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Comment: Serious questions prove no piece of cake for Chancellor
I have never quite understood what our political elite hope to achieve with awkwardly contrived photo ops.
When George Osborne took time out of what I hope is a fairly rigorous schedule to fill a sponge cake with jam and cream in the new Morrisons, what message was he and his aides hoping to telegraph to floating voters?
“This is a man undaunted by rudimentary baking tasks,” perhaps? Or possibly: “This a chancellor so obsessed with economic growth he’s willing to put the cream into the cakes that will fuel our increased productivity with his own bare hands?”
But these are questions to be answered by far more astute political minds than my own.
Baffling optics aside, the Chancellor’s visit did present this paper with an opportunity to press the man holding the nation’s purse strings about what cash is available to rebuild Watford General.
Sadly, here Mr Osborne served up less substantial fare than with the aforementioned cake he had diligently worked on.
The gist of his noncommittal response was essentially that detailed discussions are yet to take place between the Treasury and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust over the project.
This is not entirely surprising as the trust is yet to unveil its new clinical strategy, which will outline its vision for the hospital’s redevelopment.
But the fact that detailed negotiations have not taken place indicates how far away a new hospital is.
I fear many people are still under the impression that we will get a comprehensive redevelopment, like the 500 bed new hospital promised under the original (and now discredited PFI) proposals.
However, at the moment, it is not only unclear what the redevelopment will entail, but also exactly how it will be funded.
The latest reports from the hospital trust show it is coming under increasing financial pressure and sliding further away from attaining the more independent foundation status needed to participate in any large scale regeneration scheme.
One of the few things that is clear about the long-overdue project is that any serious redevelopment of Watford General is going to need substantial financial backing from central Government.
Last year, Hertfordshire County Council’s chief executive John Wood received £171,376 in salary and pension contributions.
Bear that figure in mind when you consider that, in contrast, it would cost an additional £166,000 a year to bring the hourly rate of 4,412 staff currently paid below the Living Wage up to the £7.65 an hour considered necessary to cover basic living costs.
The council’s Conservative leadership last week voted down a proposal to introduce the Living Wage on the basis it would mean an increase in the cost of school dinners.
The decision means staff at the bottom will continue to earn salaries as low as £12,435 a year. It is the upper end of the public sector pay scale that tends to provoke the most indignation.
Yet last week we learned the salaries of those in the less gilded echelons of public service are just as scandalous.
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