Got Henry Smith’s new leaflet through my door. It’s very nice, a shiny full-colour A3 folded jobby (must have cost Lord Ashcroft a few quid for all of them across town).
There are lots of pictures in it. Lots of them. And in most of them Henry is grinning at me. Great, we know he can smile at a camera. But what else can he do?
Well, adding up and sums might be a bit of a problem for someone.
There’s a bit on the front page slagging off the tax credits scheme, claiming that ‘fraud and error’ have cost the taxpayer £5bn. However, checking the latest National Audit Office report, I can see that the outstanding debt from overpayments from 2003 (when the scheme was introduced) to 2007 was less than that – £3.9bn, of which only about £0.7bn has been written off. A further £1.6bn has been allocated to underwrite the possibility that not all of the remainder can be collected. That’s a total of £2.3bn on the worst case. Half of Henry’s figure. Not that I’m saying that it’s a good thing, but the Tories are inflating the effect, and have come up with a nice round number to scare us poor taxpayers.
He also claims that the money could build 150 hospitals. Hmm. That works out at less than £35M per hospital. If we look at the figures used by Henry’s Campaign for Pease Pottage Hospital, we see that the hospital he’s telling us he can get built would cost £168M, about five times as much. And to run it for one year would cost nearly £100M. So, assuming that you want to run a hospital for some time after you build it, £5bn would pay for more like 20 hospitals.
The article ends with a Henry quote:
the sick irony is that Crawley only needs one hospital
Umm, we have one hospital. I thought we needed a better hospital, but maybe Henry’s less ambitious for us than he’d like to think.
Swings and roundabouts
Also on the front page it says that Henry
achieved the highest national swing from Labour to Conservative (over 8.5%)
but he didn’t (assuming that what they actually mean is ‘highest swing from Labour to the Conservatives in the country’). David Burrows had a higher swing (8.7%) to win in Enfield Southgate. Sir Patrick Cormack had a higher swing (9.1%) when he held South Staffs.
Yes, Henry did get one of the largest swings, but not the largest. On it’s own a small inaccuracy, but given that he can’t work out how much a hospital costs, or count how many we have, perhaps there’s a pattern emerging…
Costs of investments may rise as well as fall
Page 2 now. It’s welcome that West Sussex County Council has invested money into new schools. The figure quoted is £80 million. However, according to a press release from 2003, it was a £54 million PFI project. The remainder of the money was found by selling off land (largely school playing fields), and the PFI part of the deal will still have to be paid off over the next 30 years. Some of the capital will have come from government grants anyway, and WSCC could not have done all of that work without help from the Labour government. Besides, I remember the pain we had to go through in Southgate when involved in the scheme were plans to close one of the local primary schools. Thanks to local opposition (and I like to think I helped the parents out there) we retained both primary schools.
Also, we are getting a ‘state of the art’ library. Wonderful though I expect it to be, the Tories and County Hall have been promising us a new library for over 15 years. I know it’s that long, because I was working in Crawley Library on Saturdays in 1992. And it was considered to be long overdue then. So thanks, Henry, for finally coming through, but let’s hope it doesn’t take 15 years for anything else to happen.
Of course, one local invesment that Henry’s leaflet completely misses out is also one of the most well known: Fastway. Why could it be that a West Sussex County Council led project, investing millions of pounds into local transport infrastructure, is not worth shouting about? The plans were launched by Cllr David Dewdney, the Tory councillor from Pound Hill, and were set to cost £30 million.
Perhaps Henry doesn’t want to be associated with Fastway. Maybe it’s related to the events of spring 2005, when the County Council found that it had gone over budget by £6 million. It was known at Easter that year, but apparently Henry, then the leader of West Sussex County Council, was totally unaware of the overspend until after May. Coincidentally, he was at the very same time standing as the Conservative candidate for Crawley in the General Election. As far as I can see, he either did know but decided it was a bit embarrassing, or he really didn’t know, which begs the question as to whether someone who can avoid knowing about a £6 million snafu is really in touch with what’s going on under their own noses.
Blimey, numbers and money really are not Mr Smith’s strong points, are they? I’ve only got to the first column on page two, and my confidence in the guy is shot to pieces…