By Martin Kelly
A quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ cash has been wasted by the UK Government after a printing blunder meant anti-independence leaflets had to be shredded, an insider has claimed.
Newsnet Scotland has been told that leaflets destined to be sent to every home in Scotland had to be destroyed after someone spotted the image of a van contained details of a real company.
The error meant that the leaflets, which urged voters in Scotland to reject independence, had to be reprinted at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds.
The Government insider said: “The reason for the reprint is that there is a photo of a man in front of a van in the leaflet. They forgot to blank out the company details on the side of the van.”
According to the whistleblower, the Cabinet Office feared the plumbing company would suffer if it was portrayed on the anti-independence leaflets.
The insider added: “It was only pulled at the 11th hour after Danny Alexander spotted it whilst looking through the printed version. Only a handful of people knew about this and all are keen to keep quiet”
The information, which was passed to Newsnet Scotland last month led to us submitting a Freedom of Information request to the UK Cabinet Office.
1. Has the Cabinet Office been responsible for producing information leaflets for the UK Government with regard to the Scottish Independence Referendum which are to be sent to every household in Scotland?
2. In the process of creating these leaflets, have any mistakes been uncovered that have led to the entire batch of leaflets being destroyed and re-printed?
3. If so, what was the cost encountered by having to carry out these actions?
In its response received a month later, the Cabinet Office appeared to confirm the claim was true, but, critically refused to release the information
An official wrote: “I can confirm that the Cabinet Office holds information of the description specified in your request but I must advise you that I must extend the time limit for responding to your request.”
The letter added: “The Cabinet Office has not yet reached a decision on whether the balance of the public interest favours disclosure of this information.”
In what appeared to be an attempt to stall, the official said a reply might be forthcoming by August 4th, but that even more time beyond that date might be needed.
“The Cabinet Office reasonably requires more than 20 working days to consider, in all the circumstances of the case, where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to your request.
“I hope to let you have a response by 4 August 2014. If I can reply before that date, I shall do so. If I need more time to consider the balance of the public interest, I shall write again to let you know.”
New leaflets were eventually printed and sent to every home in Scotland at a cost of £720,000.
The refusal to release the information under a Freedom of Information request, follows a similar decision by the UK Government after it refused to publish the findings of a secret referendum poll.
The survey, carried out by polling company Ipsos Mori, was rumoured to have shown a surge in support for Yes. However the UK Government refused to publish the findings arguing that the polling was used to formulate government policy.
This month the SNP wrote to the Information Commissioner calling for action to be taken to ensure the UK Government publishes the details of the polling on the referendum which had cost the taxpayer £300,000.