One of Ed Balls’ big announcements during his speech on Monday was his call for the government to use £4bn of the money from the auction of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build 100,000 affordable homes.
Even before he spoke, the Guido Fawkes blog was speculating that the shadow chancellor may have been tipped off that the government was going to do exactly this, and wanted to get out ahead of them and look like he was setting the agenda. According to Guido:
It’s well known that Balls still has ‘people’ inside the Treasury and there is plenty of speculation doing the rounds that he had got wind of the 4G auction goodies fund and has pulled a fast one on the chancellor.
Certainly the Treasury response has been interesting. Initially, the Tory Treasury Twitter account began criticising Balls, accusing him of hypocrisy for not promising to use the money to pay down the debt, as Labour did with over £20bn they raised from 3G in 2000.
Since then, however, the criticism has been slightly more nuanced. For one thing, says the Treasury, £600m of the money has already been earmarked for spending on science and technology. Secondly, the money wouldn’t stretch as far as to build 100,000 homes, the Tories claim. Notwithstanding the accuracy of such criticisms, it should be noted that neither of them take issue with the principle of using the money for a housebuilding scheme.
So does Ed Balls have a mole in his old department? He denied it when we put the question to him earlier today, but if Osborne does make a big 4G announcement at Tory conference next week, his guesswork will look inspired.
UPDATE – A Treasury mole of my own gets in touch to deny that Osborne will say anything about the 4G money, insisting that the idea Ed Balls has sources of information is “rubbish”.