All posts tagged 'George-Osborne'

The sounds of silence: the Treasury keeps mum over airport meetings

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 10 2012


There has long been a suspicion the government's U-turn that led to its decision to consult on the idea of a Thames Estuary airport was, in part, driven by the Treasury and the Chancellor. It was said they had been won round by the argument that such a project would deliver investment and jobs - along with regeneration - at a critical time.

But how was the Treasury won round? A clue perhaps lies in the meetings George Osborne and his officials had with the backers of the idea that were disclosed to us under the Freedom of Information Act.

Although we aren't being told what was on the table at these meetings as it is not deemed to be in the public interest.

Treasury meetings with Thames Estuary airport backers>>>

What we do glean from the details provided is that there seemed to be a sympathetic ear at the Treasury, where officials met representatives of Foster and Partners and the consultants Halcrow no less than four times to chew over the idea.

The rather gushing email sent by an unnamed representative of Foster following one meeting talks revealingly of how stimulating and reassuring the meeting was given that both sides believed passionately in the same points.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any proponent of any scheme seeking contacts with politicians and their officials. You wouldn't expect anything less where a project as huge as this was concerned. Access is critical to getting the message across.

But if the government wants to be seen to be playing a straight bat over what is undeniably a massively contentious issue, it will have to better than come up  with the fig leaf of an excuse that it has to withhold information about what exactly was discussed at these meetings.

It is, frankly, an insult to say on that policy discussion needs to take place behind closed doors so  opinions can be expressed candidly. In its response, the Treasury says it acknowledges that there is a public interest in what is a 'live' issue - which in its way makes the case for full transparency and openness - not the case for running away and hiding.

It is interesting to speculate on whether,  had the Treasury been approached by, say, the leader of Medway council, for such a meeting, Mr Osborne or his officials would have proved quite as accommodating.

Either way, it is vital that the government's consultation starts from a position of neutrality.

There are arguments on both sides to be had but public confidence in the integrity of that consultation won't be enhanced if there is any suspicion that one side is getting greater opportunities to promote their views above the other.

Read the Treasury's full response to our FOI request here:

Treasury Meetings FOI.pdf (2.34 mb)

The transcript of the email sent by Foster and Partners to Treasury officials:

“It was a pleasure to meet with you this morning. We appreciate you making the trip over to our office and hopefully the experience of actually seeing us all busily working was useful. We found the conversation we had both stimulating and highly reassuring as you both made so many points that we both passionately believe in.”
“The brief presentation we did of some of our thinking and the initiatives we have been taking around infrastructure seemed to resonate with your interests and I am sure we could have spent a lot more time talking. We look forward to developing these conversations.”



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Categories: Medway Magna | Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council

Exploring all the options: Has Osborne cleared Thames airport plan for take off?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 30 2011

He couldn't quite bring himself to utter the words 'Thames estuary' or 'Boris Island'.


But George Osborne has done enough in his budget statement to ensure that the idea of a new hub airport in the south east has not been completely grounded. Indeed, there are some who believe he has engineered a situation that will encourage proponents of such schemes rather than deter them.


The telling phrase he used was that the government intended to 'explore all the options.' Had he wanted to sound the death knell for either Boris Island or Lord Foster's £50bn vision, he could have said so - just like he did by ruling out any further consideration of Heathrow.


A flat denial could have ended the persistent speculation and would have given some solace to the county's MPs who are deeply hostile to the idea and fear that the government is not helping their re-election prospects.

Several have suggested that George Osborne is merely trying to help his friend Boris as he seeks to secure another term as Mayor of London.


Others have gone further with theories that should Boris return to the House of Commons as an MP, he will be joining forces with Osborne when he takes a tilt at the leadership.


That might be a motive but I am not wholly convinced. If you polled Londoners on the issues they have most concerns about, I'm not sure you'd find aviation high on that list (except in west London). Tube fares perhaps.


I suspect the government doesn't really know whether it wants to see a new airport off the north Kent coast.

But it's worth reading the National Infrastructure Plan published by the Treasury.


It notes how, since 2005, the performance trends on airports in relation to capacity, access and availibility - as well as service quality and reliability - have all gone down. For other transport modes, they have either stayed the same or improved.


That is not an argument for Boris Island or Lord Foster's scheme but as Mr Osborne said, the UK risks falling behind countries like China and Brazil who are building infrastructure schemes at a lick.

Precisely the kind of point that Boris has been making.



There was a meeting of KCC's personnel committee on Monday at the highly unusual hour of 5.30pm. I cannot tell you what was discussed as there was no advance agendas or papers - as there normally would under Access to Information rules - as it was an "emergency" meeting, meaning such rules can be bypassed.


Still, let's speculate about what might have been discussed behind closed doors. If recent events are a guide, some might think the councillors summonsed to attend were discussing the way the authority might be run in future and the option of doing without a managing director.


We may have to wait a little while for this to be confirmed but it may not be long. Meanwhile, KCC's managing director Katherine Kerswell "is and remains" in her post even though not many people have seen her around County Hall in recent weeks.

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Categories: Precept

Did you budget for that?

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, March 23 2011

At least we get shorter Budget speeches from George Osborne. His second opus was timed at just under the hour.

Previous chancellors George Brown and Alistair Darling have often gone well over 60 minutes, with endless repetition of already announced announcements.

Thankfully, we heard nothing of prudence, but the growth word was mentioned umpteen times.

There was not a lot for Kent. When he was unveiling massive investment in science, it would have been a golden opportunity to mention the Pfizer situation and apply some financial medicine.

Then there was the decision on 11 enterprise zones, all bar one - London ( a coup for Boris) in the North, Midlands and West. Another opporunity to give hope to East Kent but another missed opportunity. However, there was a glimmer of hope from his announcement that there will be a further 10 zones.

