Posts Tagged ‘austerity’

Government transparency in the age of austerity? I won’t hold my breath, says Vincent Moss

19/08/2010, 03:00:44 PM

Something strange is going on in Downing Street. Workers are removing “Tony Blair’s mirrored gym”, ripping down a wall and installing a lavish new kitchen, we are told, in the flat above Number 11 – the London home of David Cameron and his family. Meanwhile, the Camerons are enjoying the first week of their holiday at the PM’s country retreat Chequers, with its tennis court, heated pool, and staff to attend to their every need on the 1,000-acre estate.

 That’s a bit odd too, given Downing Street initially led the media to believe they’d be in Cornwall this week. But does any of this really matter when up to 500,000 public sector workers are facing the sack in the tightest spending squeeze in living memory with every pound of the public finances under scrutiny? Yes, it does.  As chancellor George Osborne (who has the run of the croquet set at his country residence of Dorneywood) keeps telling us: “We are all in this together”. 

Both men are making far greater use of these pads, more suited to rock stars than to servants of the people, than their Labour predecessors.   And, while the residences are funded via charitable trusts and not taxpayers’ cash, Cameron’s and Osborne’s growing fondness for their new homes sits uncomfortably with their rhetoric about austerity Britain.

When it comes to the Camerons’ flat above No11, the media were initially told that the family would be shelling out for all the work in the building.   According to the Sunday Telegraph, it now looks like they may only pay any costs above £28,000. We’re also told the main Downing Street kitchen is also getting a major makeover.  Is that a top priority in these difficult times?  How much is that costing? Only days ago, communities secretary Eric Pickles courageously revealed details of all the spending Labour made over £500 in his new department during Gordon Brown’s last year in power.  Pickles insisted this was all in the need of greater openness and transparency and challenged other Whitehall departments to do the same.  “This department, like the rest of Whitehall, needs to look at where every penny is going and getting this data out in the open will help that process,” maintained Pickles.  Although I’m not sure the edict has yet extended to the chauffeur-driven Jaguar that Pickles reportedly enjoys courtesy of the taxpayer.  

It’s a similar story when it comes to the cash being poured into the revamp in Downing Street.   Digging around for a bit of Pickles-style “transparency”, I find Labour Uncut’s guest editor Tom Watson has already fired in questions in the hope of some clarity.  So far, nothing has emerged.  Why?  Haven’t they got the Pickles memo yet? If we really are all in this together, Cameron and his ministers should be leading by example.  He should start by publishing all the spending on the renovations on his taxpayer-funded Downing Street flat.  And then, he should insist that all Whitehall departments publish all their costs over £500 on a quarterly basis. I won’t hold my breath.

Vincent Moss is political editor of the Sunday Mirror Group

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