Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn

Don't Let the Bad News Get Buried

Friday, 28 July 2017

As Parliament goes on holiday for the summer, I want to reflect on an unpleasant tradition called “Taking out the Trash Day”. No, this isn’t a blog announcing a new recycling policy or anything like that. The final day before the Parliamentary recess, “Taking out the Trash Day” has earnt its infamous nickname because it is the day when governments will release embarrassing or awkward information or documents in the hopes that they will avoid the usual scrutiny. 

It should be noted, in the interests of fairness, that no party is entirely innocent of this practice. However in the past few years successive Conservative governments have turned the practice of using the last day of Parliament to bury bad news into an art form. Last summers’ Taking out the Trash Day included the Schools’ Funding Formula being delayed for a year, the number of criminal offences and motoring charges avoided by foreign diplomats, patient data being sent to the wrong GPs and Whitehall’s performance in answering (or not) MPs letters on time. This year’s crop has gone one better.

Many of the 22 written statements and dozens of Whitehall reports released last Thursday will have a direct effect on Tameside. Perhaps the most significant is confirmation that police officer numbers in England and Wales had fallen by 0.7% at the end of March this year. That doesn’t sound like much, but it means that the number of police officers on our streets is the lowest number at the end of a financial year since comparable records began in 1996. Police cuts and their ability to keep the public safe as a result of them was an important argument during the General Election campaign. Attempting to bury information that will inform that debate in the years in come is the height of irresponsibility, especially since the last three years of figures show a sustained and accelerating rise in crime of 3% in 2015, 8% in 2016 and 10% in 2017.

The other big one is the decision to scrap the electrification of several train lines. At the moment the confirmed cancellations are the routes between Cardiff and Swansea, between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield, and between Windermere and Oxenholme. Those by themselves were bad enough, but as I wrote earlier in the week, we’ve heard disturbing rumours that the electrification of the Manchester-Leeds route will be downgraded or killed off entirely. If the rumours are true, and I sincerely hope that they aren’t, then it will be a slap in the face for not only Manchester, but the entire North of England. Just about every expert on the subject agrees that cutting the travel times between two of the North’s great cities is essential to boosting prosperity and economic growth across the entire region. The way the government has treated the electrification scheme; first announcing it, then pausing it, then re-announcing it, and now either gutting it or cancelling it totally, tells you everything you need to know about their commitment to anything north of the Watford Gap.

There’s a few more as well, such as reports into human rights concerns in foreign countries and the state of school Maths education, but I think I’ve made my point clear. While in times past burying bad news in this manner would have probably worked, the rise of the internet and social media means that there are essentially an unlimited number of people working to uncover the awkward facts that governments would rather they didn’t see. Let’s keep doing that work. We may not, outside of another election, be able to stop this government making decisions that hurt our economy and communities. Yet we can, and will we, sure that they are always held to account for their actions, no matter how they try to hide them.

Posted by: Kieran Quinn

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