Thursday, June 17, 2010

Axes of weasels

Danny Alexander has been shoved front and centre to push the cuts agenda and has gleefully lit upon a handful of projects greenlighted in the final months of the Labour government, but which now exemplify the profligacy and waste of Labour. If you recall, shortly after entering government, Cameron, Osborne and Laws breathlessly rushed to tell the media of how Labour had fiendishly and secretly allocated huge sums of money to projects in the hope of shoring up marginal seats. It was never made entirely clear how a secret project would help win an election and it became apparent that many of these projects had actually been announced to the media, so weren't secret at all. These spending commitments were called in for review and today we got some of the cuts that follow. Some of the cuts are disguised as mere suspensions, but none of them appear to be wasteful or profligate use of public funds, as the coalition initially portrayed them.

The largest chunk of the billions to be hacked comes from the 'suspension' of a joint project between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport to replace the ageing miltary Sea King search and rescue helicopter force and the Coastguard helicopters that supplement them around the country, which will save something of the order of £4.6 billion. This probably can be postponed, but the airframes are going to have to be replaced and the service has to be provided, so the costs will return.

Particularly battered is Sheffield, which loses a £12 million retail and residential redevelopment and a £13 million project to redevelop a former steelworks site. Most dramatically, it also lost an £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters to allow the purchase of a new press to manufacture large castings for the nuclear industry. This would have allowed the company to compete in a global niche market currently served by very few manufacturers - I believe that there are only one or maybe two producers capable of casting these parts. This would have provided for a further 180 jobs with the company, injecting additional spending into the local community, rather than having to pump money into the community in the form of benefits. This loan would have been repaid, but benefit money is taxation lost forever.

These three cuts are remarkably brave, as they hammer the city where Nick Clegg has his parliamentary seat, although few workers at Forgemasters probably live in Hallam. This would appear to be a demonstration of his own loyalty to the government's cause, bravely throwing the future of other families onto the bonfire of his own vanity. Truly, it can be said that greater love hath no man, that he lay down others' lives for his career.

This comes hard on the heels of a soothing Clegg interview in the Independent, where he promised that

parts of the North-east, North-west, South Yorkshire and London would be given special help to limit the impact of job losses, with private companies in those areas given incentives to expand...

"I am as aware as anyone else of the dangers of the disproportionate impact on those areas of the country which are very dependent on public-sector employment. What you will see over the next few weeks and months is a series of measures that we are taking to ensure that, as the black hole is addressed, it's done in a way which is sensitive – much more sensitive that in previous recessions – to the particular need of those parts of the country that are very dependent on the public purse."

Words are cheap, Nick.

Just as you might think that investment in jobs and employment initiatives would be a bright move, the coalition scrap the Future Jobs Fund that has helped young people get out of long term unemployment and into a job, scrapping the recruitment subsidies and the young person's guarantee, which offered work or training places, and the Jobseeker's Guarantee that promised work training or an internship after two years out of work.

And just in time for the summer, the axe falls on free swimming for children and the over 60s, even though it encouraged more paying swimmers to go as well - as adults attended with their kids - and increased participation in both the younger and older age groups, with an impact on their longer-term health prospects and thus their likely continuing cost to the taxpayer.

1 comment:

Fergus said...

So, announce projects for which there is no funding, and never likely to be, and somehow all is sweetness and light.

Perhaps the worst thing about these Labour announcements is that, as you say, they might not have been wasteful or profligate, but THE MONEY WAS NEVER THERE FOR THEM.