Heseltine counts cost of waste

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

Michael Heseltine yesterday spent several thousand pounds, the time of no fewer than five Cabinet ministers and a morning out of the waste-busting work of Sir Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's efficiency adviser, to announce he had a couple of press releases to issue.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who has come under fire for acquiring a huge suite in the Cabinet office, a pounds 160,000 computer network, back-up staff to the cost of pounds 345,000 and other running costs in excess of pounds 70,000 a year, took over the big conference room at the Treasury to announce three new efficiency scrutinies aimed at slashing paperwork for farmers, local government and NHS Trusts.

But as the reporters, photographers and television crews assembled, it turned out that "Prezza Hezza" did not have any actual results to announce.

Backed by a splendid display declaring "War on Waste", Mr Heseltine's sole purpose in taking John Gummer, Stephen Dorrell, Douglas Hogg and Roger Freeman away from their Environment, Health, Agriculture and Public Service departments for the morning was to highlight press releases - that would have been available anyway on the Central Office of Information's electronic network - announcing the new scrutinies.

To underline the serious nature of this drive for efficiency, Jim Hammond, the chief executive of the East Gloucestershire NHS Trust who will chair the NHS scrutiny, had also been brought away from running his hospital to lend weight to the Deputy Prime Minister's launch - although no-one told the assembled media he was there. His presence was apparently to lend weight to Mr Dorrell's declaration that this was "an exercise in bumph-busting, eliminating unecessary cost".

Flanked by his four Cabinet colleagues and Sir Peter, each of whose time costs the taxpayer around pounds 250 a day in salary alone, Mr Heseltine was unable to say what savings could come from this new initiative or flesh out the areas to be covered in the scrutinies, chiefly because none of them have actually started yet.