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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Pitiful government failing to recover fraud losses

The Guardian reports that ministers have been accused of making a “pitiful attempt” to recoup taxpayers’ money wasted on fraudulent Covid contracts, after it emerged that only a fraction of the estimated total had been recovered so far.

They say that about £18m has been retrieved by the Department of Health and Social Care through checks on personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts identified as “high risk” and through “contract management”. However, the total amount estmated to have been defrauded is closer to £630m. thirty five times greater than that recovered:

The Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises the value for money of government spending, also said a stockpile of items worth £3.9bn was not needed. It added that there were disputes with more than 100 suppliers over £2.7bn worth of stock – mostly over concerns about the quality of PPE provided.

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, tabled the written question to [health minister] Quince that revealed the sum recovered so far. She criticised the government for having “frittered away” billions on useless PPE, and claimed the £18m figure was “a damning indictment” of the Conservatives’ record on “dodgy Covid contracts”.

Cooper said: “These pitiful attempts to recoup the money lost is adding insult to injury. Conservative ministers must step up efforts to recover the money wasted on Covid contracts handed out to their wealthy friends and donors during the pandemic.”

The Guardian understands that the Lib Dems are planning to table an amendment to the forthcoming procurement bill, which will have its second reading on 9 January, to ban “VIP lanes”, through which contracts were directly awarded to some firms.

Cooper said the move would stop “this staggering waste of public money from happening again” by preventing preferential treatment in government procurement processes being given to organisations and individuals recommended by MPs and peers.

The use of the VIP lane has come under renewed scrutiny, after the Guardian revealed that Michelle Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a business, PPE Medpro, that was awarded large government contracts and placed in the VIP lane after she recommended it to ministers.

In the context of the pay demands of health workers the amount lost through fraud is massive. Perhaps, if the government invested in the people who deliver health and care rather than reward their buddies through VIP procurement lanes, we might have a more robust health service with a stable and contented workforce.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Brexit stopping the Met buying British

The Independent reveals that the next generation of armoured ministerial cars will be made in Germany because supply chain issues hampered by Brexit mean no British manufacturer is able to meet its requirements.

The paper says that the Metropolitan Police announced over the summer that it was ditching armoured Jaguar XJs for Baden-Württemberg-assembled Audi A8s. And it has now been revealed that the decision was made because no British car maker is “able to meet the requirements of the tender”, forcing the Met’s hand:

Last year, UK car production hit its lowest level since 1956, because of skills shortages and supply chain issues worsened by Brexit and the pandemic.

Jaguar has provided British government ministerial cars for more than three decades but its plants have had to pause production at points over the past few years due to problems obtaining parts.


The problems obtaining a suitable car from the UK were revealed in a written response to a question from the London Assembly, which scrutinises the Metropolitan Police Authority. The Met is in turn responsible for ministerial protection, including procuring the cars.

“All Metropolitan Police Service contracts are subject to public procurement regulations, with considerations given to safety requirements as well as cost and vehicle availability,” officers said in a statement.

“For this tender specifically, at the time of tender, there was no UK original equipment manufacturer able to meet the requirements of the tender, or producing a similar specification of vehicle, therefore no bid was made by any UK manufacture for the contract.”

In 2016, the UK produced around 1.7 million cars a year, but since the EU referendum, this figure has steadily declined to just 786,000, according to the latest numbers from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Production appeared to hit rock bottom earlier this year and has now levelled off, with a very slight increase in recent months.


The cars are used to transport Rishi Sunak and six of the most senior ministers who receive Grade 7 Metropolitan Police protection, which involves a 24/7 bodyguard and the use of special armoured cars.

So much for taking back control.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Sunak misses the point on ethics

The Independent reports that Rishi Sunak has appointed a new ethics adviser, a post that has been allowed to remain vacant for six months, but has refused to relinquish the power to veto any investigation into ministers.

The paper says that Historic England chairman Sir Laurie Magnus was announced as the adviser on ministers’ interests, but the prime minister ignored calls from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and others to give his top adviser the power to start their own investigation without his permission:

Labour accused Mr Sunak of having chosen to “preserve the rotten ethics regime” that led to the resignations of both Lord Geidt and his predecessor Sir Alex Allan.

