Once again the government has rolled out the red carpet to insurers – but where is Liz Truss?
Philip Hammond had a remarkably free diary this week considering he is days away from delivering the budget.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was available yesterday to host the insurance industry at Downing Street to discuss the discount formula applied to personal injury settlements just a day after the announcement it was to change.
Not only that, but the leader of every major insurance firm was also seemingly free at the drop of a hat to attend. We can only hope their organisations managed to function properly in their absence.
What followed was a joint statement from the Association of British Insurers and the Treasury, which stressed that claimants should get the money they’re entitled to, but equally that a consultation and legislative change should be brought forward early. One can assume the insurers told Hammond they expect the rate to rise again once the consultation is complete.
The statement and even the meeting itself raise some worrying questions.
It was only on Monday that justice secretary Liz Truss announced the rate would drop to -0.75% from 2.5%. It was a decision that left insurers incandescent with rage and the media gratefully reported the line that this would cost motorists and the NHS.
Have insurers simply bypassed Truss to go straight to the Treasury, like a toddler asking his father for a treat after the mother has said no? Where does this leave Truss’s credibility when her decision can seemingly be undermined from within government so quickly?
Why was no one from the claimant lobby invited to attend? Heck, why was there not even an injured victim present to show ministers exactly who this issue is most important to?
As I said, this meeting was arranged with almost indecent haste. Either 16 powerful people had empty diaries for this week or this was set up long ago, fully in the knowledge that a decision would be announced the day before.
Either way, this smacks of a stitch-up, and is reminiscent of the infamous Valentine's Day summit in 2012, when the prime minister met insurers to discuss policy on civil justice. You may recall a court later rejected a legal challenge from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and the Motor Accident Solicitors Society questioning whether this sort of one-way conversation was lawful.
Claimant lawyers must despair. Less than a week after many saw their livelihoods threatened by personal injury reforms, they could at least rejoice at a decision which seemed to prioritise injured victims.
That joy lasted barely 24 hours. The lobbying might of the insurance industry simply won’t let up. With friends in Downing Street and the media, it’s surely inevitable that the new rate will very soon become the old one.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor