No, let's not expand the remit of the Low Pay Commission

Fundamental reform of the minimum wage is needed to keep the system that was introduced 15 years ago up to speed with the changing world of work, according to one of the policy’s key architects. Professor Sir George Bain helped formulate the scheme to tackle poor wages as founding chairman of the Low Pay Commission, the independent body which recommends pay levels to government. But he now wants the body to take on a wider remit, with greater powers. Prof Bain has worked with the Resolution Foundation think tank towards today’s(Thurs)) release of More Than A Minimum, a review of the minimum wage which recommends new ways to keep the commission relevant, now and into the future. Prof Bain said: “When I helped set the UK’s first minimum wage in 1999, it felt like an embattled experiment. Now the policy has the support of all parties and a powerful academic consensus shows it has raised wages without costing jobs.”

No, let's not do this. Quite apart from anything else that final sentence is blatantly wrong. The Low Pay Commission itself has pointed out that the level of the minimum wage of some years ago probably caused 30,000 job losses.

It simply isn't true that a minimum wage does not cause job losses: what matters is the rate of the wage and the significance of those losses. A minimum wage at £1 an hour would have no job losses because no one at all gets paid that rate. One at £15 an hour would have horrendous job losses. So no, I really don't think we want to have a quango cooked up and expanded by someone willing to deny the most basic point about the area under discussion.

But there's another much more important point here about bureaucracy. It's possible that the Low Pay Commission is indeed irrelevant. At which point we should abolish it of course, not attempt to expand its remit so as to give it something to do. And anyone looking at whether the LPC should expand, contract or continue should have had as part of their field of consideration the null hypothesis. Which isn't something that's going to come from the bloke whose baby it is.

This is all, I'm afraid, straight C. Northcoate Parkinson. We must constantly be on guard against bureaucracy being simply a bureaucracy: existing so as to gain budget and powers. And, I would very gently suggest, we should therefore assume at the beginning of all such evaluation exercises as this one, that the correct response is elimination. Only if extremely strong reasons for continued existence can be found should continuance be allowed. Sometimes this will be fairly easy: Royal Navy? Yup. At others times similarly so. Arts Council? Abolish, simples. But as I say, when the conclusion is that the remit should expand so as to make a bureaucracy more relevant then this is, of course, equivalent to stating that it currently has no relevance. Thus abolish.

If we're not brutal in this manner then we'll never get rid of any of them.