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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The huge task facing us in cleaning up our coastline and rivers

The consequences of the Tory government's failure to legislate for water companies to clean up their act when it comes to sewage discharges has been put into sharp relief by an investigation from Channel 4's Dispatches programme.

The Mirror reports that there may be more than 870 illegal discharge pipes without permits polluting waters with sewage.

The paper says that investigators found those with no permits and potentially in use included 184 with Welsh Water and 420 at Severn Trent.

The companies told the Channel 4 Dispatches probe they were working with the Environment Agency to ensure the correct permits were in place for all storm overflows.

Nick Voulvoulis, professor of Environmental Technology at Imperial College London, said: “We have overflows used in some cases when it doesn’t rain or when it is not extreme rain.”

Yesterday demonstrators formed a human chain at Saltburn beach, North Yorks, in protest at sewage pollution.

It came as a whistleblower revealed cuts had left the Environment Agency struggling to regulate firms. Helen Nightingale, who recently retired from the EA, said: “We aren’t as aggressive, we don’t enforce to the same extent.”

The annual EA budget for enforcement has fallen from £11.6million to £7m since 2010.

An EA spokesman said it had to prioritise due to this.

Time for the government to get a grip.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Will Truss crash the economy?

Actually, it's difficult to think how the Tories can screw up the economy any more than they have, but at least one economist thinks that Liz Truss' plans to cut taxes will make things worse.

The Times reports that Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has accused Truss of adopting a “simplistic mantra” of cutting taxes to solve the cost of living crisis. He has warned that she would “completely crash the public finances” if she pushed ahead with tens of billions of pounds of tax cuts:

He told The Times that a proposal to cut VAT was “inappropriate” and risked exacerbating inflation, not taming it. Johnson also said the Bank of England would raise interest rates more quickly if Truss pressed ahead with the cuts.

In addition to reversing the rise in national insurance, scrapping the green energy levy and cancelling the planned increase in corporation tax, Truss is said to be contemplating further tax cuts as part of an emergency budget to be held shortly after she entered No 10, assuming she wins the contest. The result will be announced a week today.

Measures being discussed include cutting the basic rate of income tax, raising income tax thresholds in line with inflation and reducing VAT by between 2.5 and 5 percentage points. Rishi Sunak, Truss’s leadership rival, said a 5 point cut in the rate of VAT would cost £39 billion, and he described the measure as regressive.

“Cutting VAT will benefit higher-income households more, leaving very little to no benefit for lower-income households who will need the most help this winter,” a spokeswoman for his campaign said.

Truss has refused to say how she will provide relief to households having to fund an 80 per cent rise in energy costs, but is expected to announce support to help poorer households and pensioners with their energy bills, possibly by increasing universal credit and winter fuel payments.

She has played down the likelihood of further measures to reduce the nation’s bills, such as the £400 payments announced in May by Sunak when he was chancellor. “Liz is not in favour of universal handouts,” an ally said.

Johnson said the economic picture was different from when Gordon Brown announced an emergency VAT cut of 2.5 percentage points in 2009, and questioned the economic reasoning for such a measure.

“It made sense to have a temporary cut in VAT in the financial crisis because there was a huge drop in demand and a big recession without much in the way of inflation,” he said.

“It might reduce inflation temporarily, but it clearly increases it at the point at which the VAT cut is undone.”

He said there was a greater case to raise income tax thresholds, given that the Treasury had expected to generate £8 billion from the “stealth tax” when it was announced this year. As a result of inflation, the freeze in income tax thresholds is set to raise £20 billion.

Johnson said that no matter the tax cuts, support for energy bills would need to be given to people on low and modest incomes and he questioned the need for an immediate slashing of income tax on top of other measures.

“You clearly can’t do all of this without completely crashing the public finances,” he said. “This simplistic mantra that you cut taxes and the economy grows more, that you cut taxes when you have a big deficit and high inflation, and you don’t do it with any other part of the plan, is quite worrying.”

He added that a large deficit could push up borrowing costs. “The markets for a decade have been willing to fund very high deficits. The risk comes if we start on a very different route to other countries and we look riskier than they are,” he said.

So, our future Prime Minister is seeking to win an internal leadership contest by promoting semi-literate economic policies that could make leave us in a complete mess. This country is in so much trouble.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The reality of soaring energy bills

The Mirror reports on a poll that has found that 23% of Brits said they will not turn their heating on at all over the colder months, with the figure rising to 27% among parents with children under 18:

The survey by Savanta ComRes of 2,000 UK adults also found parents with school age children were more likely to rack up spending on their credit card due to rising energy bills - 33% compared to national average of 23%.

Seven in 10 people (69%) say they plan to use their heating less this winter and one in 10 (11%) will even take out a loan in response to rising energy prices.

Those with children under 18 are again more likely to take out a loan (17%).

This is really depressing, with parents having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children, going further into debt to meet out-of-control energy bills and basic living costs and the possibility of increased winter deaths as the elderly and vulnerable find they cannot afford heating.

The case for intervention by the government is overwhelming, so where are they?

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Controlling the BBC

There is an interesting post-script to Emily Maitlis' exposure of the BBC as Tory party enablers in Friday's Guardian.

The paper reports that a former BBC executive has claimed he was blocked from a top job at the broadcaster due to fears his background in Labour politics would anger Boris Johnson’s government:

James Purnell spent almost a decade at the BBC in a variety of executive roles, before leaving two years ago after the arrival of Tim Davie as director general. He had previously been an MP and served as a cabinet minister in Gordon Brown’s government.

He has now claimed he was blocked from joining the corporation’s board in June 2020 out of concern it would prompt the Conservative government to up its attacks on the BBC.

“Tim Davie had offered me a job on the board but the non-execs [non-executive directors] decided they didn’t want someone with a Labour background,” he tweeted.

He said that at the time “the organisation felt it was dealing [with] an existential risk” due to threats from Johnson’s Conservative government to slash the licence fee so “went into hyper-cautious mode”.

As a result Purnell said the BBC board concluded that his political background ruled him ineligible for the role, even though he believed people needed to leave their personal politics at the door when they join the BBC. The executive subsequently left the broadcaster and is now vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts London.

Purnell's comments show that the government does not need to be overt in the way it manages the BBC. Just the possibility of ministerial disapproval it seems, is enough to make then tow the line. So much for impartiality.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The short-term thinking that could bankrupt us all

Already, a great many people I know are cancelling direct debits to their energy companies, prepared to withhold payment and go into debt, rather than see their bank accounts drained by an ever-increasing charge on their ability to keep warm and cook their own food.

