For just over four years now I've been reading Hansard every day and trawling through the written questions submitted across Government. Last year I was rather humbled when the Labour MP Tom Harris noted of me that,
His tireless efforts to scan lists of EDMs and parliamentary written answers put many mainstream journalists to shame and he regularly comes up with some political nuggets. Wish he was on our side...Now I bring up Tom's comment not to blow my own proverbial but rather to back up my credibility on the point I wish to make about the claim from Gordon Brown, Liam Byrne, Alistair Darling etc that the Tories "efficiency savings" have been drawn up on the "back of an envelope". The charge is, quite simply, bollocks.
During all the time that I've been reading through Hansard there's been a constant and recurring theme of questioning from Tory MPs such as Oliver Heald, Mark Hoban, Phillip Hammond and Francis Maude. These themes have included,
- Departmental spending on consultants
- Breakdown of pay grades to staff ratio in departments and executive agencies
- Detailed spending costs on agency and contracted staff
- Breakdown of different classes of travel by departments and executive agencies
- Details of overnight hotel visits set against the number of night spent in hotels.
- Spending on car and fuel costs by the Government Dispatch Service
- Staff churn rates and vacant posts
- Spending on empty buildings owned by departments, agencies and quangos
- Operational costs of IT infrastructure
- Delayed IT projects and ongoing costs
- Operating and ongoing costs of negotiated contracts such as PFI, IT and back office service provision
- Yearly spending on furniture in department and executive agencies
- Breakdown in the cost of redecorating office with pretty new colours
- Spending on artwork for Government buildings
- Spending on hospitality and corporate event hosting across Whitehall and quangos
In some cases the answers have produced eye-watering figures 10 digits long, in others they have produced what would be considered minuscule amounts when set against something like the deficit. The crucial thing is that they all add up however small or large.
Essentially what I'm saying is this. Yes, we're in an election campaign so we hear statement, then rebuttal, then a rebuttal of the rebuttal ad infinitum, but the attack that the Tories are working things on out on the "back of an envelope" is patently wrong and the public records of the daily happenings in Parliament proves it.
If the mainstream media put in the effort to read Hansard each day they'd realise that the savings being proposed are drawn from figures derived after at least four years of repeated questioning and research that's delved under the bonnet of the big headline budget numbers.
The "back of an envelope" line is nothing more than a sound bite designed to exploit the ignorance of a mainstream media that no longer reports the details of everyday Parliamentary business.