A great day for burying bad news – the last day of Parliament

20th December 2015 / United Kingdom

British parliamentary Ministers have been accused of a ‘shockingly and highly cynical’ bid to bury bad news after releasing an astonishing number embarrassing announcements hidden amongst some important stories such as Paris, Syria and EU negotiations but more so just before the Christmas break.

Ministers made more than 400 announcements on the final day of parliament, more than three times the usual daily number, as they tried to hide some of the most insidious and embarrassing of unfavourable reports, tax rises and U-Turns … of course.

The practice of releasing a string of statements on a day dominated by disastrous news or on the last day of a parliamentary sitting in order to limit scrutiny is not new to Ministers. However, it now appears that ministers had clearly abandoned any pretence to ensure healthy scrutiny over this type of important information in what can only be seen as another step in dismantling democracy.

You may have heard that the Home Office just lost 10,000 asylum seekers and that although the Conservatives pledged to cut down on Quangos – A) they didn’t succeed and B) over 300 bosses of such organisations earn more than the PM’s £150,000 salary.

You may even have heard that contrary to another Conservative manifesto pledge, David cameron has U-Turned on the idea that spin doctors should be reduced.

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You may not have heard from various reports and announcements that:

  1. The cost of government advisors has risen 30% since 2010
  2. George Osborne’s advisors get up to 42% pay rises
  3. There is now a 2.3% cut in funding for police despite a Conservative pledge not to do so.
  4. A major “rapid review” into the House of Lords after their ‘treachery’ in voting down George Osborne’s plan to cut tax credits suggests that the Lords should be stopped from vetoing new regulations and instead should only be allowed to ask MPs to rethink them.
  5. Local council funding to be slashed by billions again.
  6. Labour’s Jon Trickett said: “The central message is just the same as always – it’s cuts, cuts and more cuts. You admit to a cash decrease of £200 million between now and 2019/20, but you forget to say that the additional spending pressures amount to at least £6.3 billion” according to the Local Government Authority.
  7. Solar subsidies to be cut by 65%. They tried to cut it by 87% earlier in the year but the response was not good.
  8. 159 new fracking licences have been granted – but Test drilling for shale gas is expected to start within a year as a result of 93 licences handed out in one day for onshore oil and gas on the UK mainland.
  9. 45% rise in homeless families
  10. Osborne considering future of the BBC after meetings with Murdoch
  11. National rail fares have increased 117% since 1995 – but first class tickets only risen 65%.
  12. The Freedom of Information Act is being ‘closed’ down with Information Commissioner Christopher Graham described the review as an attempt to return to the ‘dark ages’ of ‘private government’.
  13. Amazon, which is criticised over the amount of tax it pays Britain, met the PM to discuss investment in the UK
  14. In one report – The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, chaired by former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, said modern Britain is still suffering from ‘deep divides’ in society with privately educated pupils still dominating the professions.
  15. Figures released by the Government also show the Prime Minister spent £713,182 on jetting around the world between April and October this year. This may not be such a big thing if David Cameron hadn’t made such a big thing of it before entering No 10 as he said there was “too much money spent on pay for staff and going on foreign trips.”

It is farcical to think that David Cameron promised in 2010: “I want coalition to be the greenest government ever.” Labour’s shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Today’s short-sighted cuts to the solar industry will cost jobs, hold back a growing industry and undermine progress on climate change.”

It’s also just as farcical to think that the Conservatives were going to be the most transparent ever having just wiped all previous election manifesto pledges, speeches and press releases off their own website. Worse, they have used a sophisticated ‘robot blocker’ to ensure they remain hidden from search engines and removed any documents from the ‘Internet Archive’ an online library that aims to build up a permanent record of web content. So much for Cameron’s ‘democratising the worlds information’.

George Osborne also emphasised his own commitment and that of government to openness on the internet before being elected.
In a speech on “Open Source Politics” in March 2007 he said that the Conservatives need to “harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible – and so bridge the gap between government and governed.”

The result of this – the dismantling of the Freedom of Information Act and the democratic process.

Graham Vanbergen

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