Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Letting the spinners get away with it.

You can't really blame the politicians for massaging facts to fit their story. It's what they're there for. But I really think the journalists interviewing them could be a bit more ruthless in pinning them down sometimes.

A couple of incidents have particularly hit me recently. This morning I heard the sainted Margaret Hodge being interviewed on Radio 4. She was wittering on about tax evasion. Again. This time she was hitting out at the Big 4 accoutnancy firms, but, predictably, she just couldn't resist sniping at the government too. She pointed at the contracts these accountancy firms have with the government, contracts, which she said had multiplied because of a Tory obsession with contracting out to the private sector. Then she listed some of them: payroll, pensions, auditing local authorities, auditing hospitals. Her implication was that these were all new contracts and all went to the Big 4.

But take another look. Payroll? Pensions? Apart from the fact that many of these were contracted out under the last Labour Government, and in some cases under the Tory Government before that, the big players in this business aren't accountancy firms anyway. They're huge services companies, like Capita and Serco. And what about those audits? Yes the Big 4 do these, and they always have done. It's a statutory requirement. Is she seriously suggesting that Local Authorities shouldn't be audited? Surely the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee wouldn't be saying that? So why didn't the journalist let her get away with this?
There was another example yesterday: Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury was interviewed about the £5bn of infrastructure spending that the Prime Minister had just announced. In that interview (which is reported by the BBC here - scroll down about half way) she stated that the "extra funding for new free schools will be smaller than the huge cuts he made two years ago to school and college buildings."

She was referring, of course, to Labour's massive 'Building Schools for the Future' project. Now, on the face of it, that was a school building scheme, but what few people know about are the layers of bureaucracy, the form-filling, report-writing, and hoop-jumping that was involved and the money that had to be spent on employing 'advisers' and 'consultants' to do all that work. And worse still, at the end of all that, did Local Authorities get money from government for their new schools? No. They got a Private Finance Initiative scheme.

So let's look at Ms Reeves' claim again. 'Huge cuts'? Are we talking about the money wasted on bureaucracy Ms Reeves? Or the amount of our children's and grandchildren's money we were going to spend paying off those PFI deals?

So why are the journalists not asking these questions? Why are they letting the spinners get away with it? It would be easy to say that it's just the good old BBC bias at work again. But I think it's deeper than that. I suspect they don't know what to ask. They haven't done the research. They don't have the knowledge. Maybe, in some cases, they just don't have the experience. But if that's the case, then those of us who do need to stand up and call them to account.

So please, if any other journo is interviewing these ladies again, can they please remember a few of things written here and start to challenge some of their statements?

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