Dead ball

It is summer 2022.  Britain is slowly recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic which has forced the National Debt to over two trillion pounds. As the government attempts to cope with this, it has listened to the ideas of its citizens, which have included the introduction of double and treble British Summer time to save energy. State run drug addiction centres give out free drugs in controlled measures to registered addicts, an action that has seen a fall in robberies and assaults as addicts no longer need to resort to crime to fund their next fix. Addiction rates have fallen, especially those of teenagers, as the market for illegal drugs has disappeared and drug barons abandon their policies of creating the addicts of the future.

To channel and assess these new ideas, which are now coming in, in thousands, as people realise that they can be taken seriously, the Home Office has appointed a Minister for New Initiatives to assess all ideas and take forward the viable ones.

These improvements have come at a cost. Organised crime has turned to robbery, vice and gambling to make up for the lost revenue from drugs. Law enforcement is hindered by corruption within the police and prison services, which hamper initiatives to disrupt organised crime and capture its leaders. In desperation the police have turned to MI5 to run clandestine, no questions asked, operations to expose and weed out corruption.

MI5 has contributed greatly to the success of anti-corruption initiatives, with many individuals being prosecuted for their activities. But what impact has this had on MI5 itself? In the course of its routine police work, the Cornwall and Islands police come across suspicious deaths where involvement of MI5 is suspected. Is this just a rogue element, or has this new found freedom to deliver on its mandate given too much power to an organisation that lives in the shadows?

It is up to dedicated CID officers, supported by Sven Ffolkes, a Norwegian police inspector and anglophile, on gardening leave prior to his retirement, to find out. Can they get to the bottom of the deaths of the ex-Head of MI5, who disappeared sixteen years ago and of a young cricketer found dead at the end of a game, before the evidence and suspects disappear into the ether?

Preface – 15:00 9th July 2022, St Ives

‘”Ask not for whom the bell tolls, rather ask how much it costs for it to toll”. Those are the words of the headline in one of our leading Sunday newspapers, discussing the latest government Green Paper to privatise the Palace of Westminster. On the programme this afternoon we welcome Darren Anders MP, the Home Office Minister for New Initiatives, but better known as the Minister for Ideas.

‘Minister, your own figures answer this question, putting the cost at approximately one billion pounds per year or £30 per second. What they say is each time Big Ben strikes the government will pay £30 to the new company operating the Palace of Westminster. It will continue to pay for every second, even when the bell is not striking. Isn’t it rather a lot for the British people to pay just to see and hear their favourite timepiece?’

‘Good afternoon, Jeremy. To answer your question, yes, it would be, if Big Ben were all we were paying for, but our idea goes much further. £30 per second would be the charge for operation and maintenance of the whole of the Palace of Westminster and every use of it made for government business. And that’s just the start of it.’

‘But, Minister, government figures show the current cost for these services to be about £400 million, so you are talking about two and a half times this. How can you possibly justify your figures?’

‘Jeremy, you are not comparing like-for-like, and I think you know it.’

‘Perhaps you would like to explain to our viewers.’

‘Certainly. The figure of £400 million, per year only includes annual costs, primarily salaries of the staff, but also building maintenance. What it does not include is repair and refurbishment, which is currently estimated at over £1 billion. Neither does it make allowance for servicing a leasing cost. Part of our proposal is that the government will float 100,000,000 shares in the new company, Big Ben plc, at £1,000 per share. Included in the assets of the company will be a 999-year lease on the Palace of Westminster. This will allow members of the public to buy shares in the company and own a piece of our national heritage.

‘These shares, which will be sold by the Exchequer, will yield £100 billion for Britain, money we can use to reduce our National Debt, which, as a result of the necessary support of business during the Covid 19 pandemic, has risen to nearly £2.5 trillion. Reducing the debt by £100 billion will reduce the cost of servicing the debt, which is currently over £5,000 per second, by 4%, saving the taxpayer over £200 per second. Now you can see that £30 per second would generate a huge saving.’

‘If a loan of £100 billion would cost the Taxpayer £200 per second in interest, why would it not cost Big Ben plc the same amount, which it would want to charge back to the government, making for a charge of £230 per second rather than the £30 the government is proposing?’

‘A very good question, which takes us to the heart of the idea. Because £100 billion will come from shareholder capital, the company will not owe a penny for the lease. For commitment of that capital, Big Ben plc has a valuable asset, which it can exploit for 999 years. Not only will it have revenue from the government but, provided only that it delivers on its contract with the government, it can use the asset however it wishes. Hotel rooms, tours, film-making, functions or anything else an ingenious entrepreneur can visualise. Don’t forget, since the pandemic a large proportion of government and parliamentary business has been conducted online, so it will only need the chambers for about 50 days per year.’

‘What if the company decided to sell off part of the asset? The Elizabeth Tower for example, the nation could lose Big Ben for ever.’

‘That could not happen, for two reasons. Firstly, the new company gets a lease on the palace, not the freehold. Selling off bits of it would not be allowed by the lease. Secondly, the government would retain a golden share, a vehicle it has used before and with which business is familiar, to veto any proposals it considers to be against the National Interest.’

‘What do you see as the drawbacks in this idea?’

‘Another very good question. I don’t know if the idea has drawbacks or indeed whether it can be improved. This is why my department issues Green Papers. It allows discussion and improvement of promising ideas. Nearly all of our ideas come from the electorate, via their MPs. We assess every one, using panels of volunteers and Civil Servants. The originators of the more promising ideas are invited to develop them to Green and White Paper stages after which we pass them across to the relevant government department to take through into law.’

‘On a more general topic, Minister, how do you answer the charge that your department is largely a talking shop where very few ideas ever get into law?’

‘How much gold was there in the average prospector’s pan during the gold rushes? Very little, yet it was still worth prospecting, because the value of the gold was so high. Look at what we have achieved already. Last night I sat in my garden in our summer sunshine until 11pm. It was still warm and light, thanks to the idea of a Hertfordshire constituent for double and treble British Summer Time. Think of all the energy saved on outside lighting and heating.

‘Today I am talking to you from my constituency, where I’m playing cricket, rather than having to travel to London, at the taxpayer’s expense, to stay in a second home, also at a cost to the taxpayer, prior to starting my working week, in Westminster, tomorrow. Although almost forced on us by Covid, the idea of putting a lot of Parliamentary debates and scrutiny online has allowed every parliamentarian who wishes to, to contribute to any debate and vote online. No need for tellers, pairings or Speaker nominations, making parliamentary business less costly and more democratic. Only the most important events, like the Budget and Queen’s Speech, now take place on the floor of the house. That reform was a vital pre-cursor to this, because it reduced the need for space in Portcullis House and the Palace of Westminster.

‘My whole department was the result of another idea. In terms of ideas, though, perhaps the icing on the cake is the government’s drug addiction centres, which give help and free drugs to registered users. That idea was conceived by my late brother-in-law, who was murdered by a drug cartel in an attempt to stop it happening. My wife will be opening the Peter Taylor Addiction Centre in Penzance next week.

‘I can say with a clear conscience that I have no doubts about the value of my department, measured in terms of both savings to the country and in upholding the democratic ideal.’

‘Darren Anders MP, thank you for talking to us.’