The Liberal Democrats said the new adviser was “toothless”, and the respected Institute for Government think tank said it was “unwise” for Sir Laurie to accept the role without a strengthened remit.

The rest of us will be asking how such a person can be truly independent if his work can be vetoed by the Prime Minister. Once more Sunak has missied the point on what an ethics advisor should be doing.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Santa Claus evades his trackers

It's Christmas Eve and Santa Claus has left the North Pole. As usual NORAD has its tracking system up and running, as it has been sinec 1955.

However, as reported by the Mirror, this tracker was so popular this year that it briefly crashed, leaving Santa to go about his business without the eyes of the world on him.

Perhaps he does his best work unseen.

Friday, December 23, 2022

New rules underline us and them culture in government

Thousands of commuters may be struggling to get home in the light of rail strikes and other disruptions on the transport network, but at least we can be assured that government ministers will not be among them.

The Mirror reports that Rishi Sunak has changed the rules so his ministers can use their chauffeur-driven limos more.

They say that the Prime Minister has amended the ministerial code to allow frontbenchers to make journeys to their constituencies in their government cars:

The rules previously stated that ministers were "permitted to use an official car for official business and for home to office journeys within a reasonable distance of London on the understanding they are using the time to work".

But in a new version of the code published today the words "within a reasonable distance of London" were removed.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “While Rishi Sunak subjects the public to travel chaos by failing to resolve train strikes, he’s busy changing the rules to sort out car rides home for his own ministers.

"The Tories are once again putting themselves before the public.“

No wonder the government are in no hurry to settle the strikes.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Home Office break the law again

The Independent reports that Home office emails have reported that more than 400 asylum seekers were illegally detained at immigration removal centres.

They say that the emails descibe the detention of between 450 and 500 migrants held as “overflow” from the Manston processing centre in November as “no longer legal”. They add that During a surge in Channel crossings in October, as many as 4,000 people were being detained at Manston, which is designed to hold just 1,600:

New arrivals were expected to be taken to the centre, which is designed for holding people for short periods during security and identity checks, before being moved to accommodation.

But some people were held for far longer periods due to a lack of alternative accommodation.

But the emails, through a freedom of information request, show Home Office permanent secretaries were aware of overcrowding concerns at the time.

“Their detention is no longer legal as they can only be detained whilst their identity is locked down and then only for a maximum of 5 days,” one email said.

“Most have been there for a number of weeks, longer than some Manston cases. We need to move them to hotels ASAP.”

The lack of preparedness and the hostile environment have put the Home Office into this position. They need to sort it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Another government failure on climate change

When the government passed the 2021 Environment Act it was taken as a commitment to the principle that ‘the polluter pays’, however the evidence seems to suggest that the contrary is true.

The Independent reports that the government is spending a billion pounds less on cutting domestic emissions than it is expected to raise through carbon taxes over the next 12 months, contradicting that key principle:

The UK emissions trading scheme – which charges certain businesses for emitting greenhouse gases – is expected to raise £6.5bn this year, more than six times the £1bn it raised in 2021-2022, according to a study of carbon credit auction prices by the New Economics Foundation and Oxfam.

But despite the significant projected windfall, the government has only allocated £5.5bn to cutting carbon emissions domestically this year.

Alex Chapman, a senior researcher from NEF who conducted the analysis, says the gap is at odds with the 2021 Environment Act which commits the government to the notion that “the polluter pays”.

“We’re set to raise over £20bn over the next four years from our most polluting businesses but we’re not putting it to good use,” he said.

“This government has the opportunity to reinvest this money to cut our dangerous carbon emissions and repair some of the damage caused by the climate crisis,” he added.

No surprise here, really.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The government has not won on the Rwanda deportations yet

The Guardian reports that Suella Braverman has announced her intention to deliver mass deportations of people seeking UK asylum to Rwanda “at scale and as soon as possible” after the high court ruled that the policy was lawful:

Her comments followed a judgment on Monday that could have major political ramifications for Rishi Sunak’s government. Judges dismissed an application from asylum seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union to stop the Conservative government from sending people seeking to claim asylum in the UK to Rwanda.

