Highway Services and Works Partnering Contracts 2003 with Ringway Highway Services Ltd and Carillion Highway Maintenance Ltd. In the term Partnering Agreement there are 8 pages of definitions, 45 pages plus 12 appendices. There is also a Strategic Alliancing Agreement with 14 chapters and 3 schedules. I remember being responsible for a contract with the Dept Health for national provision of lower limb prosthetic services in hospitals covering I think a two-page letter and price schedule. I still have John’s file showing his skilful efforts and much in-depth evidence of the shambles which was the Council’s hardly surprising incompetence in managing these contracts

  • Schools funding changed to a direct ring-fenced basis which for a time caused SCC to exclude this activity from financial statements. But I argued that such funding is income under management until such time as schools may be floated off. SCC then applied to the new government to enable all schools to become independent academies.

  • A growing sense of poor management was confirmed in the devastating July 2009 Report (link) by Interim Chief Executive Michael Frater CBE appointed in January.

  • In the Spring Peter Rauch recorded his analysis of a ‘constitutional’ weakness. This was built into a letter to all Surrey MPs and Eric Pickles MP when Conservative Party Chairman, without result. Surrey CC had been Conservative controlled over that period and developed a reputation for mis-governance, as evidenced and supported by the Frater Report. The new team of councillors, while protesting good intentions, did not convince us that they fully understood how old ‘political management’ behaviours had failed nor the curative way forward to fix the problems at their level. All this, under the guise, mantle and franchise of the Conservative Party and its various political manifestos and financial supporters over time. Surrey MPs appear individually and collectively to stay behind a ‘chinese wall’. Whereas we can and do have their support in, for example, cases of threatened hospital closure, we cannot look to them for the same support in the case of the actions or inactions of the County and Borough councils.

  • A year-old attempt by John Bosten to get £200m refunded from surplus invested cash was brought to a head in March 2010 by consideration of a joint paper to the Audit & Governance Committee. John had spotted ‘profit-pricing’ when fixing council tax by provisioning for possible future payments to third parties. This was unsuccessful but revealing of councillor technical and appreciation inadequacy.

  • Long campaigning for proper and timely reporting, supported by the Audit Commission, caused SCC on 3rd November 2009 to issue a press release including a quote from me, acknowledging their decision to do a ‘Chairman’s Annual Report’ in future. This materialised in June 2010 and was welcomed but did not narrate activity or deal with the financial performance and state of affairs. This and other governance and value for money points were made to the District Auditor. While the audited accounts have yet to emerge into the daylight the leader’s unwillingness to engage currently and the general character of his sayings prompted aggressive reaction

  • The time has surely come for SCC to deliver some joined-up thinking and action to replace aspirations that would be of dubious value in the most hypothetical mission statement.” Peter Ruck 24th September 2010.

  • Suffolk CC plan to save £300m by outsourcing all services. Nicholas Ridley once said councils should have just one annual meeting “to award all the council service contracts to private firms”.

  • The (Local Government) Select Committee’s consideration in 2006-07 included my submitted evidence (ev111) could have led to the conclusion that a return to the drawing board was necessary for local funding method. This was ignored by government.

  • Just prior to the availability of the 2009-10 draft Annual Accounts it emerged that the LGPS and firemen’s pension schemes, but excluding the teachers’, were going to show a deficit of £1.239bn. This was publicly reported and attacked by us with its implications for solvency and inter-generational ‘hits’ down the line.

Pause for Review

On file are all the considerable exchanges with MPs, LGA top people and BoF review members etc. up to the end of the Lyons Inquiry and Report around 2006/07 when my attempts to influence the direction of reform and its system aspects came to nothing. However, the file shows many reactions to my efforts – but no serious attention or action. After that the only serious attempt was the critique of the Conservative Party Control Shift document which was ignored. Hoped for support from the TaxPayers Alliance was not forthcoming.

Whither STAG?

