We can now add Andy Burnham to the always increasing list of Ministers who seem to be a bit thick. In response to David Cameron's suggestion that the BBC should freeze the licence fee, Burnham said:
"[He's] planning for today's headlines instead of the future of the BBC. [If he] really wants to help families he should back our cut of £5 a week off the average household VAT bill rather than using the BBC as a political football in this way."
First of all, that cut in the VAT bill isn't free money; it is going to be paid for by the 0.5% increase in National Insurance - among other things - that's going to kick in next year. Don't be fooled into thinking you're not 'buying now and paying later', as it were.
But secondly, and more importantly, Cameron knows the amount he's talking about is piffle, as do 99% of the rest of us. Nobody is going to change their vote on the back of Cameron's pledge to put enough back in their pocket for a pint of lager. £3 on its own is nothing. However, this is a sign that Cameron won't simply adopt the lazy doctrine that every organisation in the public sector always needs more money each year. The increments are always small; the TV licence fee going up by £3, your council tax going up by 2-3%. But the significant thing is that they all add up and, year on year, we are told these increases are entirely justifiable and necessary. What Cameron has said today is that public bodies need to play their part during the recession, and that automatic increases in funding are not theirs by right. Nick Robinson sums it up well when he says:
"...it is a signal to the public sector that nothing should be taken for granted and that he, David Cameron, is willing to say no. If he's ready to freeze the licence fee, this question is raised: what is his intention for government spending for which he is directly responsible?"
This point seems to have eluded Burnham. Maybe he was too busy putting on his make-up?