Four weeks from the French election, TV channel M6’s Capital programme has exposed what it says is colossal waste of public money, citing civil servants, the TER regional train system and the abandoned eco-tax as the worst offenders.
The consumer rights and economics programme, presented by Bastien Cadeac, did, however, highlight a few good points.
"In France, we are the champions of wasting public money, but there are positive regional initiatives," said Mr Cadeac.
First under the microscope was the €280billion spent on France’s 5.5 million civil servants – including a local government workforce 33% bigger than ten years ago. In a report called "Officials: the hunt for abuses", Capital revealed the amount of people working fewer than the legal minimum hours, the rate of absenteeism, which jumped by 26% in eight years (according to insurers Sofaxis) and a pension system which is rife with ‘ritualised’ promotions that inflate wages prior to retirement.
Next, the finger was pointed at wasted money on the railways. "SNCF: when the TER is derailing our taxes" revealed that the annual cost of the TER has doubled in ten years to €4billion, with €1billion financed by ticket sales and nearly €3billion by the regions.
Mr Cadeac said: "SNCF has appointed a cost-cutter, Franck Lacroix, for a rationalization mission, Cap TER 2020. We can reveal inconsistencies, fraud and delays. In the Paca region, Thello, an Italian train linking Marseille and Milan, offers better service at a lower price on lines shared with the SNCF. Delays in the Paca region have a structural explanation: of the 560 drivers, only 10 are able to drive the 13 types of trains running on the lines!"
The programme praises the railways in Brittany, saying effective management and planning gives good results.
The third black hole in public finances is the abandonment of the heavy goods vehicle ‘eco-tax’, now seen as an emblematic failure. "Ecotax: a giant fiasco that still costs us dearly" revealed that an extra two centimes per litre of tax on diesel is the price being paid by motorists to cover the shortfall on the eco-tax, which was abolished in 2014 despite being voted in as law.
“The state, and therefore the taxpayer, owes €1billion in compensation to the company Ecomouv,” said Mr Cadeac of the firm responsible for collecting the pollution tax.
The tax, voted in almost unanimously in 2009, would have brought €900 million a year into state coffers.
In December 2016, President Hollande was ordered by the Council of State to re-enforce the tax within six months.
The programme Capital is available (in French) to watch again.