The impact on businesses is incalculable. Many will try to push their additional costs onto their customers, fueling inflation even more, while many will go out of business altogether. It is a grim prospect caused by the escalating cost of gas and electricity at a time when the Russians are burning off gas rather than allow it to be exported to the west.

But was this crisis inevitable? Putting aside the causes of the Ukraine war and avoiding international politics for a minute, the situation certainly could have been managed better by the UK government if only we had planned long term just ten or twelve years ago.

When we compare our situation with other European countries, it is clear that they do not have it so bad. France for example has managed to keep its energy cost increases to just 4%, partly because the state owns their generating company, but mostly because 75% of their electricity generation is nuclear.

The last time a new nuclear plant came on line in the UK was in 1995. There were plans to build more back in 2010 but they were abandoned because of the decade or so it takes to bring a new facility on-line. If the government had gone ahead then, we would be using the electricity generated by those plants now, and would not be sitting helplessly as an economic hostage to Putin and Gasprom.

Instead of building those nuclear plants, the then Liberal Democrat energy secretaries invested in green energy production instead. That was a programme that was abandoned by David Cameron in 2015 leaving us almost entirely dependent on more traditional sources of generation.

Today only 3% of UK electricity needs is provided by wind, 2% by coal and a huge 60% by gas. No wonder things are getting out of control.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Desperate times call for decisive government intervention

Well, they did it. Ofgem have today, increased the energy price cap by 80% to to £3,549 from October, that is the equivalent to a £300 a month plus the standing charge, completely unaffordable for most families. And where is the government in all this? They are absent without leave.

The Guardian reports that the cap will be almost treble what it was a year earlier last October, when it was raised to £1,277:

The announcement comes as households attempt to budget for a tough winter. Soaring energy bills have fuelled rampant inflation, which breached 10% last month and is forecast by some economists to climb to 18% from January.

Ofgem said it will not give projections for the next price cap change in January because the market remains “too volatile” but warned that prices “could get significantly worse through 2023”. The new cap will affect 24 million households – about 85% of the population.

That number includes about 4.5 million prepayment meter customers, who will pay on average an additional £59 a year.

They add that the next cap will be introduced in January, when it is feared that bills could reach as high as £5,000. 

It is important that the government takes immediate action to mitigate these increases including abolishing the standing charge, removing VAT on energy, increasing taxes on the profits of the oil and gas companies and using the proceeds to reduce the cap once more, as well as targeting financial support at those most in need.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

BBC as enablers of the Tory Party

Emily Maitlis may have left the BBC but she has clearly decided to go out with a bang, speaking out on the farcical policies of her former employer with regards to Brexit and so-called balanced reporting.

The Guardian reports that the former Newsnight presenter said a BBC board member is an “active agent of the Conservative party” who is shaping the broadcaster’s news output by acting “as the arbiter of BBC impartiality”.

She highlighted the role of Sir Robbie Gibb, who previously worked as Theresa May’s director of communications and helped to found the rightwing GB News channel.

Maitlis, who left the BBC earlier this year to make a podcast for commercial broadcaster LBC, made the comments while delivering the MacTaggart memorial lecture at the Edinburgh international television festival:

Last year Gibb was appointed to the BBC’s board by Boris Johnson’s government and has since influenced a series of ongoing reviews of the broadcaster’s editorial output.

Maitlis also raised concerns about the BBC’s relationship with the Conservative government, saying the broadcaster went out of its way to “pacify” Downing Street after she criticised Dominic Cummings for his breach of lockdown rules during the pandemic.

The presenter said the corporation’s bosses panicked after Maitlis told Newsnight viewers in 2020 that Johnson’s former aide had “broken the rules” and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot”.

Maitlis said the programme initially “passed off with a few pleasant texts from BBC editors and frankly little else”.

She added: “It was only the next morning that the wheels fell off. A phone call of complaint was made from Downing Street to the BBC News management. This, for context, is not unusual.

“What was not foreseen was the speed with which the BBC sought to pacify the complainant. Within hours, a very public apology was made, the programme was accused of a failure of impartiality, the recording disappeared from iPlayer, and there were paparazzi outside my front door.

“Why had the BBC immediately and publicly sought to confirm the government spokesman’s opinion? Without any kind of due process? It makes no sense for an organisation that is admirably, famously rigorous about procedure – unless it was perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the government itself?

“Put this in the context of the BBC Board, where another active agent of the Conservative party – former Downing Street spin doctor, and former adviser to BBC rival GB News – now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality.”

Maitlis also verbalised what many of us have thought regarding the BBC's approach to impartiality:

Reflecting on her time at the BBC, Maitlis said the corporation often slipped into a “both-sides-ism” approach to impartiality that gave a platform to individuals that did not deserve airtime.

She recalled how during the 2016 EU referendum the BBC would create a false equivalence by putting one pro-Brexit economist on air to debate with one anti-Brexit economist, even though the overwhelming majority of economists felt Brexit was a bad idea.

Maitlis warned that the traditional media is becoming increasingly afraid to stand up for itself in an era where “facts are getting lost, constitutional norms trashed, claims frequently unchallenged”.

She said “sections of both the BBC and government-supporting newspapers appear to go into an automatic crouch position whenever the Brexit issue looms large”.

Despite queues at the British border and economic issues piling up, such outlets are still reluctant to discuss the impact of Brexit “in case they get labelled pessimistic, anti-populist, or worse still, as above: unpatriotic”.

She added: “And yet every day that we sidestep these issues with glaring omissions feels like a conspiracy against the British people; we are pushing the public further away. Why should our viewers, our listeners, come to us to interpret and explain what is going on when they can see our own reluctance to do so?”

The media have let down the British public by enabling the brexiteers and right wing of the Tory party. We need more people like Maitlis to speak out if that is to change.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Plaid Cymru's summer madness


It's been a hectic summer for the Party of Wales. First, they had to contend with the highly controversial readmittance of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards, who had been suspended after a domestic abuse incident involving his wife, and now a Plaid Cymru Councillor is in trouble after a social media post surfaced online which showed him posing with a gun on a beach and stating that he was making sure “there wasn’t any English people trying to cross the channel”. The now-deleted message appeared on Councillor Jon Scriven’s Facebook page on August 8.

