15 APRIL 1995, Page 31

An expensive breakfast

Sir: The editor of Today responds to your article (`Bankrupting Britain over break- fast', 1 April) covering the Social Market foundation's study of the public spending Implied during a week of his programme by questioning our 'grasp of reality' and sug- gesting that our estimates were exaggerated for political purposes. The purpose of our study was to highlight the enormous cost of the public policy agenda set by the demands of pressure groups which are the standard fare of news programmes like Today, and to show that these groups are not disinterested experts, but vested interests whose very existence depends on unending, and often expensive, as for government action. It is impossi- ble to engage in serious political debate about such policy proposals without under- standing the scale of their cost, which in just one week of the Today programme amounted to at least £14.6 billion.

Mr Mosey makes two specific criticisms of our approach. He cites two cases — out of the 18 items we identified — where a counter-view to costly demands was also broadcast. That is scarcely an impressive demonstration of financial vigilance. He further objects that one item, an Interna- tional Labour Organisation (ILO) paper which we estimate would cost at least /6.5 billion to implement, was not substantively reported but 'confined to a brief news report'.

.The ILO item was in fact given two min- utes of coverage, in which time the news- reader noted that its findings had been 'welcomed by the Labour Party' and the economics correspondent opined that it would 'not find favour with the Govern- ment, but it may find the report embarrass- ing'. I am puzzled that Mr Mosey thinks that to have covered as news, with a certain amount of favourable political spin, a con- tentious study which alone would add at least 4p to the basic rate of tax, in any way undermines our point.

Andrew Cooper

Social Market Foundation, 20 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1