The reshuffle allowed David Cameron to place what many ministers (and sacked ministers in particular) are calling ‘Osborne’s spies’ in each government department to help the Chancellor rein in spending. Justine Greening wasn’t a typical spy when she arrived at the International Development department in a huff after being forced out of the Transport department, but as an ex-accountant, she was certainly appealing. Shortly after her appointment, Fraser speculated as to whether she would be quite so enthusiastic about playing ‘Mitchell’s Millions’, the game of spending £30 million a day on aid, regardless of how well-targeted that money is.
Greening is clearly keen to show that she’s not as eager a contestant as her predecessor Andrew Mitchell. The Daily Mail reports this morning that she has opened an ’emergency audit’ into the revelations in the Sunday Telegraph that DfId paid £500 million last year to consultants. A source tells the Mail:
‘Justine will be sure to bring an accountant’s eye to DfID and will be looking extremely closely at every single area of spend to ensure value for money for the British taxpayer. She has ordered a full report on all the issues that have been raised on her desk by the end of the month.’
In case you were in any doubt about this new Secretary of State’s approach to DfID’s budget, the source also tells the newspaper that she is scrutinising it ‘line by line’. This could well result in some interesting revelations about the practices of her predecessor, which could, if she is brave enough to brief against the record of the man who now serves as chief whip, easily find their way into the papers as a way of showing the government is cracking down on one area of spending that is not popular with Conservative grassroots.
Lord Ashcroft underlines that unpopularity in a piece for ConservativeHome today. In a letter to Greening, signed rather ominously with ‘Kind regards, Yours sincerely, Michael xx’, he says:
Certainly, our current policies are politically nonsensical. But I do not fully agree with the argument we should turn our backs on the world’s poorest people because of tough times at home. I have spent much of my life travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I have been to 140 countries. I visited 24 countries with Andrew Mitchell when he was the shadow minister for DfiD. I have seen the grinding poverty that still exists in many places. If aid worked, I would endorse the government’s attempts to cosy up to St Bob and Bono. But I have always approached politics in the same way I approach business – relying on rigorous analysis of all available evidence. That is why I am urging you to do the same, since it is clear Britain’s approach to aid is flawed and self-defeating. So I urge you to recommend to the Prime Minister to turn off the golden taps and stop flooding the developing world with our money.
Greening is reported to have told the Prime Minister at the time of the reshuffle that she didn’t believe in ring fencing the DfID budget, using ‘extremely fruity and sharp’ language. Perhaps she will use similar language when that report into spending on consultants lands on her desk, too.