Labour must make this a resigning matter for Pickles
Ben Goldacre uncovered a massive scandal the other day, but as far as I can see no-one has picked up on its political importance (as opposed to Ben’s media slant).
It concerns a press release from Pickles’ Department, which announces:
New, cutting edge analysis of council spending data by procurement experts Opera Solutions has revealed that greater transparency coupled with improved analysis is the key to unlocking massive savings by driving down costs.
The report gives the highest estimate yet of potential savings that could be achieved if councils secure better value for the £50 billion of public money they spend on procurement every year. The £10 billion figure is equal to £452 per household every year and equivalent to the salaries of almost half a million bin men or 650,000 dinner ladies.
This “cutting edge analysis” turns out to be a six page glossy advertisement from a consultancy firm touting for work.
It also turns out that the “research” consists of a single table showing figures, for three councils, for three small procurement strands, only one of which (mobile phones) has an estimate of 20% reductions through improved procurement.
Further, there is no evidence whatsoever for these reductions; they are simply claims that the consultant might help you achieve these. The figure is then extrapolated, with no justification whatsoever, to the whole of the UK’s local government procurement annual spend of £50bn.
Pickles uses the press release to bang his drum:
Let there be no doubt whatsoever – today’s figures show that there is significant scope for councils to make taxpayers’ money work even harder…….. There’s no excuse for cutting the front line when there are so many savings to be found in the way back office services and run and paid for.
The press release, which is essentially a lie, has been dutifully picked up by the Express and the Mail, both of whom quote the £452 per household figure. The fact that the whole thing is simply a lie goes conveniently ignored.
So what will Labour do?
What it should do is call for Pickles resignation, on the basis that he has misled millions of people via his Department’s press release into thinking they can get something for nothing, and that he can reduce council budgets by a further 20% without affecting frontline services.
Or more simply, that he is a lying cheat, who has corrupted his own Department.
For my part, I’ll be putting together a draft motion to send to Labour groups around the country, calling for the Chief Executive to write to the Department to demand that an apology be issued, and to Pickles himself with expressions of no confidence.
This will be an opportunity, especially in Tory-led areas, to bring Pickles’ lying out into the open in the local press, and one local Labour groups shouldn’t miss.
Update: In view of demand, I offer a first draft of such a motion to Councils up and down the country, though of course I recognise that all Councils have their different motion styles and conventions:
a) That this Council notes that the press release‘Shining a light on council spending could save up to £450 per household’, issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 17 June 2011 and subsequently widely and uncritically reported in the press, is based on what is effectively than an advertising brochure from a procurement consultancy, rather than the“cutting edge research” claimed in the press release.
b) That this Council deplores the publication of this press release by the Department, considering it to be willfully misleading to the public, in suggesting without any basis in fact that savings of up to 20% can be made by local authorities without any effect upon frontline services.
c) Further, that this Council believes that this press release amounts to a calculated and cynical insult to all hard working, loyal, and professional local authority procurement staff, including in this authority, in its suggestion that they are not working efficiently to find appropriate procurement savings where they exist.
d) That consequently this Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Department requesting that the press release be withdrawn, and a public apology issued by the Department for the issuing of false information which is potentially highly damaging both to the integrity of public services and the reputation of local authorities.
e) That this Council notes within the press release the direct quotation, in support of the false assertions made, of the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles.
f) That this Council believes that in giving such explicit support and commendation to the views set out in the press release, the Secretary of State has compromised the integrity of his Department in the interests of his ideological ends, which he appears happy to pursue at the expense of the Department’s integrity and with total disregard for the normal conventions of evidence-based research.
g) That consequently this Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State setting out the Council’s disappointment in his actions, reuesting that he make a public apology for those actions, and asking him to consider his own position as a Minister of the Crown given the seriousness of the way in which his Department has misled the public on this matter.