Diary: Email exchange that became a departmental train crash
London Midland, which operates trains along the west coast line, has quietly secured the Government's permission to close down smaller stations along the routes they control, to cut costs. Other rail operators can expect the same later.
The stations at risk are likely to be what is known as "category E" – meaning little stations where there is normally only one member of staff on duty any time, of which there 675 in the country as a whole.
Norman Baker, the junior Transport minister, apparently did not know that they are doomed, because in November he assured Parliament that "no decision has been made on the closure of any category E stations." Unfortunately for him, an email exchange between press officers in his department has reached the inbox of one of the rail unions, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, who forwarded to your diarist.
The exchange begins with press officer Simon emailing press officer Ruth with a draft press release, the opening sentence of which was to have been: "The Government has no plans to close ticket offices, but as ticket buying habits change, we expect train operators to consider how best to deploy their station staff to provide the most benefit to passengers."
But the reply, from press officer Ruth to press officer Simon, warned: "We can't say the Government has no plans to close ticket offices because we have an application from London Midland where the Minister has already decided to approve some ticket office closures (it's just not been announced yet while we're concluding £ negotiations with LM) and there will be more of those in future." But, she added admiringly: "Your way of slipping in there that the initiative comes from Train Operating Companies not us is very neat."
The trick ceases to be "neat" when the audience you're trying to fool can see what you're doing.
Downing Street's wonks go west
There was a farewell party in Downing Street on Wednesday night for David Cameron's guru, Steve Hilton, the one behind the decisions to hug a husky, hug a hoodie, go green, and generally try to decontaminate the Tory brand. Michael Gove gave the farewell speech. Hilton, who is US bound is not being replaced, No 10 said yesterday. But it is the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who has arguably suffered the greater loss in the special adviser department because Richard Reeves, a Lib Dem who thinks big thoughts about the market economy and that sort of stuff instead of peering into the tiny detail of party politics, is also off to the USA.
Someone's telling porkies on pasties
George Osborne's decision to impose VAT on takeaway food is opening up rifts in the Coalition in all sorts of unexpected ways. On Wednesday night it set off a rebellion by backbench Tory MPs. Yesterday, Labour's Angela Eagle flourished a leaflet in the Commons which is being distributed by Lib Dems in Cornwall saying: "Stop the Tories taxing our pasties" – as if they hadn't voted for the tax when the government whips told them to.
They are even threatening to fall out over who invented the pasty. On the Commons order paper there is a motion urging that the Cornish pasty be exempt from the tax, which Adrian Sanders, Lib Dem MP for Torbay, is trying to amend to say that the pasty was "originally invented in Devon."
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