But in a rebuke for the Home Office, two judges said the government failed to consider the circumstances of eight individuals it tried to deport under the scheme in June.

The partial victory for the government does not mean flights will be able to take off straight away. There are expected to be further appeals, and a European court of human rights injunction in the summer prevented immediate deportations until the legal process has been exhausted. Lawyers and NGOs claimed that the legal process “could take years” rather than months.

The criticism of the government by the judges and the further ongoing legal processes could mean that the policy remains unworkable. Appeals in the higher courts and the action in the European Court of Human Rights could mean it is years before the policy is implemented. And even then each individual targeted for deportation will have their own right of appeal and can challenge the criteria being used in their case.

The government has spent £140m on this policy. That is increasingly looking like money down the drain. If they really want to stop channel crossings and undermine the people traffickers then they need to provide safe routes for genuine asylum seekers. Why is the opposition not saying this louder?

Monday, December 19, 2022

Is Brexit undermining Christmas?

There are plenty of Brexiteers who would fit easily into the role of the Grinch, but far more serious is the impact of our exit from the EU on Christmas markets.

The Independent reports that the number of businesses taking part in the UK’s Christmas markets has slumped by more than a fifth since Brexit, with some of Britain’s biggest cities hit hardest by the decline.

The paper says that local authority figures show that there will be 21 per cent fewer traders at the first post-Covid markets this year, compared with pre-Brexit numbers:

UK capitals saw some of the steepest downturns, with Edinburgh’s flagship Christmas market expected to see around half as many traders this year as before the UK left the EU.

London’s West End reported the largest decline of all those surveyed, collapsing from 247 businesses trading in 2019 to just 119 this year – a decline of 51 per cent.

The internationalist campaign group Best for Britain – which obtained figures from more than 50 councils following freedom of information requests – said it was clear that post-Brexit red tape was a major “deterrent” to seasonal traders coming from EU countries.

Leeds was forced to scrap its “Christkindelmarkt” this year, with organisers citing post-Brexit “costs and complications” affecting traders from Germany as a major factor in the cancellation.

While other factors, including increased energy costs and roadworks, are having an impact, leading market organisers say the industry has been hit hard by post-Brexit bureaucracy. Market Place Europe – which operates Christmas markets around the UK – said post-Brexit “restrictions and requirements” had led many EU traders to pull out.

“Brexit appears to have had a significant impact on the number of EU traders attending the Christmas markets in the UK,” managing director Allan Hartwell told The Independent. “From what I am hearing from other Christmas market operators, there are far fewer EU traders in attendance,” he added. “Leeds market has been cancelled this year, and Southampton almost had a similar fate, as many of the core traders didn’t travel from Germany.”

Mr Hartwell noted that because of arrangements set out in the Northern Ireland protocol, traders from the EU can more easily operate in Belfast than in cities in mainland Britain. Belfast’s Christmas market bucked the wider trend by growing by 15 per cent compared with 2019.

It sounds like if you want to enjoy a fully fledged Christmas market this year, you will need to travel to the EU, as they are surely not coming to us.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Closing the gaps

The Independent reports that despite welcoming publication of Thérèse Coffey's 13 new legally-binding environment targets on Friday, environmentalist have said they are concerned that important areas like overall water quality had been left out:br>
The government was meant to publish the slate of targets under the Environment Act earlier this autumn, but delays in bringing them forward left it in breach of the law.

They were finally released on Friday, with measures like a pledge to increase tree cover from 14.5 per cent of land area now to 16.5 per cent by 2050.

Ministers have also said they will reduce exposure to harmful particulate matter in the air by 2040 and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, among other measures.

But environmentalists say the government has only done half its job because of the absence of measures on protected sites and overall water quality.

The targets include four specific pledges relating to water: clamping down on abandoned metal mines, reducing agricultural pollution of water, greening wastewater and reducing water demand.

But Ruth Chambers of the Greener UK coalition said: “The absence of targets for things like river health and protected sites for nature makes no sense. These are two of our most pressing problems.

