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Keep the lights on, the budget needs it

Going green in a penny pinching world

Column Lights don't turn themselves on.

I hesitate to offer this bit of technological know-how to such an intelligent audience, but after last week, it has come to my attention that there may be people who don't realise this. And they may work in Accounts.

The trigger for the observation was a report on the TV news last week that the UK Government was falling behind its targets on carbon consumption (reduction in). To illustrate the point, the newscaster dug out a lot of Official Figures, which gave us percentages. And then - realising that only people in Accounts would understand those, the camera crew went out into Whitehall, to show us what it looked like in the real world. (OK, Whitehall is the centre of the Civil Service, but unreal though that world may be, it's still geographically non-virtual).

It was late at night, and the days are still short in Britain, and yet the images that flared onto the screen were brighter than day, because every light in every office in the background was switched on. Not a soul was in the building - not even the office cleaners who are so often quoted as the reason big companies put their lights on at night. And the newscaster represented this as carelessness.

It goes to show how little the BBC knows about Accounting. Anybody who has ever worked in a large commercial corporation will know at once what those lights are doing.

Clues for the rest of you: 1) It's March 2) It has been a very warm winter in the UK.

Got it? OK, here's another clue: 3) the financial year ends at the beginning of April.

In a warm winter, the amount you need to spend on heating office buildings is down - way down. People recently made some capital out of the fact that although the UK is culturally careless about switching off TVs and leaving them on standby, thus consuming unnecessary energy, the spend per household on energy in the UK was low. The inference drawn was that we "weren't that bad" in Britain. The real implication, of course, is that winter in Britain is a lot warmer than in Germany. And when it's warm, you spend less on heating the building.

So the nation's accountants are facing a real problem. They have budgets for heating. The winter of 2006-2007 will have seen a huge under-spend - as much as 15% - on the energy budgets. And that - as we all know and understand - means that unless urgent action is taken NOW, next year's budget will be reduced by 15%.

Why?

What a very ignorant question! That's how budgeting is done! You take last year's figure, and you set the budget for next year as being the same.

Why?

Because that's how it's done! Goodness gracious, what monumental innocence of the real world. You have to have a budget! How are you going to work out a budget if you don't base it on last year's budget?

I suppose you might argue that you could work out what you actually need to spend. And then you might work out what the costs of doing that are. And you might find ways of reducing the amount you spend on things that aren't needed.

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