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Shadow front-bencher Greatrex is “ludicrous”

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Oh dear Tom Greatrex.

The Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West—who is also the Shadow Scotland Office Minister—has been causing a stir over allegations that Lib Dem Michael Moore “is terrified of the truth”.

It all relates to a vote in the Commons back in July that Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, missed. It was part of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill—which of course included the VAT increase.

Moore was absent for the vote to include the tax rise in the Bill and Labour, suspecting the Lib Dem of “wanting to keep his hands clean”, made several attempts to determine exactly what pressing business had led to Moore failing to back the coalition’s plans.

Initially, the response was that Moore was in Scotland, doing the important work that befits a Secretary of State. But this later turned out to be false as Moore had completed all his meetings and was back in London by the time of the vote.

And then last week, it appears that the Scotland Office has refused to answer a Freedom of Information request on the subject. A spokesperson said:

“It is considered that to release detailed information regarding specific modes of transport to and from specific locations would, or would be likely to, endanger the physical or mental health or safety of an individual and is therefore exempt under section 38 (1) of the Act.

“I believe that disclosure may give rise to the potential to endanger the safety of individuals or impact on the safety and security of ministers.”

Greatrex—and it would seem the Scotsman—aren’t all that impressed with this answer. And they are focusing on the mental health part of the reason.

The Labour MP is reported to have said:

“This is ludicrous and shows how terrified of the truth Mr Moore is. Mental heath should not be used as an excuse to save face. If he opposed the Tory plan to put up VAT, he should have resigned from the Government and voted against but this shows he was too cowardly.”

In my opinion, it is Greatrex’s response that is ludicrous. Moore isn’t hiding behind mental health issues. Greatrex has chosen to focus on one part of the answer that was given, totally ignoring the “endanger the physical … or safety” aspects. To me, this seems like a fairly standard response that any department would give when asked about a Minister/Secretary of State’s whereabouts at a particular time.

Greatrex then went on to say that:

“If he opposed the Tory plan to put up VAT, he should have resigned from the government and voted against, but this shows he was too cowardly.”

Well, no Tom. Firstly, he fails to mention that two days later Moore voted with Government at the Third Reading of the Bill. Second, Moore wasn’t the only Secretary of State to miss that vote. Chris Huhne, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox were all absent, as well as Nick Clegg.

And for that matter, Labour absentees including former Ministers Tom Watson and Ian Austin, not to mention a former Home Secretary (David Blunkett) and a former Prime Minister (I’ll give you one guess).

This is little more than squalid opportunism on Greatex’s part. Maybe he should start focusing on the real policies issues facing our friends north of the border, and worry less about the voting habits of the man on the benches opposite.

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Week ahead in Westminster – Ping-pong time?

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

In the week before recess for both House, one thing is likely to dominate proceedings:

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.

Oh goody!

On Monday, we have the Third Reading in the Lords—the last chance for peers to alter the Bill—with the only interesting amendment relating to party election broadcasts. If the amendment goes through, party election broadcasts won’t be allowed during the AV referendum campaign if they imply that the party is supporting either the for or against camp.

On Tuesday the Bill returns to the Commons for consideration of the changes made by the Lords. These include the introduction of a 40% turnout threshold—which I suspect will have Tory backbench support—and the loosening of rules governing constituency size.

A document released on Friday outlining the Government’s response to the Report stage of the Bill in the Lords suggests that the Coalition will fight against the amendment that would increase the variance in size of constituency from 10% to 15%.

Labour are also likely to try to frustrate the progress of the Bill as they try to force a de-coupling of the two elements. They oppose the reduction in numbers of MPs, and also object to the way in which boundaries are being redrawn.

On Wednesday the fun really begins. We are likely to see a bit of ping-pong, with various newspapers suggesting that we could be in for an all-nighter. But with the Government needing to get the Bill ratified to secure a May 5th referendum, we are likely to see it pushed through.

Elsewhere, Oliver Letwin is in front of the Lords Science and Technology sub-committee discussing behaviour change on Tuesday, while Nick Hurd and Justin Greening appear before the Public Admin committee. They will be answering questions about the funding of the voluntary sector, continuing the Big Society theme that has kicked off the week.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Civil servants struggling under the Coalition leash

February 3, 2011 1 comment

Research published by the Institute for Government shows that civil service morale has drastically fallen—unsurprising given the massive budget cuts that most departments face.

The research uses the results of  a massive survey undertaken by the Civil Service. Just over 60% of civil servants across all departments responded to the survey, which is designed to measure the engagement of staff.

The news comes in the same week that a Civil Service leak questioned the work ethic of Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Two of the departments who have proposed massive reforms experienced the biggest reductions in positive staff reception.

In the Department for Education, only four in every 10 members of staff felt that higher ups had a clear vision for the future. This at a time when Michael Gove is pushing through curriculum reforms and removing the EMA (although there are rumours that he is about to do a u-turn on this). Only 23% thought that when changes were made in the department, they are usually for the better.

As for Health, where Andrew Lansley is trying to transform the NHS, the picture is just as bad. Less than 70% have a good understanding of the departments direction, and there has been a 13 percentage point decrease in the number of staff who believe the executive know what they are doing.

The director of the Institute said that:

Whitehall is facing an unprecedented challenge in overseeing an ambitious agenda for reform at the same time as facing major cutbacks in spending. Most departments are also having to reduce their own administrative costs by a third. Falls in staff engagement levels are not unusual as organisations start tackling challenges on this scale. The important thing is for departments to have a clear vision and effective leadership, so any falls are rapidly turned around.

The last sentence is doubly true when staff are facing cutbacks at the same time as implementing major changes. I have to question again whether the Coalition is right to introduce such large scale reforms without financial backing.

If it continues with this strategy, then it is clear that ministers will need to be clear in their purpose and have to take their staff with them.

Categories: Uncategorized