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What should Downing Street learn from The First Battle in The War of The Cuts?

I hope Downing Street's Head of Communications, Andy Coulson is sitting down with Michael Gove and other key opinion formers to learn the lesson of the First Battle Of The Cuts.

Here are some quick fire conclusions on the whole episode of the Building Schools for the Future programme:

Coalition ministers must be on the front foot, repeating ad nauseam that they are putting out the fires started by the Labour arsonists: Last week's apologising from Michael Gove was, on reflection, a little too effusive. He bounced back this afternoon at Education Questions in the Commons. Gove was much more robust about the fact that he is putting out the financial fires that Ed Balls lit. Like so many Labour era projects, the Building Schools for the Future programme was very wasteful. If the Partnership for Schools quango was a capable entity it should have been able to say how many schools have reached the critical point of 'financial close'. That PFS failed repeatedly to accurately provide this information is a confirmation of the quango's overall shambolic state.

Ministers need more SpAds to manage their angry bureaucrats: The errors of last week might have been incompetence but it is just possible that something worse might be the explanation. We learnt in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph that Michael Gove had rightly cancelled the bonus of the head of the PFS quango. As Paul Goodman has warned - and I blogged last week - the quangocrats will fight back against attempts to cut them back. David Cameron should urgently reverse his decision on restricting the number of SpAds if his Ministers are to be masters of their departments.

The BBC needs to be held to account for its lack of balance: As David Hughes has blogged, the BBC lost all proportion over the last week. The Corporation did not pursue Ed Balls over the collapse of the SATs system or the shocking cover up over Baby P in the way they have gone for Michael Gove.

Labour ministers may be using moles: I wonder if Ed Balls is getting briefed from some of his old officials in the Department for Education? A minister in another department is convinced that some of his officials are in regular contact with Labour frontbenchers.

The Government machine needs to fight much harder to defend ministers, to counter-attack and, if necessary, launch alternative stories: Over the weekend the message that the Government is not cancelling all school building but cancelling the extravagant BSF finally started to get through.

Stop announcing cuts drip-by-drip-by-drip: Iain Martin has already written the definitive piece on this.

And one final observation re Ed Balls. He's overplaying his hand. He has encouraged Parliament to investigate recent events. However, any inquiry will inevitably expand to consider the history of BSF/PFS and this will reveal many embarrassing things about how he managed the Department and school building. He should be careful what he wishes for.

Tim Montgomerie


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