The post by the councillor who represents Penyrheol in Caerphilly read: “Ogmore-by-Sea tonight for a quick swim and make sure there wasn’t any English people trying to cross the channel”:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats called on Plaid Cymru to suspend the councillor, with a spokesperson stating that there was “a clear implication of violence and xenophobia in this post”.

“Whether or not it was intended as a joke or not, it is entirely inappropriate for an elected official to make such comments, when they should know better. With so much hate in politics the last few years we should be trying to build bridges, not stoke division further. Plaid Cymru must now do the right thing and suspend the councillor in question.”

This is not just an anti-English issue of course. With the Tory Party currently engaged in a race to the bottom over stopping asylum seeekers reaching our shores, including proposals to send gunboats to turn back refugees in the English channel, the imagery and sentiments attached to this post are entirely inappropriate from a member of a so-called left-of-centre party, or anybody else for that matter.

Plaid need to demonstrate that this tweet does not represent their own policy agenda.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Tory culpability in dirtying our beaches

Suddenly, sewage discharges are back in the news. As the Mirror explains thousands were angry after heavy rain last week led to dozens of popular coastal spots having sewage pumped into their waters.

They say that the stink grew when people re-shared details of a Commons vote on the issue from October 2021, with many sharing Twitter messages shaming their local MP, saying they “voted to allow raw sewage to be dumped in our rivers”. It's also been pointed out a quarter of sewage overflow sites went unwatched.

Now, the Independent reports that Tory leadership frontrunner, Liz Truss presided over cuts to Environment Agency funding which “doubled sewage discharge” between 2016 and 2021.

They say that, according to the analysis of official figures, raw sewage discharge rose from 1.47 per overflow six years ago to 29.3 in 2021, and that this increase coincided with Truss cutting £80m off sewage monitors as part of a £235m Tory axe to the EA’s budget, which she branded “efficiency savings”.

Figures show raw sewage has been discharged into the environment well over a million times in the past five years:

The Independent has also revealed all wastewater companies in England and Wales failed to meet their pollution or sewage flood targets last year.

The Environment Agency works closely with water companies to ensure they are closely monitoring and reporting back on their discharge activity.

As environment secretary, Ms Truss justified cuts saying “there are ways we can make savings as a department” citing better use of technology and inter-agency working.

But shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “Under the Tories, the country is facing a crisis in our water supply. Our water infrastructure is at bursting point, with billions of litres of water being wasted every day and raw sewage being dumped into our waters.

“The fact that Liz Truss was the one to cut the EA [Environment Agency] so severely, not only demonstrates her lack of foresight but also her lack of care for the detail, in recognising the need to adapt to the serious flooding that had just happened on her watch.

So whatever the truth about the amendment that was voted down, it seems that if your beach or river has raw sewage in it, then it was the Tories wot done it.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Government inaction on energy cap is leaving consumers high and dry

We are expecting an announcement by OFCOM at the end of this week that could raise the energy price cap to £3,600 in October, and still there is no sign of any government intervention.

The Independent reports that the energy price cap could effectively triple by April with bills rocketing to £6,000, and although the Business Secretary is planning a clampdown on excessive profits by solar and wind firms, calls for the increase in the cap to be stopped appear to be falling on deaf ears.

We are approaching crisis point for many families, with the majority struggling to pay the bills on the current cap. The government urgently needs to take action, and needs to do so before the new Prime Minister is installed.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Waste and subsidies

The Mirror reports that MPs and Lords have binned 2.6 million subsidised dinners as ordinary people struggle to feed their families.

The paper says that over a six year period the dumped food would fill 153 eight-ton skips and weighed 1.23million kilos, or 1,230 tons. They add that the food was binned while MPs were able to tuck in to cut-price nosh as they enjoy salaries of £82,000 – an 11% pay hike this year – and free heating on their second homes.

In contrast, more than two million hard-up adults admit often going without food for an entire day while millions more face below-inflation pay rises – and fuel bills are heading towards a horrifying £5,000 a year.

Taxpayers gave a record £9.1million to subsidise food and drink in the Commons dining rooms in 2020-21 – up from £4.6million a year earlier. Yet Westminster food sales for the period were only £827,000.

Time for a rethink on Parliamentary catering.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

How not to conduct industrial relations

If it has done just one service to humanity, the current contest to be the next prime minister has exposed the Tory leadership for a politically-bankrupt bunch of chancers, intent on adopting the most extreme views in an effort to appeal to the backwoodsmen and women who will determine their fate. 

Any thoughts of human rights, international law, equality, concern for the poorest in our society, even the health service has been cast aside as the two candidates seek to carve out a distinct right wing position for themselves that would make Donald Trump blush.

When it takes Michael Gove to point out that Liz Truss’s refusal to offer more support over rising energy bills and to just focus on tax cuts marks a “holiday from reality”, then we know that things have gotten out of control. 

Add onto that the revelation that Liz Truss personally supported cuts to the NHS, arguing the service “cannot be put on a pedestal” in an article in which she also criticised the “inexorable” rise in doctors’ pay, then we know that the front-runner is going to be a bigger disaster than even Boris Johnson.

Sunak has not fared much better, admitting in a leaked video that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he took money from deprived urban areas in order to give it to other parts of the country. His campaign gaffes are becoming notorious, but the reason he is trailing in this contest is because he raised taxes to pay for expenditure during the pandemic, something that is not tolerated in the backwoods, where self-interest rules.

And now it seems that the malaise is spreading to other cabinet members. Truss has already said that she will introduce new laws to 'prevent militant unions crippling the rail network within a month of taking office', a nod to Thatcher and the miners' strike if ever I saw one. She may find, however, that times have changed significantly, and she will be taking on more than she can chew. Meanwhile, the current Transport Minister is taking his cue from that promise.

The Guardian reports that Grant Shapps has said that railway changes at the heart of some strike action will be imposed by legislation if workers do not agree to new deals:

Shapps said he would have to enact legislation referred to as a “section 188” to force through some of the measures. He said: “What I do know and I can say for sure is if we can’t get this settled in the way that we are proposing, which is ‘please put the deal to your membership’, then we will have to move to what is called a section 188; it is a process of actually requiring these changes to go into place so it becomes mandated.

“That is the direction that this is moving in now.”

Shapps said work practices needed to be updated, adding: “If we can’t get those modernisations in place we will have to impose those modernisations but we would much rather do it through these offers actually being put to their members.”

He gave an example of an offer made to RMT members of an 8% pay rise over two years, which was reportedly blocked by senior members of the union, including the RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, without putting it to members.

Shapps said: “It’s time for union bosses to get out the way.”

