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Wednesday 6 June 2012

Super Soaraway NHS Smear

[Update at end of post]

Regular visitors to Zelo Street will recall the efforts of the cheaper end of the tabloid press, with the Mail in the vanguard, to demonise the disabled over the Motability scheme, with the story spread that they were being “handed” “free cars, which of course Ordinary Hard Working And Hard Pressed Taxpayers were paying for. This tactic of picking on those less able to answer back resurfaced yesterday.

This time, it’s Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Sun who have been on duty, their targets being folks who work for the NHS. “You pay for NHS staff’s posh cars” screams the headline, with Kevin Schofield claiming an exclusive for his story. A suitably upmarket Volvo XC60, described as “swish” is depicted, so that readers get the message. And, as the man said, there’s more.

HEALTH workers are driving swanky cars at the taxpayers’ expense” comes the follow-up. As usual, the Sun has to put some words in CAPITALS to remind READERS that some parts of the STORY are really, really IMPORTANT. Yes, there are lots of “top of the range motors leased for staff”, revealed in “Shock figures released under Freedom of Information laws”.

More truth to hail, or maybe not

So what’s the reality here? Ah well. That comes at the end, after readers have had their minds made up for them. Before that, there have to be pundits expressing outrage, horror, disgust, and whatever else comes to mind. These august beings include Chris Skidmore, 2010 intake Tory MP for the Bristol suburban seat of Kingswood, who is dutifully on-message.

Taxpayers will rightly be wondering why they are being asked to chip in so that NHS penpushers can get ferried around in Alfas, Audis and Range Rovers” he blusters. So they all get chauffeurs too? Whatever. There is also the ubiquitous Emma Boon of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), who is predictably disgusted by the news, and reads from her TPA Book Of Quotations (tm).

It’s bad enough that taxpayers pay for fat cats to drive fast cars. But it beggars belief we’re forking out for middle management to drive BMWs instead of on care for patients” [my emphases]. So that’s the readers convinced, and only then do we see that the “base vehicle” for those entitled to one under the leasing scheme is a Vauxhall Corsa 1.0. Ooh, swanky or what?

The Corsa is named by Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust (see HERE [.pdf]), while NHS Yorkshire And The Humber specifies a base lease cost (see HERE [.pdf]). Those eligible have to demonstrate a significant business mileage requirement, they pay for private mileage, and anything over the base specification they pay for themselves. The cars are not just handed out.

But the Sun doesn’t bother with giving you those pesky facts. No change there, then.

[UPDATE 7 June 1120 hours: FullFact has now looked at the Sun's claims, rather generously giving their claim "1 out of 5", as it is clear from their investigations that employees opting for lease cars over and above the base vehicle - the NHS Trust they found also mentioned the Corsa 1.0 - would have to pay the difference themselves.

Moreover, FullFact also cited this passage from the NHS Staff Council handbook: "The base cars of lease schemes shall be consistent with the proper use of public monies, NHS business needs and wider environmental considerations. Any employee choosing a car larger than the base car shall pay the additional full costs of this".

There has been no response thus far from Rupe's downmarket troops, or the so-called Taxpayers' Alliance. No surprise there]

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