Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Betts on Forgemasters

In today’s episode of the Forgemasters’ saga:
• Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) provided a Written Ministerial Statement, and
• Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister) answered more questions in the House of Commons

Clive Betts MP (Sheffield South East) described the Written Ministerial Statement as a clear admission that “all the previous Government explanations had been simply wrong or grossly misleading.”

Clive Betts said:
“So far, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary and Ministers of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have given a range of reasons for reneging on the agreed loan to Forgemasters. Not one of those reasons holds up to scrutiny.

They’ve said ‘The loan was a bouncing cheque’ – now confirmed to be untrue.

They’ve blamed Forgemasters’ shareholders for scuppering a deal because they ‘didn’t want to dilute the value of their shares’ – simply and demonstrably untrue.

They’ve said ‘If it’s such a good investment, there’d be no problem with getting a commercial loan’ – just demonstrating an ignorance of commercial reality.

It’s been alleged that ‘the loan is illegal under EU rules’. It isn’t.
They’ve said ‘It’s a grant we can’t afford’, when they know that what was offered was a loan, repayable with interest, which would have made a profit for the government.

They’ve said ‘It was a politically-influenced assessment’. They know that is untrue. The proposal was independently assessed over an 18 month period by the Industrial Development Advisory Board, as well as by the Treasury, and recommended on three separate occasions as a good value-for-money proposal. We also know that it scored more highly as a good investment than other schemes that have been approved.

What we do know is that the only documented political influence on the decision-making process has come from Yorkshire’s biggest Conservative Party donor, who failed to disclose his own business and financial interests in scuppering the deal when he secretly lobbied Government Ministers.”

Clive Betts then commented on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s response to questions from Jack Dromey MP in the House of Commons today.

Clive Betts said:
“I was interested to note that Nick Clegg shifted the Government’s ground yet again today.

Nick Clegg said
“…..we are willing to look carefully at all proposals ….when the future availability of public funds becomes clearer after the completion of the spending review….the issue was the lack of affordability in this year’s current Budget…….”

This is a completely new formulation of the Government’s position. And, in his statement today, Vince Cable finally admitted ‘this is a worthwhile project.’

Taking these statements together, one can only conclude that the Government at last recognises that it made the wrong decision, has made a complete hash of seeking to justify it, and is now trying to provide itself with some wriggle-room in order to provide itself with the cover to revisit the issue later in the year.”

Clive Betts concluded:

“This has become a political issue only because of the crass way in which the new coalition government has dealt with it so far.

We all need to remember that the proposed investment was to enable a successful and innovative British company become a world leader in a growth sector of the 21st century economy.

That investment would be good for jobs, good for the national economy, good for exports, good for the balance of trade, and especially good for Sheffield and the regional economy.

That’s why I will continue to work hard for a solution.”

Information for Editors:
Vince Cable’s Written Ministerial Statement is attached.

Nick Clegg’s response to Jack Dromey MP is set out below:

T3. [11084] Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On 22 June, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House that the decision not to proceed with the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was a consequence of the reluctance of the shareholders to dilute their shareholding. Today, a written statement from the Business Secretary clarifies that it was an issue of affordability. The Government have announced a £1 billion regional growth fund. Were the company to make a fresh application, will the Deputy Prime Minister give an undertaking to the House that it will be considered as a matter of priority, and will he support it as a Sheffield Member of Parliament?
The Deputy Prime Minister: In the written statement to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, the Business Secretary concludes:
“We have made clear that we stand ready to work closely with the company as it pursues its ambitions and we are willing to look carefully at all proposals, as we would for any project”
from any other company
“when the future availability of public funds becomes clearer after the completion of the spending review.”
The hon. Gentleman will know that the issue was the lack of affordability in this year’s current Budget, because we discovered when we came into government that the previous Government had promised £9 billion more than departmental budgets. That was wrong. That is why it was wrong for Government Ministers at the time to write out cheques that they knew would bounce.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Pointed heads and big feet

Under the last Conservative government in the 1990s, the number of police officers was cut and crime increased dramatically. Further, lack of investment in modern technology and policing systems meant that our police forces were easily amongst the least efficient and effective organisations.

Since 1997, there has been an increase police numbers – and, more importantly, the number of police on the beat and not hidden away in back offices – the introduction of new laws to tackle anti-social behaviour (nearly all opposed by the Liberal Democrats) and modern crime, and a requirement of all police forces to work with other agencies to tackle crime.

The result has been a significant cut in crime, as recorded by both crime statistics – those reported to the police – and the British Crime Survey – which interviews more than 40,000 people each year on their actual experience of crime. The recently published Survey for 2009 suggested that crime fell again by 9 per cent last year to reach its lowest level since 1981; similarly, recorded crime fell by 8%.

But this doesn’t mean that policing can’t be significantly more efficient. You don’t need years of police training and an advanced driving certificate to escort wide loads on the motorway. And, it’s highly unlikely that having a pointed head and big feet are essential pre-requisites for efficiently and effectively investigating internet fraud.

As reports from the Chairman of the Audit Commission and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary have pointed out this month, there is considerably more to be done to get better value for money in policing. But this will require further investment in technology and systems’ reviews. As both of them confirmed, this won’t happen with a 25% cut in police funding as suggested in the right-wing coalition’s emergency budget.

And now, the Conservative Home Secretary is proposing the replacement of local police authorities by a single elected official. It’s no surprise that this is overwhelmingly opposed by both Chief Constables and by councillors of all political parties. There is not a single shred of evidence to support the view that this will improve local policing; but, there is all the evidence to suggest that this will compromise the operational independence of police forces.

Clive Betts MP