The latest strike comes as the Tory leadership frontrunner, Liz Truss, unveiled plans for a radical shake-up of labour laws. The plan, drawn up by Truss, includes introducing minimum service levels on critical national infrastructure to keep trains, buses and other services running.

New laws would be introduced in parliament within a month of taking office if her leadership campaign is successful. She will raise ballot thresholds to make it harder for strike action to take place across all sectors.

A cooling-off period would also be introduced so unions can no longer strike as many times as they like in the six-month period after a ballot.

In fact the current strike action has been mandated by a membership ballot and is lawful. Further more there is public sympathy for all the industrial action currently underway.

People have seen that Tory mismanagement of the economy, combined with the effects of Brexit and, of course, the Ukraine war, has led to inflation hitting double figures. Energy prices are rising out of sight of the average person's ability to pay them, and that, and other costs are driving businesses to the wall.

The case for decent pay rises is unanswerable, as is the need for ministers to do much more to help. This confrontational approach to industrial relations will make things worse, for the country and the government. Do they really want to take that path?

Friday, August 19, 2022

The hidden Brexit agenda emerging from the shadows

They sold Brexit on a promise to divert funds from the EU to the NHS., instead, we have a health service in crisis, people unable to see a doctor or a dentist in good time, huge queues at accident and emergency, and a waiting list that dwarfs anything seen pre-pandemic. And now government ministers are calling for massive cuts in public services and a dismantling of the British state.

The Independent reports that Jacob Rees-Mogg has urged the next prime minister to slash back the government’s role as a prize of Brexit, suggesting it should not “deliver certain functions at all”.

His argument that mere cuts in public spending will not go far enough is backed by senior Truss backer, former Brexit minister David Frost, who is expected to be given a leading role in her administration:

The Leave campaign won the 2016 campaign partly on a promise to boost spending, notably by £350m-a-week on the NHS, but Mr Rees-Mogg is pointing to a different agenda.

“Our departure from the European Union necessitates a re-thinking of the British state,” the minister for Brexit opportunities has written in a newspaper article.

“This means going beyond ministers looking for fiscal trims and haircuts and considering whether the state should deliver certain functions at all.”

It comes after Ms Truss vowed to press the accelerator on ripping up thousands of EU regulations if she wins power, which has raised fears that protections will disappear.

The Liberal Democrats said the comments would “raise fears that the worst damage to relations with our neighbours is not yet done”.

Rees Mogg is unsurprisingly non-specific on what he thinks should be done, but the consequences of what he and Liz Truss are proposing are frighteningly clear. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that big spending cuts are inevitable if Truss pursues the £30bn-plus of tax cuts she plans, calling them unrealistic.
It is likely that cuts on that scale will only worsen the backlogs we already have in courts, airports and GPs, leaving people waiting even longer for passports, driving licences, and vital appointments.

Perhaps the new Prime Minister should follow the lead of Layla Moran, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokeswoman, who says that Truss or Sunak should focus on trying to tear down the huge amounts of red tape which have been erected thanks to the Conservatives’ trade deal with Europe.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Why is the UK Government propping up an oppessive regime?

As if the UK Tory Government plan to send genuine asylum seekers to Rwanda was not morally indefensible enough, it turns out that ministers ignored warnings by one of its own advisers that Rwanda tortures and kills political opponents, but continued with plans to send refugees there anyway.

The Mirror reports that an email disclosed to the High Court said "arbitrary detention, torture and even killings" are "accepted" methods of maintaining control in the east African country:

Both candidates hoping to become the next Prime Minister have vowed to continue with the scheme, which has been branded "unworkable" and "unethical" by critics.

The government is attempting to keep parts of documents about the project - which has already cost taxpayers at least £120 million - secret, citing national security concerns.

The controversial policy, was announced earlier this year by Home Secretary Priti Patel, and it has emerged that in an email sent on April 26 - two weeks after the unveiling - a government insider raised concerns about the way Rwanda's human rights record was being presented.

The email read: “There are state control, security, surveillance structures from the national level down to [households]. Political opposition is not tolerated and arbitrary detention, torture and even killings are accepted methods of enforcing control too.”

That any democratically elected politician should consider paying millions of pounds to an oppressive regime to take refugees coming to our country seeking asylum, is a disgrace. As Steve Crawshaw, director of policy and advocacy at Freedom from Torture says:

“It is deeply disturbing that UK ministers have once again ignored warnings about the use of torture and arbitrary killings by the Rwandan state, particularly given that torture survivors were among those that this government attempted to send to Rwanda in June."

He continued: "Instead of pursuing these dangerous ‘cash-for-humans’ schemes, the government should expand safe routes to protection, strengthen international cooperation on refugee protection and ensure diplomatic and humanitarian interventions to reduce push factors driving people to make perilous journeys to reach safety.”

This government continues to sink into an ever deeper ethical swamp, and in doing so is compromising its own democratic integrity and turning our country into a pariah state.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

UK research reaps consequences of extreme stance on Brexit

We are all used to the hypocrisy of government minister brexiteers by now, but the latest intervention by the Foreign Secretary suggests that the government has been living in its own self-contained bubble for some considerable time.

To be fair, in trying to rescue Horizon grants to UK academics, Liz Truss is only doing her job, but given that many of us were warning that Brexit would leave our academic community isolated and unfunded back in 2016, one has to ask why ministers didn't anticipate this latest issue when they broke the Brexit agreement over Northern Ireland. Instead we are left with a last-minute dash to try and salvage something from the wreckage.

The Guardian reports that the UK is triggering dispute proceedings with the EU, accusing it of breaching the Brexit treaty by freezing it out of scientific research programmes following the row over Northern Ireland.

The paper says that the UK government believes the EU was causing serious damage to research and development in both the UK and EU member states, with Britain frozen out of science research programme Horizon, Copernicus, the Earth observation programme, which provides data on climate change, Euratom, the nuclear research programme, and space surveillance and tracking.

They add that British scientists and academic researchers had 115 grants from the Horizon programme terminated in July because of the continuing Brexit row over the Northern Ireland protocol:

Grants had been approved for British applicants after the then Brexit minister, David Frost, successfully negotiated associate membership of the £80bn Horizon Europe programme but most are now being cancelled. The UK was due to pay a £15bn membership fee over seven years to participate in the programme.

Asked about the move, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The commission takes note of the UK’s request for consultation and will follow up on this in line with the applicable rules, as set out in the trade and cooperation agreement.”

