Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Boris Johnson and the long journey to revelation

Information about the cost of Boris Johnson's 'transition team' has been dripping out all day from City Hall. These details have been ably collected by Dave Hill who has rushed all over the place with pots, pans and buckets, so as not to miss a splash.

But with all leaks patched up for now at least, I think it is important to look at where we are and how we got here.

This story began during the campaign for Mayor, when Boris promised London that he would make City Hall more accountable and restore confidence that money was being carefully spent. Central to this was the pledge that all details of GLA spending would be made available to the public 'from day one'. 

This was an admirable pledge, especially from a man who has been less than transparent with the public in the past. But it was also a pledge that had it's pitfalls. To put it simply, when you have set yourself up as Mr. Accountable, then you better act as Mr. Accountable and not as Mr. Equivocation.

So when Boris failed to put all GLA spending on the Mayor's website from day one, he was always going to be open to criticism. And so criticise him we did.

But when Boris then categorically refused to say how much he would be spending on his 14 strong group of temporary advisors, spinners and fixers, then the whole Mr. Accountability act began to look like a sham.

His refusal, slipped out in a written answer to a question by Darren Johnson, was noticed and blogged about by myself a couple of weeks ago and then subsequently followed up by Dave Hill. 

The release in a report to the Business Management and Administration Committee of the total expected spend of £425,000 for his 'transition team' was then noticed by Pippa Crerar at the Evening Standard and then revised up to £465,000 by his team. The story was then picked up by everyone from the Guardian to the Andrew Marr Show.

As attention on the subject grew, it became clear that the original line that details would not be released, could not hold and so we now have the concessions released today.

Unanswered Questions

I'm not quite sure why there has been such reluctance to disclose these details to the public or why crucial details are still now being held from us, but a number of other questions are bothering me:
  1. Why were details of their salaries intended to be kept private at first?
  2. Why are we now only being given a running total? 
  3. Why has it not been confirmed how long these people will be working for and what they will be doing? 
  4. Why is there such an open-ended cost and what circumstances would lead to either their salaries rising or their length of employment extending? 
  5. Why are some members given such vague job descriptions? I know for instance that James Horrax worked on the Back Boris internet campaign and will presumably have a similar role now. So why isn't that made clear?
  6. Why are we paying for this 'transition team' of PR professionals and campaign members when City Hall already has an in-house press team?
When Boris Johnson ran for Mayor he set himself a high standard of transparency and accountability to live up to.  

However, the secrecy over these expenses and his reluctance to be scrutinised by the press means that he has absolutely failed to live up to that standard. It is time for him to turn that trend around.
The drip drip of information is continuing almost as fast as the money falling into the transition team's wallets. A new table puts the total cost to us all at £77,433 so far.


Anonymous said...

The sixth question is the most prescient I would have thought. Is there a precedent for this kind of thing? Do Mayor's usually need a team of 14 people to hold their hand when they come into power? Is he that staggeringly incompetent that the Tories are willing to spend half a million pounds of public money on stopping him from completely cocking it up in the first few months?

Helen said...

I see the Axeman starts on July 7 and Boris proposes to appoint him as Chairman (can't say "Chair" - political correctness gone mad!) of TfL from 1 September 2008 "or as soon a (sic) possible thereafter" http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/assemmtgs/2008/mqtjun18/item09a.pdf

I also note that the contract for printing the 2008 London Elections Report has been awarded to the "Stationary (sic) Office" http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/assemmtgs/2008/mqtjun18/item04a.pdf

barry rochford said...

At least we know that when Livingstone took over he wasn't controlled by any central office, whatever anyone says about his policies.
Anonymous is absolutely right - Cameron's biggest worry is not whether Boris does anything - he'd prefer him to do nothing till after 2010 and then let him dismantle London.