George Osborne has faced online mockery after a four-year-old tweet hailing Carillion’s part in his ‘long-term economic plan’ was shared widely as the construction firm went bust.
Tens of thousands of jobs and a host of government contracts are under threat after the crisis-hit firm was forced to enter liquidation on Monday.
The Wolverhampton-based firm employs around 20,000 people in Britain and is involved in a number of government projects, including HS2, new hospitals in Liverpool and Smethwick, and the provision of school dinners for 30,000 pupils.
But not so long ago, Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was keen to boast about the Tory government helping broker a deal for the company.
The tweet referred to Osborne announcing in the 2014 Budget that the Treasury would guarantee a £34 million loan that would allow Carillion to secure a contract with the Dubai World Trade Centre.
With Carillion on its knees, many on social media were anxious to point out the #LongTermEconomicPlan slogan – which was never far from a Conservative politician’s mouth in the run-up to the 2015 general election – may now ring hollow.
It joins a growing gallery of messages from top Tories prior to the 2015 vote and EU referendum that now enjoy cult status.
Osborne did essay the reason for the Carillion collapse in his latest role as editor of the London Evening Standard.
Just not on the front page.
A Labour Party adviser questioned why the focus was on the internal machinations of a party last in power eight years ago.
Carillion was the focus in the second, shorter editorial in today’s newspaper.
In it, the op-ed asks why the state has “found itself so dependent on a few very large outsourcing firms” and pins the blame on civil servants, not ministers. It states:
“You can be in favour of private firms bringing innovation and efficiency to government services while still asking questions about Carillion.
“Why has the state found itself so dependent on a few very large outsourcing firms?
“The failure to use a variety of smaller, mid-size companies undermines innovation and leaves services hostage when things go wrong.
“Why was Carillion awarded huge contracts by the civil service, with whom rather than ministers almost all procurement decisions lie after they knew it was struggling last year?”
Political journalists asked whether it was fair for civil servants to take full responsibility.
But appearing before a select committee of MPs, a senior civil servant suggested mandarins liaising with Carillion “played a blinder” in dealing with the firm.
Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that a senior civil servant had monitored effectively the contracts held by the company, ensuring “in almost all cases” join ventures were agreed so another firm could step in should a collapse occur.
“The horsepower has been provided by the full-time Strategic Partnership Manager for Carillion, who has played a blinding role actually in this particular circumstance,” he said.
When Labour MP Paul Flynn asked if that meant the civil servant involved had had their “eyes covered”, Manzoni replied: “[Blinding as in]’ ‘very good’…She’s done a really good job over the course of the last seven months.”