At a press briefing on Tuesday, a commission spokesperson said: “We continue to recognise the mutual benefit and cooperation in science, research and innovation, nuclear research and space. However, it’s important to recall the political context.

“There are serious difficulties in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the trade and cooperation agreement. The TCA provides neither for a specific obligation for the EU to associate the UK to union programmes at this point in time, nor for a precise deadline to do so. We look forward to a prompt resolution.”

This is what happens when you play fast and loose with international agreements in an attempt to resolve short term domestic difficulties of your own making.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The levelling up myth

As a sound bite, levelling up was effective rhetoric, but the reality has hardly lived up to the hype. Although the UK Government is highly centralised anyway, you would have thought they could have made an effort to redress that issue in designing a department aimed at raising up the wealth of regions in the north of England. Alas, that was not the case.

The Mirror reports that 66% of Tory Levelling Up staff are based in London, only 2.4% – 82 people – work for the department in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined despite the government's department's mission to spread “opportunity and prosperity around the UK”

The paper says that 2,261 out of its 3,436 jobs are based in the capital:

A small minority are in the most deprived regions – 3% in the North East, 5.6% in the North West, and 3.5% in Yorkshire and Humber.

Only 2.4% – 82 people – work for the department in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

The Local Government Resilience and Communities team that oversees councils is even more London-based, with 70% of staff in the capital.

On top of all this the Department of Work and Pensions has axed 41 offices including in Blackburn, Bradford and Stockton-on-Tees. Must do better.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Plaid leader speaks out at last

The Independent reports that Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has called for Jonathan Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, who was cautioned by police for assaulting his wife, to “immediately” stand down.

Edwards had been suspended since July 2020, but on Thursday the party said he was being readmitted to its Westminster group. His estranged wife Emma Edwards said she was “appalled” by the move – saying that it sent out the message “that survivors of domestic abuse don’t matter”:

On Saturday Mr Edwards said he would not be re-joining his party’s group at Westminster in order to allow for a “period of calm reflection”.

Party leader Adam Price then called on him to step down as an MP and quit the party altogether, as he promised a review of the party’s disciplinary procedures to be carried out as a matter of “urgency”.

Price said in a statement posted on Twitter: “As stated, it is my firm belief that Jonathan Edwards cannot continue to represent Plaid Cymru in Westminster and should resign immediately.”

“I also call on Jonathan Edwards to leave the party,” the leader added. “His actions do not represent our values and his position as an MP sends the wrong message out to domestic abuse survivors in Wales and beyond.”

Of course, because of the laws of natural justice, party leaders do not have any influence over disciplinary processes, but that does not excuse the fact that it has taken two years for Adam Price to make this statement.

When asked why that was on Radio Wales, Price said that he felt compelled to speak now, after Jonathan Edwards had been reinstated as a Plaid member, because of Emma Edwards' statement.

What was not clear however, was whether Emma Edwards was asked her opinion, prior to the reinstatement of her ex-husband. If not, why not? Surely, if Plaid are committed to protecting the victims and survivors of abuse, then seeking Emma Edwards' view should have been a priority.

Instead, the party is flailing around trying to contain a growing scandal, and in doing so, making it worse.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Plaid Cymru in a hole and digging

Actually, this is not an occasion for glib titles, it is there to attract your attention to a very serious failing by a major political party in Wales.

As the Guardian reports, Plaid Cymru have restored the whip to an MP who was cautioned by police after assaulting his wife, prompting anger both within the party and without.

The paper says that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards, who had been sitting as an independent since he was arrested on suspicion of assault, will again be able to represent the nationalist party at Westminster following his suspension in July 2020:

Leanne Wood, who led Plaid Cymru until September 2018 and had called for Edwards to be banned from the party if it was serious about stamping out misogyny and domestic abuse, reacted by tweeting: “Disappointed, yes. Disillusioned, never. The fight against the scourge of misogyny in Welsh politics continues.”

Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, was allowed to rejoin Plaid Cymru last month as a regular member, a move that has already caused division among its members. The decision to readmit him to the Westminster group was taken despite a “significant majority” of the party’s ruling body recommending against it.

The party chair, Beca Brown, said a disciplinary panel restored Edwards’s membership after he expressed “sincere remorse” and the whip was restored after the party received “further procedural advice”. Plaid would be undertaking a review to ensure it became “truly free from a culture of misogyny”, she added.

Welsh Women’s Aid said it was witnessing epidemic levels of gender-based violence in Wales and that violence against women must be taken seriously. “When there is widespread casualisation of misogyny in politics, it sets the tone for how the wider population regards the severity of these incidents and undermines the status and position of women and girls in our society.

“Parliament and parties across the political spectrum must make it clear that harassment, abuse and violence are unacceptable, and must put an end to the antiquated systems and procedures that perpetuate this.”

And now, today, the BBC report that Edward's soon-to-be ex-wife, has issued a statement saying that she is "appalled and disappointed" that Plaid Cymru has reinstated him as an MP for the party. 

Emma Edwards, told BBC Wales it sends a message "that survivors of domestic abuse don't matter":

His wife said: "At the time I was in shock, denial and I was hopeful that we would be able to reconcile.

"Even though Jonathan attended an online domestic abuse course, he did not accept responsibility for what happened, minimising the incident. This meant that there was not going to be any reconciliation. I was perhaps naive to think that there could be."

She said the statement issued at the time, which said she accepted her husband's apology, was "drafted for me by Jonathan's press officer at the time and I was told that it would be the best way to stop it being a story".

"I now regret saying those words," she said, "as they have been used to excuse Jonathan's actions.

"I have since learned that he is presenting himself as the victim in all of this and this is why I am now seeking to set the record straight.

"I am appalled and disappointed that the party I was until recently a member of has accepted a domestic abuser to represent them as an MP.

"This sends the message that women don't matter and that survivors of domestic abuse don't matter. I always believed Plaid Cymru to be better than this.

"Until now, I have maintained silence. I am not a political person and I do not seek publicity... I cannot stand by and watch the truth being distorted as it has been."

This is an appalling example to set by a party which portrays itself as progressive and opposed to abuse of all kinds. They have left the victim of this violence high and dry, while welcoming back her abuser as if nothing happened. I hope people will remember this come the next election.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Government's upside down approach to oil companies

While many of is are calling for a windfall tax on the excessive profits of the oil companies to fund targeted assistance with energy bills for struggling familes, the UK government appears to be taking the opposite approach.

The Independent reports that energy giant, Shell received more than £100m from the UK taxpayer in 2021.