“We now need the government to show how they will meet the new targets and plug the gaps where no targets exist at all.”

These targets form an important benchmark whereby we can measure the government's performance. It is worrying therefore that some areas are not covered, as that gives ministers a pass on carrying out effective work to bring about improvements.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

The stealth tax steal

Gone are the days when the Tories were the party of low tax. Nowadays, they just pretend to advocate lower taxation rates, while hiking them surreptiously.

The Independent reports on research that has identified that Britons will be paying £150bn in extra National Insurance contributions and income tax over the next six years.

The paper says that the decision by the prime minister and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt to freeze tax thresholds will cost the equivalent of £5,000 for every household in the UK.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that the combined impact of freezing income tax and NIC thresholds will cost taxpayers more than £30bn a year by 2025-26, a situation made worse by out-of-control inflation and interest rate hikes.

Effectively, this government is balancing the books on the backs of the poorest. So, they are Tories then!

Friday, December 16, 2022


The death of at least four people in the English Channel earlier this week was a tragedy. more importantly it was an avoidable tragedy, something that the charity, Care4Calais and the PCS Union have been keen to emphasise.

The Independent reports that the union, who represent coastguards and Border Force officials, has called on Suella Braverman to resign as home secretary following these deaths in the Channel:

The call from the PCS union comes after a refugee charity said the government had “blood on its hands” because of its failure to offer safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to register their claims in the UK.

Downing Street today insisted that the allegation was “not appropriate” in the wake of the tragic capsize of a migrant boat in freezing conditions off Kent.

Ms Braverman told the Commons the tragedy was “the most sobering reminder possible of why we have to end these crossings”, and vowed there would be new legislation to end criminal gangs.

But Paul O’Connor of the PCS said the home secretary’s “ring utterly hollow” after she refused to adopt the safe passage policy which the union put forward last week to stop the perilous small boat crossings.

Under the policy, proposed jointly with charity Care4Calais, refugees would be granted a visa for travel purposes only, so that they can cross the Channel safely in order to claim asylum in the UK. If their claim failed, they would be removed.

Mr O’Connor said: “Today’s tragedy, coming just over twelve months after 32 people tragically lost their lives in the Channel, was entirely avoidable.

“The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, says her heartfelt thoughts are with all those involved. Those words ring utterly hollow when she has spent her time as Home Secretary vilifying and demonising the very people she now feigns sympathy with. She should resign in disgrace.

“PCS wrote to the home secretary only last week providing her with a ready-made solution to these dangerous crossings.

“Our solution would allow safe passage for refugees and would destroy the business model of the people smugglers in one fell swoop.

“Instead of seizing on that solution, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, decided to yesterday double down on the demonisation of these vulnerable people rather than provide them with safety. This tragedy should force him to reflect and rethink his government’s position.”

The union has a valid point. The government's failure to provide safe routes by which refugees can claim asylum is playing into the hands of people traffickers, and putting lives at risk. Until that is rectified government ministers are equally as culpable in these tragic deaths.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Labour cannot excape blame for striking nurses

The Guardian reports on today's strike, whereby tens of thousands of nurses are walking out across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, sparking a major disruption to services in the first such action in NHS history.

They add that members of the Royal College of Nursing are staging the strikes in an effort to win a pay rise for this year of 5% above inflation, and in protest at the government’s decision to award them an increase of at least £1,400, which is the equivalent of about a 4% uplift.

Welsh health minister, Eluned Morgan, is quoted as stressing that her Labour government believes “all public sector workers should be fairly rewarded for the important work they do”.

Her problem of course is that the Welsh Labour Government are in charge of the pay and conditions of workers in the Welsh health service, they cannot just wash their hands and deny this dispute isnt anything to do with them.

If they want the powers they have to take responsibility, and stop blaming others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Rogue state?

Yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister that he is going to intensify the hostile environment against asylum seekers and other migrants must surely put the UK on track to be considered an international pariah by those other countries who are doing all they can to relieve the suffering caused by war, famine and climate change.