He said it would be up to local enterprise partnerships to make a good case. That has really thrown down the gauntlet to the Kent, Essex and East Sussex LEP. They need to push hard on the Pfizer taskforce's recommendation for a Research, Innovation and Technology Zone (RITZ). So while it was disappointing not to hear George putting on the Ritz, there is still plenty to play for.

As for the cut in fuel duty and scrapping of the escalator, it's a help but don't expect much whooping behind the steering wheels as motorists and haulage companies still need a mortgage to fill up their tanks. Was it a budget for growth?

With the public sector slashing jobs, and the private sector cautious about increasing their workforce, there is no great optimism that job creation will expand and unemployment fall. If there is growth, it will be extremely modest.

But at least it was a more positive Osborne Budget than the last one. It will not do anything to ease the excruciating financial pain faced in the coming months by most families, especially those on middle incomes, but at least it did not make things worse.

For that, we should be a little grateful.

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Categories: Business

Pleading business

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, October 20 2010

Business is not normally supportive of a Chancellor’s statement. Especially when Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling were doing the job.

But now George Osborne is in the hot seat, they have changed their tune.

While much of the public will worry about benefit cuts, while public sector workers will fear that their job will be among the 500,000 on death row for the next four years, business was pretty upbeat.

All the usual suspects like the CBI, FSB and EEF were surprisingly supportive of the overall spending cuts strategy.

I guess that in their own business, they know how important it is to be prudent. In the early years of Gordon Brown‘s tenure as Chancellor in 11 Downing Street, there was a lot of talk of prudence. He seemed to speak the language of business.

But a boom seemed to give him licence to spend, and prudence was left abandoned at the church door as the global financial crisis coincided with a spending binge.

That combination of events, however you explain them, led to the present £109bn deficit, the largest, so the present Chancellor says, in Europe. The UK was on the brink of bankruptcy, he claimed.

But the £80-plus billion pound cuts will not make a lot of difference to the overall level of spending which continues to rise over the next few years to around £700bn.

As Mr Osborne said, the debt “supertanker” takes a long while to turn around. And interest payments, currently running at a staggering £120m a day, will continue to be onerous.

But at least with the CSR, the UK has signalled it is doing something about a problem that every household faces from time to time. As Mr Micawber said to David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and sixpence, result misery.”

And we have had plenty of misery. There is lots more to come. But at least George Osborne leavened bad news with good, although the nasties could still be in the small print.

He pleased business, protected key infrastructure projects like Crossrail, bashed the banks a little, boosted apprenticeships, protected education and health, and not been too hard on the elderly.

That he has robbed middle England to bear much of the pain will be hard to take. Whether they sympathise with Mr Micawber’s dictum will determine whether Mr Osborne remains in Number 11 after the next general election.

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Categories: Business | National Politics

Good news, bad news? Have George's numbers added up?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, October 20 2010

The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

So, it's hard in one sense to make a snap judgment on the long-awaited spending review announced today as most central government departments will  be spelling out specific plans over the coming weeks. George Osborne got plenty of cheers from his own benches after an hour-long speech whose tone was clearly supposed to be sober but veered at times to being rather too euphoric.

Perhaps it was the testosterone flying around the Commons, where the baying across the green benches seemed unusually loud.

From Kent's perspective, there were a few unexpected announcements - or announcements slipped out without much fanfare - notably the proposed increase in the Dartford Crossing tolls which will rise to £2.50 by 2012 - a clear U-turn and one guaranteed to anger a lot of people who may feel the government has backtracked over commitments made before they came to power.

It certainly came as a surprise to KCC leader Paul Carter when I spoke with him earlier - I dare say he won't be happy not to have been briefed.

And for all the talk of fairness, I suspect hard-pressed rail commuters will find it hard to stomach the prospect of higher fares come 2012.

Meanwhile, the message from County Hall is that it was about as bad as expected but no worse. In total, councils are facing about a 30 per cent cut in their budgets. The government has tried to sugar the pill by giving councils more say over how they spend their money but it might turn out to be simply more freedom to make cuts.

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Categories: Local Politics | Politics | Public Sector

Sergeant quits

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Monday, October 18 2010

Just days before George Osborne unveils his much-trailed Comprehensive Spending Review, former BBC and ITN political correspondent John Sergeant claimed in Kent that the Government was getting its communications all wrong.

The lugubrious less-than-twinkle-toed star of Strictly Come Dancing two years ago, gave the annual Kent College Pembury birthday lecture on Friday. (15)

Of course, he spoke about his Strictly experience and explained his decision to quit. He said it would have been wrong for the worst dancer to win. And, no, he has not seen Ann Widdecombe on the latest show and could not comment on her performance!

More interesting perhaps was his take on the way the Government was conveying messages about spending cuts. He criticized the Chancellor for smiling while speaking about cuts that would have a profound impact on people’s lives.

“They appear to be enjoying making cuts in public services,” he said. “Big mistake. They should be thanking the people who work in the quangos. It’s all kill, kill, kill.”

The Government should be paying tribute to the “remarkable men and women” in the axed bodies and saying they hoped the  best brains would find work in other capacities.

The new Coalition Government lacked experience and “they’re making a series of technical errors.” He blamed Andy Coulson, the Government’s chief spin doctor, for failing to give the right advice.

As for Tony Blair’s memoir “A Journey,” Sergeant said it was “an amazing read because it’s so incoherent at times.” And he certainly did not wish to know the intimate secrets of Tony and Cherie revealed in the book

Sergeant is interviewing the former Prime Minister this week. It should make for fascinating viewing!

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Categories: Business

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