It has been my observation that campaigning is as much a function of the particular passions and interests of those fired-up as it is of subjects for protest, and methods. Undoubtedly my doings are personally driven. A disadvantage of this is that widespread dissatisfaction is dissipated across the board.

A stalwart band of brothers and sisters were there at the outset such as David Shelton and Adrian Clarke. Since then, some have moved away and some have come in at local MP or TPA suggestion. Ernie Hughes was instrumental in guiding us in a co-operative line with the County Council and trying to get them to help us say things up the line that they cannot. John Kettle had to leave us, but majored on the ‘numbers’ attack on the County finances. Barry Smith and Angela Mayer were also great people to have in the team for their support and contribution. Others not on the Committee gave welcome feedback and support. Gillian Young from Cranleigh came and spoke feelingly at a meeting with Minister Woolas in 2005 with our two MPs and myself.

We added online TPA supporters (totalling 80) in Surrey and good input and own-initiative activists, Peter Rauch of Wonersh, John Bosten of Hinchley Wood in Elmbridge, Gerald Gilbert of Walton Bridge to name but three. Others, often ‘old staggers’ also provide valuable contact, input and shared experiences: Peter Ruck near Dorking in Mole Valley, Kevin Court in Effingham, Edward Huxley and Terry Lyden from the Chertsey Staines Area, Vic Wroth, John Selves, Tim Craig, John Gaff, Gordon Wratten, Neville Shearman and Clive Alabaster. New active incomers were Philip V Hacket MSTA Cfte, Richard Tebboth and Ron Whitehand

At a Committee meeting on the 20th April 2005 were present PGW (Chair), Steve Bowers, Ernie Hughes, Turlough Bamber, Adrian Clarke, Angela Meyer and David Shelton with apologies from John Kettle, and Ian Rogers who was soon to leave having unsuccessfully tested my willingness to go to prison if necessary. Invited to that meeting for part of the time was Matthew Elliott, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Co-operation was agreed upon.

At its 29th Committee meeting on 20th September 2007 Barry Smith was also present. PW had previously circulated “Whither STAG?” questions and reported on the approach by TPA to go for a local branch. He felt that STAG had gone as far as it could without trying to be a nascent political party while TPA had a broader remit which still included council tax. The impact of Council tax increases in 2003/04 had fallen away.

South-West Surrey TPA

The STAG logo was to remain with its supporter list to maintain the local interface while we became the SW Surrey TPA and invited supporters to join TPA.

We became the short-lived Surrey TPA in October 2007. Outspoken ideas embarrassed their need to gain Party political trust. Schism also took place when it became apparent that TPA was not able to accept principles of accountability nor see from experience the practical meaning of Better Government. STAG left the TPA though good personal relations were maintained subject to occasionally provocative messages and technical challenges. I had on an impulse offered to paint Matthew Elliott’s portrait in oils. In due course he came to my home to be presented with the result.

At this point, being of an age, I was minded to ‘retire’, but during a lull and review in 2010 I was encouraged to revitalise and renew STAG activities. We felt we had to confront Surrey CC to get more results, and question relationships in the political dimension, and feel free to propose solutions.

As SW Surrey TPA we were called upon for a campaign diary. A separate file contains these from November 2007 to 7th May 2010. Issues ranged over highways, surplus invested cash, Audit Commission confirmation that local bodies are confirmed as having to account to us for their stewardship of public money, the Frater Report, meetings with SCC Executive. Surrey Ad readers’ letters, pensions time-bomb, various meetings. If answering letters from ministers are prepared by treasury officials, they clearly reflect poor treasury competence. Philip Johnston in Daily Telegraph March 2008: “the whole edifice of public service delivery is rotten from top to bottom”

The A-Team

With the strong encouragement of certain supporters, STAG set off anew late in 2010. I as chairman was joined by Peter Ruck (Communications Consultant, Dorking), John Glanfield (retired Managing director and military historian, Guildford), Robin Whitehand (Retired systems consultant, Woking), Chris Slyfield (retired businessman and county councillor, Godalming), Peter Rauch (retired Chartered Accountant and company chairman, Guildford) in an ‘A’ team. It was strongly felt, and strongly advised by Peter Ruck, that we needed a website. My Son Graham created what has been a brilliant site on a Google platform at