According to the Guardian, Sunak insisted he can clear a backlog of nearly 100,000 asylum claims by the end of next year as part of a set of policies that include resuming “hostile environment” checks on bank accounts suspended after the Windrush scandal:

The prime minister outlined a five-point plan in the Commons including law changes to criminalise and then remove tens of thousands of people who claim asylum after travelling to the UK by small boats, and a deal with Albania to aid removals to the Balkan state.

But the plan, the details of which have not been released, was criticised by some Conservative MPs including Theresa May, who said that one announcement – a promise to overhaul modern slavery laws – might undermine protections for victims.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said Sunak was indulging in more “unworkable gimmicks” as promised by other Tory prime ministers. A majority of those who arrive by small boats qualify as legitimate refugees fleeing wars and famine, charities said.

Sunak said he would also revive data-sharing powers to stop migrants who have arrived in the UK by irregular means from obtaining bank accounts.

“It is frankly absurd that today illegal immigrants can get bank accounts which help them live and work here,” he told MPs. “So we will restart data sharing to stop this.”

The powers were suspended four years ago in the wake of the Windrush scandal amid fears that people wrongly identified as illegal migrants were being denied bank accounts, the Guardian’s former home affairs editor Alan Travis pointed out on Twitter.

An inquiry by a government watchdog in 2017 found that one in 10 people refused a bank account because of a failed immigration check were wrongly denied access.

Colin Yeo, the immigration specialist barrister and author, said the development was a “massive” potential problem for those caught up in the Home Office’s faltering systems.

“There are huge problems with Home Office data,” he said. “Banks have to shut your account if a check against that data flags you.

“There’s basically no remedy. That’s it, game over, you can’t eat, travel or pay your rent.”

As the paper points out the asylum backlog has ballooned, with 143,377 people awaiting an initial decision on their application and unable to work. Many of those trying to cross the channel to claim asylum have a genuine case, but the government has effectively closed off any legitimate route that they can use.

Fortress Britain is on course to becoming a rogue state, ignoring its international obligations and in breach of international law.

Payng the bill

As if it was not bad enough that a former Prime Minister is being investigated for allegedly misleading the House of Commons over parties held in Downing Street during lockdown, it seems that the taxpayer is still paying the legal bills in his attempt to fight these charges.

The Guardian reports that ministers have been accused of writing a “blank cheque” for Boris Johnson’s legal bills, as it emerged taxpayer-funded support was being extended to help defend him against claims he misled parliament over Partygate:

With just days left until a contract expires with the law firm Peters and Peters, which Johnson and the government have relied on to disparage an investigation by the privileges committee, the Guardian has learned the Cabinet Office intends to renew it.

The extension could be for up to six months given the investigation’s slow progress and was likely to be signed off without a new tender process, sources said.

Peters and Peters was given the four-month contract, worth nearly £130,000, in August. David Pannick, an advocate and king’s counsel, was instructed on the firm’s behalf.

The life peer has since sought to discredit the investigation by claiming MPs on the cross-party committee had adopted a “fundamentally flawed approach” and that their interpretation of whether any misleading was deliberate would have a “chilling effect” on future statements by ministers.

Johnson himself has protested his innocence, and is said to believe it is unclear what the committee is investigating.

The Peters and Peters contract expires on 16 December, but sources confirmed it would be extended to help Johnson and the government while the privileges committee inquiry continued.

They said procurement rules meant that because the same service was being requested, the government would not need to re-tender the contract.

The Cabinet Office declined to say whether more money would be spent on the extended contract, or if the legal advice would continue to be provided within the existing budget.

I doubt if any other former minister in a similar position would receive this sort of taxpayer funded support.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The case for a minimum income

The Guardian reports on the view of the New Economics Foundation that thirty million people in the UK will be unable to afford what the public considers to be a decent standard of living by the time the current parliament ends in 2024.

They say that rising prices, below-inflation increases in earnings and projected increases in unemployment would result in 43% of households lacking the resources to put food on the table, buy new clothes or treat themselves and their families – a 12 percentage point rise compared with 2019:

The NEF said its calculation that by 2024 almost 90% of single parents and 50% of workers with children would fall below a minimum income standard showed the need for a radical overhaul of the welfare system.

