Yesterday’s Commons debate on the estimates – or more spending – was pathetic. The government fielded a clutch of junior Ministers to discuss the Business Department’s estimate, and the Transport Departments estimate. The Autumn and Spring Supplementary estimates are the way governments get Parliamentary approval to spend more than the budget figure for the year. Most of it is usually paying extra for errors and overruns, with the occasional increase for something that is worthwhile. This year the Supplementaries ran to 700 pages of detail in two volumes, totalling £36.446 billion (total net resource requirement, as HMT says). That’s a whopping supplementary. There was of course no Index to help you find the place you wanted, and often tiny items received much more explanation than the big numbers. The documents were a masterpiece of expensive obfuscation.
I discovered that there were just two large items within the wealth of detail. £20 billion was described in just 23 words “Raising the rate of sustainable growth and achieving rising prosperity and a better quality of life., with economic and employment opportunities for all”. I asked the Treasury Minister what that meant. It was clearly written in newspin, as there is no sign of growth out there, sustainable or unsustainable. The Minister either hadn’t a clue or had no intention of telling us. Further on in the bumper book of mad spending it did hint that this could have something to do with financial assistance to banks and other financial institutions, but there was no breakdown of the sums involved in a heading which also included extra spending on “honours and dignities” and the soon to be overworked Debt Management Office. I did not even find it reassuring that there was an offset, with a decline of spending of £3.7million, as this was on actions to “protect the integrity of the coinage”.
The Transport supplementary was the other large one, weighing in at £8.2 billion. I asked the Labour Chairman of the Transport Select Committee who led the debate what the large £7.55 billion item within this was for. It was called “Financial Instruments”. The detail supplied told us this was to “set up a non cash resource provision under a new Section for:Financial Instruments to reflect the opening value as at 1 April 2008 of FRS26 government guarantees….”
The lady was unable to answer, and the Minister was keeping mum about this one as well.
And so the Mother of Parliaments gladly passed £36 billion of extra spending after several hours of debate about something other than these two large estimates. All’s well with the spend more borrow more world.