The main thrust of activity was to attempt to get into dialogue with surrey CC with a view to substantive results. This eventually fell down when the post-Frater Leader Dr Povey was unable to satisfy us, and yet could not let us into closer contact with officers on matters of operational and financial practice. Dr Povey was replaced ahead of his term by David Hodge. Mentored by Anne Milton MP but after much delay we put an agenda for a meeting which took place on 31st October 2010. Minutes were agreed but the follow-up has run into the ground.

Sadly, during this period the ‘A’ team members left the team one after the other but not the supporters list. John Glanfield who, as may be seen on this website, remained, specialising in highways matters for a while with the late Gerald Gilbert alongside. Reasons for leaving: unspoken but seeming largely due to the difficulty of combining the styles and beliefs of strong-minded men coupled with frustration at lack of penetration and results from our position outside the party-political sphere. John’s continued interest and loyalty as a friend has been a great pleasure and support. The late Peter Rauch wanted leadership (from me). He has since died.

Having an interest in the subject and ever-growing conviction I continued, concentrating mainly on governance, method and accountability. Particular aspects of the issues seem to be being quietly acted upon but without fulfilment. The potentially ‘tectonic’ installation of Civil Service CEO John Manzoni formerly of BP, has not lasted beyond 2019. And the appointment of fully qualified Director General of Spending Julian Kelly morphing to CFO, came to an end when he was suspiciously moved aside by Chancellor Philip Hammond. Ministers have been addressed where possible with forwarding but no engagement support from MP Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt.

I have been free to speak to SCC whether they like it or not, and revert to ‘big picture’ matters of serious domestic government weakness. There has been dialogue with eminent senior people with an academic or government background. It becomes ever more obvious that the weakness of government can be attributed to the lack of a peacetime objective, a Mandarin Civil Service being 50 years behind the times, and the disastrous national financial crisis due in part to a poor political attitude towards good management and financial practice. The Treasury is backward in its accounting, machinery and methods. In 2013 I wrote, by the hand of my MP, to the First Lord of the Treasury “Who will mend UK Government?” but it was intercepted.

The Home Straight?

In early 2015 I was actively encouraged by an officer to submit to the House Select Committee inquiring into Voter Engagement which I did. The committee ceased in 2015

Acting alone but with a loyal list of supporters who receive a STAG UPDATE I have steadily increased my ‘appreciation’ of governance issues and conviction that government is unfit for purpose operationally. There is no shortage of people agreeing that government is behind the times without a financial system as normally understood. It is badly motivated by an assumption of perpetual and easy borrowing including for current activity, and has not engaged with the people who have much to contribute. In sum the institution of government is financially, and managerially, illiterate. Government improvement needs a modern Ministry of Finance, and proper financial reporting.

It is amusing to be able to judge from training and experience as an accountant that treasury accounting is 500 years out of date. It was in 1492 that Luca Pacioli invented what is now the human evolutionary milestone which is at the heart of all financial systems. Double Entry bookkeeping. It is also an interesting fact that he was a great friend both of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli.

Throughout this latter period STAG UPDATES have gone:

To all STAG supporters and correspondents, selected pundits, Surrey Advertiser News Editor, TPA (TaxPayers Alliance), ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants), CIPFA (President, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), Surrey County councillors, local MPs, C&AG NAO (Comptroller & Auditor General – Simon Helps (National Audit Office Director), PAC (Clerk to Public Accounts Committee), PACAC (Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee), (Treasury Committee Clerk), Rt Hon Sajid Dravid MP, Second Treasury Lord and Chancellor of the Exchequer (, (Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council.