The thinktank called for universal credit to be scrapped and replaced by a national living income, a minimum below which no one could fall whether they were in or out of work. Under its proposal, more than two-thirds of the population would see their disposable incomes rise, with increases of more than 50% – or £500 a month – for the poorest households.

The £70bn-a-year plan would be funded by a more progressive tax system, it said, including the harmonisation of tax rates for income and wealth, extending national insurance to investment income, and abolishing the upper earnings limit for NICs.

Sam Tims, economist at the New Economics Foundation, said: “A decade of cuts, freezes, caps and haphazard migration between systems has left the UK with one of the weakest safety nets among developed countries.

“Millions of families were already living in avoidable deprivation and hardship but as we enter the greatest living standards crisis on modern records, the day-to-day experience of low-income families is set to become even more desperate.”

“We need a bold new way of providing income support that will help all people deal with the challenges presented by the fast-changing world we’re living in. A national living income would set an income floor that is enough to meet life’s essentials, which no one can fall below whether they are in or out of work.”

Official figures show that 22% of people in the UK are living below the poverty line because they are getting by on less than 60% of median household income.

The NEF definition of a decent living standard is based on work by another thinktank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which asks people what they consider to be an acceptable minimum. The list covers eight categories: housing, domestic fuel, food and drink, clothing, household goods and services, health and personal care, transport and travel, and social and cultural participation.

The ”minimum income standard” varies depending on household type, but the average shortfall will have risen from £6,200 a year as of December 2019 to £10,000 by December 2024, the NEF said. It added that the MIS was used to calculate the so-called real living wage paid by companies like Ikea and KPMG, and football clubs like West Ham, Liverpool and Chelsea.

A minimum income used to be the policy of the old Liberal Party. Perhaps it is time that the Liberal Democrats revisited the concept.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Tory spin hiding lack of substance

Oops, it turns out that the impact of Brexit may be even worse than that envisaged by the most hardened remainer, with the official statistics watchdog pulling up Conservative Ministers on the accuaracy of some of their claims.

The Guardian reports that the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has reprimanded the Conservatives for claiming the UK had secured £800bn in “new free trade deals” since leaving the EU, saying the figure includes deals rolled over from before Brexit.

In particular UKSA has written to the Tories about an infographic, shared last month by Michael Gove among others, warning that the party should provide sources for such figures in the future. The Tory graphic said: “We’ve secured new free trade deals with over 70 countries since 2016. That’s over £800bn worth of new free trade”:

In a response, the UKSA’s chair, Sir Robert Chote, said that while no citation or source was provided, he assumed the £800bn total came from the £559bn in net trade with EU countries in 2021, plus the £245bn in post-2016 deals with 71 non-EU nations, some of which had also been a rollover of the pre-Brexit deals with the wider EU.

“Under the principles of intelligent transparency, we would expect the infographic to include a source for the figure so that the public can verify the numbers, understand the definitions used and put the data into context,” Chote wrote to Hendry.

“More specifically in this case, it is misleading to describe the £800bn figure as a measure of ‘new global trade’ resulting from the recent deals. That would imply that there had been no trade with these countries before the recent deals and that there would be none now without them.

“We have spoken to the Conservative party and asked that any future communications include a link or reference to the source of statistics. We have also requested that the party be more transparent about the context and assumptions that have been made to construct such statements and infographics.”

Will they never learn?

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Digging an ever deeper hole

The UK Government may think it is clever goading public sector workers into striking for better pay and conditions, but at present public sympathy is on the side of the strikers, and it is government ministers who are going to end up with egg all over their faces.

Above all the public respects fair play, and if there is a dispute that our government will do all it can to resolve it. Yet, as the Independent reports, Ministers are somehow convinced that refusing to meet with trade unions in order to avoid disruption over the Christmas period, will win them votes and put workers on the back foot. They couldn't be more wrong.

The paper says that the health secretary is embroiled in a sexism storm after he was accused of being unwilling to negotiate with the leader of striking nurses because she is a woman who mainly represents women. 

Steve Barclay was also accused of being a “bullyboy” by Pat Cullen from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), whose members are due to take part in unprecedented industrial action on 15 and 20 December. The RCN said Mr Barclay was failing to properly engage with nurses, even as he said his “door remains open”.

