Wednesday 6 May 2009

Should our word be our bond?

There are no certainties in politics, but it at least looks likely that Labour will not have a majority after the next election. But it is currently committing to expenditure - in other words contracts - which a new Government may not wish to fulfill. Many of those contracts will be multi-year, and a new Government will potentially have to meet them or suffer penalty clauses.

The latest discussion on ID cards prompted this thought, and there are probably other silly projects which we cannot afford even if we wanted them; NHS databases also come to mind.

Is it ever appropriate for an opposition to give notice to potential contractors that it will not be obliged to continue with a contract if it is elected to Government? I see pluses and minuses:

- a contract is a contract, and a Government has to govern. So an opposition should not normally disrupt this.
- a Government can commit future governments to long term expenditure against the wishes of the elctorate and a new Government.

Exceptionally I think an opposition should warn commercial firms that they do not support a long term arrangment and that they cannot expect compensation if it is cancelled. ID cards certainly shoudl be covered by this; I belive some of the PFI contracts should have been. And I would also like to see any partial privatisation of Post Offices reversed - but it looks as though if that happnes it will be on the back of Tory votes.

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