During today’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, Edward Leigh MP asked the following:
“As far as I understand it, from briefing by the NAO, there is no dispute about what happened. When the DWP ran Child Benefit, they used to do an audit of 20,000 names. When Child Benefit was passed to the Inland Revenue, they decided to only do a sample of 2,000 names, which was why the NAO had to check it.
When the NAO asked for the ‘narrow information’ [national insurance number and name only], they were told by the Inland Revenue that it would be ‘too burdensome’ to disaggregate that narrow information from people’s bank account details. That is why this information was sent in the post. It adds up to a department cutting corners because too much work was loaded onto it while it was having staff cuts.”
The Treasury’s excuse for sending the names, bank details and national insurance numbers of 25 million people was that it lacks the resources to disaggregate the information required.
This argument, although weak, changes this whole issue from being about a junior civil servant not following procedure again, to something more fundamental. This debate has shifted and is now about policy and Labour’s stewardship of the Treasury.
So has the current Chancellor mismanaged the Treasury, or did he inherit a department not fit for purpose?
As one cheeky MP put the question, ‘is it time for Blackadder to say goodbye to Darling’ or should it be his boss Mr Brown who carries the can?