A serious note to all government advisers, junior ministers and spin doctors – just some friendly advice from Scrapbook to you: The point at which “let’s make a rap video” sounds like a really good idea, is the point at which the brainstorming session should end and you should all go home.
Learn a lesson from the Department of Work and Pensions, who somehow came to the conclusion that hip-hop was the best medium to spread the word about…workplace pensions.
Scrapbook isn’t sure what’s worse, the cringeworthy lyrics or the dude with the ponytail beatboxing.
Nick Clegg’s grasp of economics has been called into question after he was found to have exaggerated the level of Sheffield Council’s cash reserves by more than £120m in an attack on his own city’s leaders.
In an open letter, the Sheffield Hallam MP accused the council of sitting on £167m in “usable reserves” which could have been used to “protect front line services.”
While there is a line item in the city’s statement of accounts labelled “usable reserves” valued at £167m – Nick conveniently fails to mention more than £123m of that figure is already ringfenced or earmarked — mainly at a national level — for specific purposes, and can’t be spent on front line services.
David Blunkett, MP for neighbouring Brightside & Hillsborough constituency, told Political Scrapbook:
“I’m afraid economics and accountancy are not the Deputy Prime Minister’s great strength”
The “usable reserve” includes £57.2m reserved for capital projects, £14.4m which must be spent on social housing and £10.1m reserved to pay for repairs to buildings – all of which is required by national legislation. A further £42m is reserved under a variety of other mandatory earmarks.
Clegg’s £120m spin came in response to a letter in last Sunday’s Observer from a trio of northern council leaders, including Sheffield’s Julie Dore, claiming that Clegg had yoked himself to a brand of Conservatism with “no social conscience”.
If Nick’s so proud of Coalition investment in Sheffield, why would he need to fudge the figures to prove it?
The Home Affairs Committee has slammed plans to privatise the police, saying “You don’t know what you’re doing.” A new report on Home Office procurement practices lays into two forces who plan to rush through contracts worth £1.5bn — before democratically elected police commissioners are introduced:
“The committee is not convinced that Surrey and West Midlands Police fully understand, or are fully able to articulate, the process they are undertaking.”
Giving evidence to the committee, the chief constable of Surrey claimed that frontline functions “definitely 100% won’t be” privatised. When pressed further, however, her counterpart from the West Midlands refused to rule this out, saying: “from my perspective, every single part of West Midlands Police will be affected by it”.
It looks like virtually everything will be up for grabs.
The growth figures for the last quarter have been announced, and with a contraction of 0.2% the UK has two consecutive quarters of negative growth and is officially back in recession.
This is the recession that George Osborne repeatedly assured us wouldn’t happen, despite OECD predictions that it would as recently as last month. But the new developments will heap still more pressure on a chancellor reeling from the catastrophe of his last budget. The decision to cut tax for millionaires looks even more unsound now.
With the failure of plan A, is it not perhaps time for plan B George?
French company Atos, which has a £108m per year contract with the government, has failed to remove grossly misleading claims from its website – despite being ordered to do so by the Advertising Standards Authority.
The controversial outsourcing giant, which carries out benefits health assessments for the DWP, features impressive figures on its website which the ASA says are unproved. The dodgy figures boast:
“Each year Atos Healthcare process over 1.2 million referrals for medical advice completing over 800,000 face-to-face medical assessments within our nationwide network of over 140 medical examination centres.”
“All our 1700+ healthcare professionals are fully trained to undertake disability assessments.”
But Freedom of Information requests by the website WhyWaitForever.com reveal that referrals averaged 751,000 per year and the number of healthcare professionals was just 848 — far less than claimed by Atos.
Atos refused to cooperate with the ASA’s investigation and, despite being ordered to make changes to the ubsubstantiated claims, the material is still visible on the their website.
But stonewalling regulators nevertheless represents a change in tactics when dealing with critics:
Last year Atos forced a thriving support forum for disabled people to shut down after users had the temerity to criticise the company.
While pasties and pensioners took a hammering on 21 March, Danny Alexander handed himself a budget bribe — in the form of VAT relief for ski lifts in his Highlands constituency. This is the second year in a row that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has benefited from changes in the Finance Bill.
Buried away on page 74 of the Budget is the Treasury’s plan for cable-based transport systems, which will cut costs for the dozens of ski lifts in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey.
“The Government will introduce a 5 per cent reduced rate of VAT for passenger transportation in cable-based transport systems carrying fewer than ten people.”
The tax break is clearly aimed specifically at ski lifts; cable vehicles which carry more than ten passengers are already exempt from paying VAT.
In last year’s budget, the Tories in charge felt they should “give Alexander something” to keep him quiet; so they managed to rescue the state subsidy for the Cairngorm Mountain Railway.
But with YouGov now predicting Beaker will lose his seat, it might take more than cut-price ski lift tickets to keep him in line until 2015.
The government aren’t happy to hear that the number of Freedom of Information requests is increasing year on year; so much so that they’re planning to introducea range of tariffs to restrict Freedom of Information requests. But at least there’s someone to blame: Eric Pickles.
The government’s “transparency agenda” is leading to the rise in pesky FOI requests, claims Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith. The Law Society Gazettequotes Smith explaining that Eric Pickles’ plan for local government to declare all expenses over £500 was justtoo tempting:
“Ironically, one cause [of the increase] was the government’s transparency agenda: the requirement to publish all items of spending over £500 ‘just puts things out there that cause people to ask questions’, he said.”
Smith also hinted at future plans to toughen up restrictions on Freedom of Information requests to discourage people from making “vexatious” FOI requests which seek to embarrass the government.