Should the civil service be costing the opposition’s education policies?

What does a Labour voter from Morecambe, a Lib Dem voter from Truro and a Green voter from Brighton have in common?

Yesterday they made a huge political contribution to the Conservatives.

A line-up of Conservative Ministers yesterday published an extensive report, pulled together by officials from the Treasury, which attempted to cost Labour’s commitments to date – including their ones for schools.

For example, Labour’s plan to require all teachers to become qualified, is identified as costing £386 million over five years. But look closely and the majority of this is an assumed cost of higher wages, even though schools typically cover wage  increases from within their usual budgets, so no extra is needed.

Labour’s “commitment” to open 100 UTCs is costed at over a billion pounds, despite the fact that Labour hasn’t committed to this number, and that UTCs are a Coalition invention.

But as a small task force of ex policy wonks go to town on this sort of detail (you know who you are) I wanted to pause a moment and ask whether this activity is appropriate.

First, having civil servants create a report used at a political press conference seems to fly in the face of the Civil Service Code. The code makes one thing very clear: You must not act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes.’

Regardless of precedent (I’m told this process has happened before), supervision or not (I’m told the Permanent Seccretary – a senior civil servant – oversees the process), it still feels as if using officials to pull together a document whose sole purpose is party political should not be allowed.

Second, even if this did happen in 2010, the the issue is brought into sharper focus now that the office for budgetary responsibility (OBR) exists. The OBR was created in 2010 to provide independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances – it’s essentially the public purse watchdog.

If the OBR is acting in the interests of the public why not look at each manifesto? What are the cost implications of Conservative education commitments? Lib Dem education commitments? As a voter we should be given an impartial view of what each party would spend if it were elected.

Third, since publication of the document, it has emerged that the Lib Dems have consciously distanced themselves from this ‘private advice’ – specifically claiming they did not commission the costings of the education policies, or sign them off. If the Lib Dems aren’t involved in this process that further undermines the case for this being a ‘government publication’.

The next review, it seems, will likely be about restoring the public’s trust in politicians.


Matt Hood is a teacher and Labour Party member

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  1. The Labour party policies and the Conservative policies advance education not one jot. We have a convergent factory system driven by paranoia at all levels and urged endlessly on by PISA. Look back along the road travelled at the staggering cost of failed initiatives, abandoned schemes, unworkable reforms and more…