Thursday, 12 April 2012

Major Misunderstanding takes over at The Herald

The reduction in the level of accuracy and checking that is being done on stories in The Herald is becoming seriously concerning. Recently this broadsheet that was once a paper of record has started to sprout enough typos and inaccuracies to suggest it wants to become a Scottish version of the Guardian (circa 1980's). However today (12 April) there is a far more significant error. It concerns a page lead on (yet another) spat between the Scottish Government and Westminster (see here). This time over public sector pensions.
Danny Alexander MP

While the dual responsibilities for pensions mean that this area is ripe for disputes to occur (devolved public service pensions are devolved to Holyrood; reserved public service pensions and general pension policy are reserved to Westminster), this particular story has to be unbelievable - literally.
Brian Currie, the author of the article, would have us believe that Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) has written to John Swinney suggesting he is unilaterally going to move the index to which public sector pensions are linked from the current Consumer Price Index(CPI) to the older Retail Price Index (RPI). This is apparently because the CPI goes up faster than the RPI and the switch will save money. John Swinney is reported to be 'angry' and 'astounded'.

Well might he be, but it would seem that this proposal is somewhat unlikely, even for the gaffe-prone ConDem coailition. Why? Well there are at least two good reasons why such a move is unlikely. Firstly, RPI goes up faster than CPI, not the other way round, so Danny Alexander (who wants to cut money from public sector workers' pensions) is most unlikely to move the link to the faster rising index. Secondly, Mr Alexander already changed the link in the other direction taking effect only in April 2011! It follows that neither is he likely to have written wanting to change it back, nor to tell the Scottish Government that it was being changed – as everyone was well aware of it a year ago.
If you check the Scottish Government's release (presumably the source for this story) here it does not say that the index change is the objection. It objects to proposals "to legislate for an automatic link between normal pension age and state pension age, and also set the normal pension age for police officers and firefighters at 60."

John Swinney, 'angry and astonished'
John Swinney's 'anger' and 'astonishment' appears to be about that - not about a switch to RPI for pensions as stated. Incidentally, trade unions (on both sides of the border) would be inclined to welcome any such switch as they have spent some time and resources campaigning and taking out an (unsuccessful) Judicial Review AGAINST the switch from the RPI to CPI instituted in April 2011.
So is this an invention by John Swinney to attack Westminster? A strange change of heart from the Minister? Or a cock up on the reporting/sub-editing front at the Herald? Given the cutbacks in reporting staff at Newsquest Towers I know which my money is on!

But more seriously, if this major piece of misinformation, however generated, can get into a paper such as the Herald (and as a page lead too!), it suggests that levels of scrutiny and accuracy are far below any responsible level of adequacy. The Herald, far from being a paper of record, risks becoming a paper of ridicule.

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