The campaign has matured into reference to SCC and national governance, poor treasury accounting, and constitutional weakness. The latest UPDATE reference to SCC is as follows:

Upcoming council tax: “Surrey CC had not so far produced any answer to a STAG question on 1st September 2019 on progress being made on a post-consultation review of objectives, managerial additions, property occupations, and Brexit preparations. This eventually ended up on the desk of Michael Stringer, new Head of the newly created External Communications Department. He could only say that budget development is under way. However, I took the opportunity to make him fully aware of the task facing him and current out of date ‘cultural’ communication deficit. I indicated the lack of formal accountability, while quoting the exemplary Annual Report (narrative, numbers and pictures), which is addressed to resident taxpayers, yet only tends to reach a locked filing cabinet in the local library.”


Union sentiments and practicalities aside England would be financially better off without Scotland. This fact, broadcast by STAG, has like most others been ignored even if realised. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is behaving exactly like a Group subsidiary company leader with ‘chip on shoulder’ behaviour. The 2016-17 balance sheet was in the red by £31billion. Is this repayable? What about the currency if independent? PM Boris Johnson calls the Scottish Government “incompetent, dissolute and reckless”.

National Governance

In late 2019 it was noticed that there was a new Comptroller & Auditor General, Gareth Davies, to replace the retiring Sir Amyas Morse. Contact had been established with Elaine Lewis, NAO Director (Treasury). I was encouraged to submit for a strategic review by the NAO. I had experienced a growing belief that the role of Comptroller was sterile due to political resistance. My submission was accepted as input for the Review due for completion in early 2020. It follows below.

My contact with the NAO had begun in 2008. It was then that Matthew Elliot had signed a pan-European letter of protest at European failed audits of their Accounts. Being unsure of the UK position I asked the then Comptroller & Auditor General. He assured me that WGA (Whole Government Accounts) would be produced from 2009-10 followed by Whole Government Budget in 2010-11. The latter never happened.

At the same time there had been a long period of political turmoil over leaving the European Union. The General Election in December 2019 giving a Conservative majority of 80 under PM Boris Johnson’s leadership cleared the air. Also, Boris’s Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, was said to have deep reservations about Civil Service performance. It seemed to me that my NAO submission was relevant ‘food’ for Dominic. My MP agreed and in January he sent this and associated evidence for the personal attention of the PM.

At the same time an UPDATE contained this:

Its political!

It is time to lay to rest a screaming and dangerous myth. How many of us, the NAO included, have been barred from “political” issues? Up until Christmas I have even been unsure what ‘liberal’ means. Thanks to my Son’s Christmas present (The Lost History of Liberalism, from Ancient Rome to the 21st century, by Helena Rosenblatt), the scales have fallen from my eyes. Insights now abound. The high priests of the state religions of political philosophies still act as if accountable only to God or the Establishment. Formal accounting does not reach the ballot box.”

So, stepping outside, we may now consider actual government performance. This closer examination has confirmed how disgracefully bad things are. To take one example. There is actually no known reason why there isn’t by routine a formal annual accounting. Our Treasury people don’t even know how to do it. (See STAG UPDATES). But now in the last few days I have by comparison been google alerted to news that the Tanzania government has just launched the “Government Accounting Consolidation System (GACS) billed as the next major step to raise accountability and efficiency in the use of public resources. It will enable real-time access to consolidated accounting across central and local government as well as public corporations or agencies….” (Looks like progress up from spreadsheets). Our 8000 entities only now being brought in present practical difficulty, but wouldn’t, given an Organogram and Plan of Accounts. (Is Scotland ONE entity or 329?) We have already seen the haphazardly disorganised arrangements downwards from the Head of State.

No Ending

UK government is unable to see itself and repair its systems. The word ‘political’ is not defined or understood, unless it means everything governmental. The title of Comptroller is not constitutionally recognised. His forward stance is not performed according to its conventional usage. Similarly Helen Jackson, Audit Manager at the NAO, has just publicly used the term treasury inability. Sir Tom Scholar, Treasury Permanent Secretary, has been re-appointed for 5 years (Daily Telegraph 7/1/21). I end feeling no respect for our government which seems soulless, inhumane, brutish and stupid.