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Sunday, February 17, 2019

The long history of Chris Grayling gaffes

The latest controversy surrounding Chris Grayling, as reported by the Independent, prompted me to look back at past instances where the Transport Secretary has got himself in hot water.

The latest incident relates to Grayling's time as Justice Secretary, when he effectively privatised the probation services. This has now come back to bite him with the collapse of Working Links, which owns three Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) delivering probation services in Wales, Avon and Somerset, and Devon and Cornwall.

Under Grayling, ministers overhauled the arrangements for managing offenders in 2014 in a partial privatisation known as Transforming Rehabilitation. The National Probation Service was created to deal with high-risk cases, while remaining work was assigned to 21 CRCs.

The paper says that a "deeply troubling" report by Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, revealed that staff at one of the companies was "under-recording the number of riskier cases because of commercial pressures":

Devon and Cornwall was the first CRC to be rated inadequate by HM Inspectorate of Probation in 2018-19, last November, when it was also found that staff were completing sentence plans to meet performance targets, without meeting the offender involved.

Dame Glenys said: "The professional ethos of probation has buckled under the strain of the commercial pressures put upon it here, and it must be restored urgently."

Naturally, this has raised urgent questions as to whether probation services are fit for purpose under this arrangement and whether they should have been given to the private sector in the first place. It is not the first time though, that Chris Grayling has put his foot in it.

There is of course the timetabling chaos on the railways at the end of last year, on Grayling's watch as Transport Secretary, leading to a regulator’s report which concluded that nobody had taken charge of the crisis, saying “a system problem” had been the primary cause.

Who can forget the criticism Grayling received in December when it emerged he had given a £13.8m contract to Seaborne Freight, to provide extra ferries to ease pressure on important freight routes between Dover and Calais, a company that owned no ferries and who appeared to have copied its terms and conditions from a takeaway outlet? That deal was subsequently scrapped leading to calls for Grayling to quit as Transport Secretary.

But there is more. In August 2009, Grayling, who was then Shadow Home Secretary, claimed Britain was turning into The Wire, an American TV series featuring murderous villains, cynical politicians and corrupt, lazy detectives.

In October 2015, Grayling accused journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” stories.

He told the House of Commons that the Freedom of Information Act is "on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media. That isn’t acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how the Government is taking decisions and it is not the intention of this Government to change that.”

I am still not clear to this day what the difference is, though I can understand why this current Government might wish to avoid effective scrutiny.

There is also from October 2014, the proposals by Chris Grayling to reform the Human Rights Act, which were lambasted by former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, QC as being full of factual “howlers” and not thought through.

Back in April 2010, Grayling was in the media again, this time arguing that Bed and breakfasts run by Christians should be allowed to turn away gay couples because of their sexuality.

In November 2018, he was one of the cabinet ministers involved in the controversy over the introduction of gagging clauses which banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from publicly criticising them, their departments or the prime minister, as part of deals costing the taxpayer £25 billion.

The Times reported that:
In June 2018, Grayling emerged as one of the Government Ministers who had concerns about the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, telling fellow MPs that he does not want to see them evacuated to a temporary location because it will undermine Britain’s democracy.

In December 2018, Chris Grayling said the government would “lead consumer uptake” of electrically-powered cars when he laid out his plan for tackling air pollution with a switch to battery-powered vehicles.

However, he has then came under fire for subsequently scrapping grants for plug-in cars, in a move condemned by vehicle manufacturers as “astounding”, while official figures revealed that only 29 of the 1,830 vehicles run by Department for Transport and its agencies are electric.

And then, of course, there is Brexit. Chris Grayling sat on the Vote Leave campaign committee alongside Dominic Raab, Liam Fox, and Andrea Leadsom. Vote Leave was fined £61,000  in July 2018, and reported to the police by the Electoral Commission after the watchdog found “significant evidence” of coordination with another campaign group, BeLeave.

In an expose of the European Research Group in December 2017, Open Democracy reported that data collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority covering the last year, showed that six cabinet members, along with the chief of staff and special adviser to the Brexit secretary, David Davis have each claimed £2,000 in parliamentary expenses for “professional” and “pooled” services from the ERG.

Five other subscriptions from former Tory cabinet ministers and whips, plus the current chair of the ERG, means this group alone have claimed more than £32,000 from the public purse. 

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, Penny Mordaunt, the newly-promoted defence secretary, David Gauk, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have all used official expenses claims to pay for “ERG subscriptions” over the last 12 months. 

Perhaps this explains why Grayling was one of those in October 2014, who was calling on David Cameron to ditch the European Arrest Warrant, a suggestion that even Theresa May baulked at. She warned that a failure to back Britain’s membership of the European arrest warrant system raised a risk that the country would have to release more than 500 people from jail and the prospect that EU partners such as Ireland would refuse to hand over suspected republican terrorists or Islamist jihadists for trial in Britain.

I am sure that there is much more to report. The real question though, in the light of this history, is why is Chris Grayling still in the cabinet?
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