Of course a food bank like First Base is as good a place as any to get an up close and personal look at the damage rampant austerity causes. Obviously. I have penned umpteen blogs over the last few years painting pictures of lives wrecked for the sake of saving a lousy few quid. However a working in a food bank also paints another equally compelling picture - the abject idiocy of those given the job of spending the public pound. And I never cease to be amazed by just how much of a pass we always seem to give these guys as they waste our money on an industrial scale.
In all the recent rampant furore surrounding the Windrush scandal and Amber Rudd's resignation, we saw a classic case of this. Rudd told a Select Committee there were no Home Office targets to deport people. Then a pissed off Home Office lackey started leaking enough killer facts to make her fall on her sword. Most damning was a letter she sent to Theresa May boasting of how an additional £10 million spent would up the annual deportation figures by 10%. Ah-ha! Gotcha! To get a 10% increase means you have to have a target in the first place. Bang to rights and off she popped to the back benches.
And of course nobody did the maths. Before the £10 million cash injection, the Home Office was turfing out 10,800 undocumented immigrants a year. The extra cash would up the game to the tune of 10%. Yeah? As in an extra 1080 deportations per annum. So lets do the maths.
£10,000,000 divided by 1080 is.......
Turfing these people out at a cost of nearly ten grand each was deemed to be something to crow about. Well obviously it was, because God forbid if they were allowed to stay they would get jobs and pay taxes and.....
Is this a good way for the public sector to spend your taxes? Well I guess the answer to that depends on how much you hate immigrants. Nigel Farage would no doubt see it as cheap at half the price. Me? Not so much.
Time to cut to the chase. Time for an example of wasted public money which borders on the truly epic.
It's time to tell the story of Danny. Who isn't really called Danny by the way.
On the cover of his autobiography, the strapline under the title might run something along the lines of 'A modern day tale of woe'. Or 'How laying some laminate flooring can come back to haunt you.'
For fifty something years Danny's story was nothing to write home about. It was the story of a regular guy who got born, went to school, worked away and generally lived a regulation life.
And then he lost his job, and didn't walk straight into another job. At fifty something, it was his first taste of being on the brew. It didn't go so well. Within a matter of weeks he was sanctioned for being ten minutes late for an appointment and a piece of paper brought him into First Base for his first food parcel. He was philosophical about things. He always is to be fair. He served out his one month sanction and I kind of figured we wouldn't see him again.
How wrong I was.
Within a couple of weeks he was back with us on a three month sanction and he has now been sanctioned on a more or less permanent basis for the last five years.
Not surprisingly things have slipped. At times he allows some bitterness to float to the surface. But not often. He has a remarkable ability to take things in his stride. I could rattle on for paragraph after paragraph about the various disasters he has had to roll with. Instead I'll borrow a line from Shakespeare. Let's just say he's 'suffered the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune'.
A few years ago in the days when Danny had a place of his own and a job and a normal life, he shelled out to lay a laminate floor in the kitchen. Is it humanly possible to get more normal than that? Probably not. Well, he was turfed out of his place during one of his many sanctions and his Registered Social Landlord pulled up the laminate floor to return the flat to its original condition.
And they duly sent Danny a bill for £1000 for doing so.
Of course £1000 might as well be £1 million to a guy living off food parcels. But what the hell. However, the unpaid bill triggered a bunch of new consequences which ended up with Danny sleeping out on the streets. Like the strapline said, beware of the laminate flooring....
And here is where we arrive at the point where Danny and I might have something of a falling out. One dreak winter's morning he was cold and hungry and as per usual he didn't have a penny to his name. Now he could have waited until noon and come into First Base for some grub.
But Danny didn't wait. Instead he embarked on a catastrophic attempt at shoplifting and completely blew it. Bang to rights. Caught red handed. Fair cop, Gov.
A truly heinous crime. Oh those famous train robbers suddenly had some serious completion because Danny was caught in the act of stealing a pack of sliced cheese priced at 99p.
I mean, come on Danny. A 99p pack of cheese. How do you think it makes First Base look? We can't be much of a food bank when our guys resort to half inching budget dairy products.
Anyway. The cops came and cuffed him and read him his rights. They processed him and he politely let them know he was absolutely 100% guilty as charged.
Which they duly noted in their copious paperwork.
Weeks passed and Danny was awarded his day in court and a duty lawyer who he duly told of his plan to plead 100% guilty.
The Sheriff took Danny's guilt on board and accepted a pal's address for bail. Another hearing would be scheduled once background reports had been assembled.
Weeks drifted by and eventually a letter arrived at the pal's house Danny had used for his bail address. Unfortunately the pal wasn't much of a secretary and failed to pass the letter on to Danny.
Which meant he missed the hearing.
Shock, horror! The man who had stolen a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese was in breach of his bail conditions and on the loose! No wonder the cops mobilised their forces and launched a manhunt onto the streets of Dumfries. How long did it take them to track him down? I don't suppose we will ever know. I doubt if we will ever know how many boys in blue were sent out onto the streets to track him down.
What we do know is they finally got their man on a Friday afternoon. What a moment of triumph it must have been. Seal Team 6's moment of glory with Bin Laden pales into insignificance in comparison.
Well they took no chances with the cheese thief. They banged him up for the weekend on made absolutely sure he would be back in front of the Sheriff on Monday morning.
And so it was the Jesse James of dairy products once again faced his fate. Another court date and this time 'breach of bail' was added to the charge sheet.
The case will be heard in a couple of weeks time and already news teams from all around the world are booking up every hotel in Dumfries. What a spectacle it promises to be as Danny finally faces justice.
I think we are about to see one particular record broken, for surely we are about to see the most expensive packet of sliced, processed cheese in the history of mankind. It started out at a modest 99p. And now? Wow. I'll have a go at the maths.
Google has just taken me to a Mirror article which reckons the cost of police custody runs at £418 per day. So, OK. There's £1254. Police time for the manhunt? Maybe another £500. Police paperwork time? £300. Prosecution costs? £500. Danny's Legal Aid bill? £600. Court costs? £1000. Costs of administering some community service time? £500. Which all comes to.....
£4654 for a 99p pack of sliced, processed cheese nicked by a man who has gone out of his way to plead guilty every step of the way. That really is some pack of cheese.
So are you happy with the way your hard earned tax pounds are being spent? I mean, you could deport an extra two illegals for that! Or you could pay for a whole bunch of school books. Or maybe fill in lots of potholes............
We are constantly told there's no money. We're constantly told austerity is depriving our beloved public services of the ability to do their thing. We're constantly told our gallant boys in blue risk their lives to keep us safe. And all of these statements are true enough some of the time. But not all of the time.
Four and a half thousand quid for a 99p pack of cheese doesn't much look like value for money to me. But what do I know?
I'm just the foodbank guy.
If you can spare a couple of quid to help First Base feed other noted cheese thieves like Danny, then you can make your way to our Just Giving page by following the link below.