They say that the payment was revealed in a Shell report, which showed that the company had paid out a total of £17bn in taxes and royalties to governments around the world last year. State subsidies outweighed charges in only a handful of countries, and the UK was by far the biggest payer, followed by India at £15m and Germany at £3m.

Apparently, poorly designed tax breaks have resulted in Shell and BP receiving £700m between them in government subsidies for oil and gas production since 2016.

Time for the government to get its priorities right.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A contrast in leadership

With energy bills set to rise above £4,000 by the beginning of next year, it is becoming increasingly urgent that government take action to alleviate the impact on households around the UK. Removing the green energy levy and taking on that investment themselves is one option, as is removing VAT on fuel bills, preferably both. But is that enough? That seems unlikely.

If only the government had continued building up alternative energy capacity after 2015, a programme started by the Liberal Democrats in government, then the situation might be more manageable for everybody.

There is no indication that the Tory leadership candidates have any clue as to the scale of the crisis people face this winter. The Independent reports that Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss has rejected calls for an emergency budget and refused to offer immediate help with rocketing energy bills. In contrast, Ed Davey has offered a more obvious solution.

As the Independent reports, the Liberal Democrats leader has said that the expected energy price cap increase in October should be scrapped by the next prime minister and the cost covered with a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

This solution goes to the heart of the matter. What is the point of a cap if it keeps moving upwards? We need radical action by the government, if only Truss and Sunak could see that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Above the law?

The Guardian reports that a leaked document has revealed that Dominic Raab is planning to curb judges’ powers in a move likely to make it harder to bring successful legal challenges against the government in England and Wales.

The paper says that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) paper suggests the justice secretary, who is also deputy prime minister, is considering changes that would have the effect of limiting ministers’ accountability in judicial reviews brought by claimants concerned about the way decisions have been taken by public bodies:

Despite the government having consulted on judicial review only last year and parliament then passing the Judicial Review and Courts Act, which came into effect on 15 July, the MoJ document says: “You (DPM [deputy prime minister]) have indicated that you are minded to consult on further reforms to judicial review”.

It then makes suggestions for change – “subject to your initial policy steers and the outcome of any consultation” – which several experts told the Guardian would have the effect of making it more difficult to bring a successful review.

Charlie Whelton, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “This leaked document suggests that the government plans to make it even harder for people to challenge them and make themselves even less accountable to the public.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen an unprecedented assault on our legal rights, including in the Judicial Review and Courts Act and through ongoing proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act. The government is determined to make it as difficult as possible to take them to court and hold them accountable for unlawful actions.

“Whether by putting up more barriers to bringing cases, overturning judgments they don’t like or blocking off more and more actions from challenge, the government’s attempts to avoid accountability set a very dangerous precedent for all future governments of all stripes.”

The Judicial Review and Courts Act removed the right of parties to bring a review against decisions by tribunals in mainly immigration/asylum and social security cases. But many believe Raab’s predecessor, Robert Buckland QC, who instigated the bill, was sacked because it did not go far enough in curbing judicial scrutiny.

The MoJ document suggests Raab is determined to do so. One proposed change is “assessing the intensity of review to apply in different cases”, which could mean anything from dictating the criteria judges must apply to excluding them from hearing cases in certain areas of government decision-making.

It also refers to changing cost rules on “standing”, which requires the claimant to have “sufficient interest” to bring a case. By increasing the cost burden if parties are found not to have standing, the government could be seeking to discourage NGOs, which pursue cases with implications for many individuals beyond the claimant.

Finally, it suggests “addressing” named individual cases, including Privacy International, which determined that the secretive investigatory powers tribunal was subject to judicial review, and the Guardian’s successful attempt to get secret letters written by Prince Charles to government ministers published. In the latter case, the supreme court ruled that the attorney general could not block publication just because he disagreed with the upper tribunal’s decision to permit it.

While introducing legislation to parliament in response to a particular case is a government’s right, it has previously been suggested that it wants to allow ministers themselves to strike out findings from judicial reviews they disagree with.

So, a government that started off wanting to take back control is now seeking to put itself above the law, taking away one of the few protections we have against over-mighty politicians. This is how dictatorships start.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Not fit for purpose?

Reading the shocking news in today's Guardian that 650 children were strip-searched over a two-year period, with the majority being found innocent of the suspicions against them, I was not surprised to find that the force concerned was the Metropolitian Police.

The paper says that the children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, was not convinced that the force was “consistently considering children’s welfare and wellbeing” after police data showed that in almost a quarter of cases (23%) an appropriate adult was not present during the search, despite this being a requirement under statutory guidance.

She was also concerned by ethnic disproportionality, after the data showed that of children aged 10 to 17 who were strip-searched between 2018 and 2020, almost three out of five (58%) were black, as described by the officer. For 2018 alone the figure rose to 75%. In Greater London, 19% of 10- to 17-year-olds are black:

De Souza questioned how far this “intrusive and traumatising” practice was necessary after figures showed that in 53% of cases no further action was taken. “This low level of successful searches arguably indicates that this intrusive practice may well not be justified or necessary in all cases.”

Her damning report, published on Monday, also raised concerns about “a lack of appropriate oversight” of police practice surrounding strip-searches after the data revealed that in one in five cases there was no way of knowing where it even took place.

Of 269 searches in 2021 for which the location of the search was recorded, 57% happened at a police station and 21% at a home address. De Souza’s report says 22% happened at another location but, “due to the low quality of recording practice, it is not possible to determine where these searches took place”.

The data showed the number of searches increased between 2018 and 2020, with 18% of all searches carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020. Almost all of the children strip-searched (95%) were boys, and a quarter were 15 and under.

This is of course about the culture, training and diversity of the Metropolitan Police, which is at present completely inadequate. Combined with the many other incidents around the forces competence, one has to ask if they are fit for purpose, and what is being done to address that?

Sunday, August 07, 2022

How cosy is politics in Cardiff Bay?

It is more than six years since I worked in what was then the Welsh Assembly, and if anything, the so-called Cardiff Bay bubble has grown tighter and more exclusive. The chummy culture between MSs and lobbyists, means that a small group of unelected individuals wield unprecedented power to get things done their way, and in return the various interest groups go easy in their scrutiny and criticism of government ministers.

It is not healthy, and somehow, I doubt that even a much-enlarged Parliament will not change anything, especially when the proposed new voting system puts the fate of individual members in the hands of their own party hierarchy.

