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Boris Johnson Could Be PM – Thus Knives Out Over £300k Lost On Water Cannons

A useful way to tell how feeble people think Theresa May’s hold on being Prime Minister is is to see who is slagging off Boris Johnson and why. Thus this attention being paid to the £300,000 he wasted while London Mayor on buying and importing some water cannon which aren’t actually legal to use in the UK. They’ve just been sold for £11,000 – scrap value basically – and of course this is being talked about as a massive scandal. For if May topples then Boris is one of the handful from among whom her replacement will be selected. And there are those who would prefer it were them – thus they’ll do near anything to scupper the chances of their rivals – and also, well, some just think Boris won’t be very good at the job and therefore don’t want him to get it.

They might even be right that Boris won’t make a good PM but he’d certainly be better at that than as a departmental minister – he’s not got the command of or even energy for the detail necessary there.

Still, there is a moue of distaste about this story:

Three water cannon bought and refurbished for more than £320,000 while Boris Johnson was London Mayor have been sold for £11,000.

The vehicles were bought by Mr Johnson as crowd-control weapons following the 2011 riots.

They were sold for £11,025 to Nottinghamshire-based Reclamations (Ollerton) Ltd who will dismantle them and export the parts.

All true and yet still a certain distaste at the story:

Three water cannon bought by Boris Johnson for more than £320,000 while he was London Mayor have been sold for just £11,025.

Current Mayor Sadiq Khan announced yesterday that “we have managed to finally get rid of them” as it was revealed they had been sold to a firm that will dismantle them and export the parts.

The machines were bought by Mr Johnson from Germany in 2014 – before their use had been licensed on British mainland.

Then-Home Secretary Theresa May banned their use in riot situations in 2015, and later used the purchase to ridicule Mr Johnson in the Tory leadership race after David Cameron resigned.

Darling Theresa knowing back then that Boris would be a major rival once Cameron went. The decision she made being a useful opportunity to provide herself with a nice story for the future. But of course that is the most dreadful cynicism.

The fee recoups 3.4% of the £322,834.71 spent on the vehicles since 2014.

The 25-year-old vehicles cost £85,022 in 2014, but they were found to be riddled with faults and required expensive modification to make them roadworthy. This included £32,000 to comply with the city’s low emission zone, and almost £1,000 on new stereos.

What annoys is the glee with which the “waste” is being reported. For by the standards of British politics this is trivia, it’s not even a rounding error in the public accounts. Consider the NHS computerisation project:

That experience seems to sum up the massively ambitious NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT, subsequently re-christened Connecting for Health) which the government has announced has finally been cancelled. Since NPfIT, as it was originally conceived, has widely recognised to have been dead in the water for some time, this coup de grâce is long overdue.

Given the amount of taxpayer money that’s been spent on this project over the past seven years, it should give no-one any satisfaction that the problems of the NPfIT stem back right to the start of the project.

Yes, you should take Computer Weekly seriously – I write for them. Even The Guardian worried about it:

An abandoned NHS patient record system has so far cost the taxpayer nearly £10bn, with the final bill for what would have been the world’s largest civilian computer system likely to be several hundreds of millions of pounds higher, according a highly critical report from parliament’s public spending watchdog.

MPs on the public accounts committee said final costs are expected to increase beyond the existing £9.8bn

From memory we didn’t actually get a single usable line of code for that £10 billion. In fact, we’ve never had a government computer contract come in on time and on budget – that’s before we even consider whether the budget or purpose was reasonable in the first place.

And that’s not all. HS2 means that we’ll spend what is it, £50 billion on a train set? One that’s going to be out of date before it’s finished as autonomous cars make long distance passenger trains entirely redundant.

And that’s before we get to the expense of the things that are considered successes, like the NHS. £120 billion a year, 8% of everything, for distinctly substandard medical care. Boris wasting £300,000 is trivia. But given that he could be the next PM and a lot of people would prefer he weren’t then of course the stories are out now. Which is why every paper is carrying this one now.

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5 years ago

Your cynicism ‘re May is misplaced. She simply followed the instructions of her civil servants as always.
It would be interesting to hear the speeches should riots again break out in London. Thankfully I don’t live there.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago

Guido claims Boris had assurances from his (then) mate Cameron that should rioting break out again in London (a real possibility at the time), the law would be swiftly changed to ensure the use of water cannon would be legal. And who agreed to flog ’em for £11,000? The engines alone must be worth more than that in parts (assuming you can’t sell them on to some ‘friendly’ autocrat). Still, it’s only taxpayers’ money. Pedantry: autonomous vehicles won’t make all long-distance passenger trains redundant (unless they can cruise at 200kph+). But they’ll certainly make them redundant over a 100-mile stretch,… Read more »

5 years ago

I’d have given £15k for the 3 water cannon, no worries, and still got an unbelievably good deal. I have no idea how much they are really worth, but it’s clear they were sold off well under value. We should be damning Khan for getting such a crap price for them. Possibly deliberately, or is it just incompetence?

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago
Reply to  swannypol

SOP. A lady round our way put a note in the window of the village shop “A4 laminator, still in box £5”. As this was << half price we nabbed one. It turned out she'd been bidding on a 'government surplus' web site and bought what she thought was a laminator for a tenner – it turned out to be a pallet of 20.

Andy H
Andy H
5 years ago

Much as I love your writing Tim, your claim on government computer systems is wrong. I worked on the systems to support Employment and Support Allowance (the replacement for incapacity benefit), around £200m all told I think (IT, training for 80k people etc, very big project), and that was on time and on budget .You can tell it was a success as it didn’t end up in the papers or in front of the public accounts committee.

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