Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Money pits and poison pills.

It was the Times that broke the story, in their 'Politics' section with the headline "Labour hid ‘scorched earth’ debts worth billions".
Billions of pounds in public money was committed in the run-up to the election campaign in a deliberate strategy to boost Labour’s chances at the ballot box and sabotage the next government.

One former Labour minister told The Sunday Times: “There was collusion between ministers and civil servants to get as many contracts signed off as possible before the election was called.”

One former adviser to the schools department said there was a deliberate policy of “scorched earth”. “The atmosphere was ‘pull up all the railways, burn the grain stores, leave nothing for the Tories’,” he added.
Nothing, so far, in the Telegraph, the Sun, Express, Mail, Mirror, Guardian/Observer, Star, Independent, but today NoTW carries "What a mess they’ve left behind" and the issue has been vaguely covered by the BBC report on Mr Cameron's 'Andrew Marr' interview

Okay, so what's the point in Mrs R saying anything at all about this when there are others with both more financial acumen and better political knowledge who can do better? Well, there are lots of things Mrs Rigby isn't, and she hopes that one of those things isn't nasty. She hopes she's seen by some as being 'concerned' by some of the cheap political tricks that might now be being uncovered - cheap tricks that aren't even new and that have, in the past, been akin to sleight of hand or even gerrymandering. Tricks that hurt ordinary people, people who deserve so much more.

Rigby Town is fairly close to a 'Big City' whose seats were quite narrowly won by Labour, and last week she had cause to go to a fairly deprived part of that Big City. Whilst she was there she met some local people who were absolutely delighted that, at long last, some of their community buildings will be upgraded - including demolition of leaky-roofed old ones. These, they said, are to be replaced with state of the art, brand new buildings - that will be built 'on that bit of waste ground, over there'.

At the time Mrs R's heart sank, because she was fairly sure she'd seen, read, and heard about this sort of thing before. But she didn't say anything, it was neither the right time nor the right place.

Mrs R was shown the plans and the artist's impression - which looked fantastic, a truly wonderful thing for this area, where people have to live with the bird-scarers, several stories up in their tower blocks. She was told the "money has been guaranteed" - they were sure of that.

Then Mrs R was told it was a bit of a last-minute decision that happened not long before the election, even though it was something local groups have been campaigning for for years and years. They've been campaigning because the existing buildings were falling apart, with some sections cordoned off as being unusable and unsafe.

So, let's backtrack a bit, because Mrs R recalls, a year or so ago, how some colleges found themselves in a bit of a muddle. These places had been 'given' money to expand, had demolished old buildings and had barely started construction when they were told they weren't going to get any money after all, even though the building programmes had been approved and all the right forms had been signed - including the PFI loans.

They were told they'd been silly to build, or start building, on a promise, rather than waiting until they had their cash in their hands. It was, Mrs R thinks, Mr Balls who told them off - so she's looked it up. Here's the BBC report, 16 July 2009.
MPs have condemned the "catastrophic mismanagement" of a college building scheme in England which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Learning and Skills Council, which ran the scheme, and the government are criticised in a report by the committee which deals with further education.

The LSC encouraged colleges to bid for funds and approved projects it did not have money for, their report says.
All this was, it seems, allowed to happen because LSC was to vanish. Maybe they thought the loans/debts would also vanish?
The MPs said that at the time building projects were being approved, the body had been preparing to be disbanded and "wanted to go out with a bang", and had encouraged colleges to "big up" their plans.

But there was no process for prioritising bids and by last November, when the alarm was finally raised, 144 colleges had together invested tens of millions of pounds in preparing bids and getting approval from the LSC.

Recently, it was announced only 13 of those projects would go ahead this year.

Committee chairman Phil Willis, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: "It really beggars belief that such an excellent programme which had showed real success in transforming the further education experience for students was mismanaged into virtual extinction.

"Warning signs were missed and even worse, ignored. LSC didn't notice as the total value of the projects it was considering began to overshoot the budget and a review which could have prompted action was shunted around committees and policy groups."
It would seem that this gung-ho approach to finance might have continued right to the end of Labour's time in office. Get people/schools/businesses/local groups to spend their money putting together the right sort of funding claim, which put money into consultants pockets and, in these instances, took it away from education - where it was most needed.

Money was there 'for the bidding', and promises were made, but nobody seems to have taken the time to sit down and add all the numbers together - but it didn't matter too much, because somebody else's name would soon be on the office door, somebody else could deal with the mess. And nobody had thought it might have been wiser to spend some of the consultation money on renovation and extension - because they were told things had to be new.

That, to Mrs Rigby, epitomises what Labour has done to Britain. It promised, and failed to deliver. It raised hopes, then secretly withdrew promises. It told people they were silly when they were upset, that it was their own stupid fault when things went wrong.

Nobody in government ever put up their hand and admitted they were wrong, nobody ever admitted a scheme or policy was flawed - the most that happened was that 'flagships' were quietly disappeared, and replaced by a distractingly shiny new one, in the hope that nobody would notice.

The Labour government spent millions on putting together plans that were never brought to fruition, they spent millions on rebranding departments and creating pretty logos that, ultimately, only led to public confusion over who had responsibility for what 'thing' - because they even changed the names of the 'things' so we didn't know what they were talking about.

And in the meantime the coffers were running on empty and, because they were all scurrying around thinking up new ideas, neither Government nor Unions seemed too bothered, not really, that Cadbury's was being sold, nobody seemed too bothered that Corus was bought by some Asian chaps, nobody seemed too worried about the demise of Jaguar - none of it mattered because the redundant and unemployed would be able to claim benefits.

There was never a consideration that every single penny of the money to pay those benefits originated within the private sector, which was rapidly disappearing, and no consideration that some people prefer to go to work, and not be dependent on state handouts.

And, nobody seems to have cared much about the community in 'Big City', who have patiently waited, for almost the whole term of the last government, for their building to be either renovated or replaced - because they believed their MP. This community's high hopes may be dashed because his last minute promises of funding for their sparkling new building are likely to have been empty promises, that would have vanished even had Labour been returned to office - because that's the way they were, building castles in the air. People didn't count, just politically expedient promises to ensure personal advancement and a seat in Westminster.


Quiet_Man said...

Ah yes, but in the Big City the Labour survivors will soon have their leaflets out blaming those awful Con Dems for cutting the budget for these projects.

Convenient for them and quite deliberate too.

Mrs Rigby said...

Yep, Q_M, quite.

These days it's called politicking, in the past it was called either gerrymandering or cheating.