There have been calls to register lobbyists of course, and to secure more transparency in their dealings with ministers and members, but these pleadings have largely fallen on deaf ears. I wonder if the latest revelations will change that.

Wales on line reports that two Welsh Government ministers attended an informal dinner with the owner of the Green Man Festival as controversy raged about the decision to spend £4.25m of public money on buying a farm for the organisation.

They say that the dinner with Fiona Stewart took place at the home of lobbyist Cathy Owens, the managing director of Deryn Consulting and a former Labour special adviser, who has made a declaration identifying the Green Man Festival as one of her company’s clients. 

But, because of a loophole in the Welsh Government’s Ministerial Code under which “informal” meetings do not have to be declared, Climate Change Minister Julie James and Education Minister Jeremy Miles were not obliged to declare their attendance at the dinner:

Opposition politicians have expressed a range of concerns about the purchase by the Welsh Government of Gilestone Farm, near Talybont-on-Usk, about seven miles from the festival site on the Glan Usk estate near Crickhowell. Questions have been asked why it was bought without a full business plan.

An outline business plan was submitted to the Welsh Government in October last year and a full business plan was provided at the end of June.

The Green Man Festival has been held at the Glan Usk estate for 20 years, attracts more than 25,000 visitors annually and is estimated to generate over £10m a year to the region’s economy. During a meeting of the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, Plaid Cymru MS Rhys ab Owen asked Welsh Government officials: “Is it usual practice to spend over £4m before having a detailed business plan?”

Andrew Slade, director-general of the economy department, said an “outline case” was necessary but that it was “perfectly possible, feasible, legal, proper... for government to engage in property purchases where we think that is going to deliver on the Welsh Government’s policy delivery objectives.”

Mr Slade said the purpose of buying the farm was about “the wider business and development of the wider Green Man business”, adding that it would include sustainable development work, farming activities and a “range of other things that would allow them to keep the operation in Wales”.

Mr Slade told the committee the festival had “insufficient funds” to buy the farm itself, with either “not enough money to go ahead or the possibility of borrowing to go ahead to get the property needed to develop the business”.

As Wales on Line's political editor at large, Martin Shipton points out on Twitter, paragraph 3.7 of the Ministerial Code states: “Ministers should not meet formally with professional public affairs organisations (lobbyists) seeking to influence the views or decisions of Government.” He points out that these Ministers have got round this by having an "informal" dinner.

He also reports in his article that every three months the Welsh Government publishes on its website details of formal meetings involving ministers and external organisations. He says that typically the list of meetings runs to around 60 pages but none of the three most recent lists includes meetings with the Green Man Festival or Deryn Consulting.

This is not the transparency we should expect of the Welsh Government, nor is it any way to conduct government business when so much public money is at stake. The First Minister has now initiated his own inquiry, albeit rather late in the day. Let's hope the outcome of that probe is published in full.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Brext: an update

 A video from Led by Donkeys. Click the link

Friday, August 05, 2022

Fizzing with Liz

Having got rid of one party leader, whose reign was mired by allegations of impropriety and by investigations into some of his activities, the Tories seem intent on electing another who likes to court controversy.

The Independent reports that Liz Truss is facing the possibility of her first major sleaze probe amid claims she failed to declare “murky donations” related to her leadership campaign.

The paper says that Labour have appealed to the cabinet secretary to open an investigation into the Tory frontrunner over funding for a so-called “Fizz with Liz” champagne dinner, while the Liberal Democrats have also written to the parliamentary commissioner for standards asking her to open an investigation of her own.

Truss is facing questions about why she did not declare the thousands of pounds worth of hospitality spent on schmoozing Tory MPs:

The funding for the event, hosted in Mayfair, was paid by a multimillionaire private members' club owner and aristocrat Robin Birley and was attended by around a dozen Conservative MPs.

Asked why the dinner – said to be used to sweet-talk Tory MPs ahead of her leadership bid – did not appear on the MPs' register of interests, Ms Truss’s campaign said it had “nothing to do with her” and was in fact hosted by Mr Birley.

But this account was disputed by other MPs present who told The Independent that they had been invited by Ms Truss, and that she was the host and not Mr Birley, who “turned up briefly to say hello”.

An invitation to the dinner sent from Ms Truss’s Commons email address, seen by The Independent, said: “Liz Truss MP is delighted to invite you to attend a dinner at 5 Hertford Street on 26 October at 7.30pm. Most grateful if you could confirm attendance by 10 October. Best wishes, Office of Liz Truss.”

In her letter calling for a probe to be opened, Labour's deputy leader noted that “by using parliamentary paper and explicitly inviting colleagues within her capacity as an MP via her parliamentary email address, Ms Truss’s event clearly falls under the transparency requirements of the Members Code of Conduct”.

She added: “This £3,000 sum was a donation from a very wealthy individual which Ms Truss has failed to be honest and transparent about.”

Is there no end to this Tory merry-go-round?

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Consequence free

The Guardian reports on the ruling of the police watchdog that every officer involved in the Daniel Morgan scandal will escape punishment, despite an independent inquiry finding that corruption in the Metropolitan police shielded the private detective’s killers with the force ignoring information.

The paper adds that those escaping any action include the former Met commissioner Cressida Dick, who the inquiry accused of hampering its work:

Morgan, 37, was found murdered on 10 March 1987 in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham.

With his business partner, Jonathan Rees, Morgan ran an agency called Southern Investigations. It would go on to carry out extensive work for the News of the World.

The panel said the Met was “institutionally corrupt” and placed protecting its reputation over the truth, all charges the force under Dick denied.

Five investigations by the Met into Morgan’s murder have failed to yield a conviction. Concerns about police wrongdoing, and links between corrupt officers and sections of the tabloid media, led the government to order the Leveson inquiry in 2013 after The Guardian’s revelations about phone hacking.

Dick, an assistant commissioner when the Morgan panel started its inquiry, was supposed to make good on the Met promise to fully cooperate with the panel, which was given no statutory powers to investigate and was thus reliant on those they were investigating agreeing to hand over evidence.

The panel accused the force of placing concerns about its reputation above properly confronting corruption. It said the Met misled the public and Morgan’s grieving family, exacerbating their pain.

The panel criticised police delays in giving access to a database with relevant documents, called “Holmes”, and Dick is named as one of those responsible. “The panel has never received any reasonable explanation for the refusal over seven years by [then] assistant commissioner Dick and her successors to provide access to the Holmes accounts to the Daniel Morgan independent panel,” they said.

Sal Naseem, the regional director for London at the IOPC, said: “We are acutely aware that not one single officer was ever successfully prosecuted or received significant disciplinary action as a result of corruption directly connected to the murder investigations.

“The wrongs that occurred can never be put right, but it may have served as some small comfort to Mr Morgan’s family and loved ones if the officers involved had been held to account and suffered the consequences of their actions at the time.”

So once more, no consequences for the Met's failings.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Welsh early voting failure shows need for reform

When it comes to radical reform, the Welsh Labour Government has a dismal record. There is, for example, a clear case for a proper reorganisation of local government, reducing the number of unitary councils and reforming and empowering those at community level. Instead Welsh Ministers set up unaccountable and opaque structures to force joint working on the existing bodies, increasing cost and bureaucracy.

At a Welsh level, Labour and Plaid Cymru opt for an over-large Senedd elected by a list system that leaves voters out in the cold. It is all about control. It will be the party machine who choses MSs in the future not those they represent.

And when it comes to improving turnout at elections, they prefer to tinker with gimmicks such as early voting, instead of addressing the real issue of relevance and accountability that puts many off from voting. If the result does not reflect the way people vote, then why should they participate? Once more the system is weighed in favour of the party machine.

Wales on Line reports that a Welsh Government pilot to try and increase flexibility for voters in elections, through early voting, led to no increase in turnout.

The pilots, which were carried out during this year's local elections, aimed to test measures to make elections in Wales are as accessible as possible and ensure "that everyone who wants to vote can vote".

They were assessed by the Electoral Commission who concluded: "A small number of voters chose to cast their vote at the advance voting polling stations. The three pilots with a single advance centre had similar results, with 0.2 – 0.3% of registered polling station voters casting a vote on the advance days. In Bridgend, where a number of usual polling stations were open, the proportion was slightly higher at 1.5%."

Isn't it time we overhauled our electoral process properly by introducing proportional voting, that does away with one party fiefdoms and produces outcomes commensurate with how people voted? The current system is broken, let's stop playing around with it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

More profiteering at our expense

Hot on the heels of Shell and Centrica announcing huge windfalls, BP has become the latest multi-national to hand billions of pounds to its shareholders after tripling its profits to nearly £7bn in the second quarter of the year amid high oil prices during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even as families struggle in a cost of living crisis.

The Guardian reports that the FTSE 100 oil company said its preferred measure of profit, which it describes as its underlying replacement cost profit, rose to $8.5bn (£6.9bn) between April and June. That is up from $6.2bn in the first three months of the year, and three times BP’s underlying profits of $2.8bn in the second quarter of 2021:

Oil companies in the UK and beyond have enjoyed booming earnings in recent months on the back of rising energy prices as households around the world have struggled with soaring bills. As Russia’s invasion grinds on, analysts have predicted the UK annual energy bills could jump to £3,850 in the winter, three times what they were paying at the start of 2022.

Shell last week reported record quarterly profits of nearly £10bn between April and June, while the British Gas owner, Centrica, made operating profits of £1.3bn, most of which came from its oil and gas drilling division. Shell and France’s Total last week said they would also give shareholders billions of dollars in share buybacks and dividends.

Despite this the government is giving the oil companies 80% tax breaks for new investments that reduce their tax bill, while their the 25% windfall tax, known as the energy profits levy, did not come into force until 14 July, meaning that it does not apply to profits made by BP or other oil companies during the second quarter.

The time for government action on this profiteering is long past. What do we need to do to make ministers act in the interests of families struggling to pay energy and fuel bills?

Monday, August 01, 2022

UK Government still struggling to contain oligarchs

Thanks to lax controls on capital the UK has long been the money laundering capital of the world, unfortunately that is not likely to end soon, despite new legislation coming into force this week.

The Guardian reports that claims by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, that the new legislation will have an “immediate dissuasive effect on oligarchs attempting to hide their ill-gotten gains, ensuring that the UK is a place for legitimate business only”, have been met by secpticism by others.

They say that a string of lawyers, tax experts, MPs, accountants and transparency campaigners are warning that the long-awaited register of overseas entities, which was sped through parliament after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is “riddled with flaws and loopholes” and will have no impact on forcing corrupt oligarchs to reveal which UK mansions they own:

The register is intended to, in the government’s words, “flush out corrupt elites laundering money through UK property” by forcing secretive overseas companies to reveal the true owner or risk “tough fines”, or even up to five years in prison.

The Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who has long campaigned for a crackdown on secretive overseas ownership of UK property, complained that the register was “more lead balloon” than the “silver bullet we were promised would stop abuses like money laundering in our real estate sector”.

She said: “The new register is riddled with flaws and loopholes that mean oligarchs and organised criminals will still be able to evade scrutiny and secretly purchase premium London property, such as Highgate mansions or Kensington townhouses.

“To truly stop the flows of corrupt wealth into our housing market, the government must urgently put in place an open register of the true owners of UK land and property, not just of those owned by companies. Anything less would demonstrate once and for all that this government is truly soft on dirty money.”

John Cullinane, the director of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the leading body representing tax accountants, said oligarchs and other members of the corrupt elite would be easily able to exploit “gaping holes” in the new rules.

He said individuals could legally sidestep the rules by holding property or land in the name of a nominee company, or by simply sharing the ownership with more than four relatives or friends.

“We highlighted a particular loophole in the new law, namely that the legislation requires the identification only of the beneficial owners of the company in question, and not those of the land or property itself. This matters because the company could be holding that land as a nominee for an individual who does not own the company,” Cullinane said.

“The company might be owned by a Cayman or Panamanian law firm, for example, which holds legal ownership of many properties on behalf of wealthy clients. In this scenario the names on the register would likely be the partners in the law firm, or perhaps no one at all. The name of the oligarch would be nowhere to be found.”

Cullinane said that even if an oligarch did own shares in an offshore company that owns a UK property, “if they hold 25% or less of that company’s shares, nothing needs to be disclosed.” He said: “A family of six could each own a 16.67% share of the company, thus bringing them outside the registration requirements.”

He pointed out that Alisher Usmanov, who has been subjected to UK sanctions and described by the government as “one of Vladmir Putin’s favourite oligarchs”, has said he has transferred properties into irrevocable trusts in the names of members of his family, potentially putting them beyond sanctions.

Cullinane also said a fine of up to £2,500 a day for failing to comply with the rules was unlikely to pose much of a deterrent to the super-rich targets of the legislation.

The new law is a start, but it needs to go much further.

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