At the same time, it is reported elsewhere that the Transport Secretary has declined an invitation to meet with the RMT to avert strikes on the rail network and in airports over the festive season.

Nobody is calling for a return to the tea and sandwiches days in Downing Street from the Harold Wilson era, but surely we should expect our highly paid politicians to be doing everything they can to keep public sector workers in work and to protect the public from damaging strikes. Instead they are just digging themselves into a deeper hole.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Government to undermine code of conduct

The Guardian reports that Rishi Sunak’s government is expected to accept most of a proposed new code of conduct for MPs after the Owen Paterson scandal but has rejected the idea that ministers should declare more details about free hospitality from lobbyists and companies.

The paper says that key measures in the code include tightening the rules on lobbying to stop MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy, but, in a move that could trigger another standards row, the government is holding out against a proposal to ask ministers to register with parliament any hospitality provided by third parties worth more than £300 within 28 days, as is required for other MPs:

Instead, they are allowed to make transparency declarations through their departments, without citing a value for hospitality received, and these are often infrequent, delayed and patchy. It is thought Mordaunt may make some alternative proposals to improve their speed and accuracy.

The government is also not accepting the idea of adding a description to the seven principles of public life saying that MPs and other public servants should exemplify non-discriminatory attitudes in their behaviour, which ministers oppose on free speech grounds.

Sunak has promised a more ethical government than under Boris Johnson, but he has so far failed to find a candidate to be the new independent adviser on ministerial interests. This means the disclosure of financial interests of new cabinet ministers is already likely to be delayed from its six-monthly publication.

The paper quotes Chris Bryant, the chair of the Commons standards committee, who said it was “bonkers” that the government was refusing tougher disclosure standards for ministers. “It must surely be in the public interest that all MPs are treated equally and that all financial interests are accessible in a timely fashion and in a single place online.”

Unless and untill the government introduces the strictest possible regime, there will always be a suspicion that undue influence is being exerted on government and that abuse of process will continue.

Friday, December 09, 2022

Another Tory cock-up

The Independent reports on a surprising admission by the UK Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan, that nobody with “the luxury of hindsight” would repeat the government’s £120m festival of Brexit project.

Donelan was speaking at a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, where she was told that the event, officially known as Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, had been a “monumental cock-up”. In responding, she took the opportunity to distance herself from the project and admitted there were “shortfalls” and “lessons learnt”:

“As you know that that initiative was developed and thought of as a concept years ago, and it was drawing its conclusion when I entered the department. So it isn’t something that I have actively myself worked on,” she told the culture committee.

“In terms of the project itself, obviously now we’re viewing it from the luxury of hindsight aren’t we, we know the criticism that’s been waged against it; we know that the shortfalls, the lessons learnt, and we’re in a very different period of time, with the economy with the cost of living crisis and the challenge that we face today.”

Asked whether the government would run the festival again, she said: “I never did it in the first place. Obviously, this was a government initiative and I don’t think anybody would do it exactly the same.”

Pushed on whether she would have gone ahead with the festival again, Ms Donelan said: “No, because there are lessons that have to be learned from Unboxed. And I think everybody would recognise that in many ways it could have been improved and built upon.”

But Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chairs the committee, told the cabinet minister that there had been ample warning that Unboxed would be a failure.

He said the committee had been told the audience target for the event was 66 million but that in reality just 18 million people, around a quarter, had engaged with it and 3.8 million attended.

“When you say this is from the benefit of hindsight, this committee in its report, warned against Unboxed and saying basically we thought it would be a failure,” he said.

It's a shame that those who were responsible for this event didnt listen at the time. If they had we would have saved a lot of money.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

What is causing the UK food crisis?

The Independent reports on the view of the National Farmers Union that Brexit has added to the UK’s mounting food supply crisis which has seen a “crippling” shortage of some goods in the supermarket.

The NFU believe that current egg shortages “could just be the start” and warned that consumers could soon see a scarcity of tomatoes, cucumbers, pears and other fresh produce:

NFU president Minette Batters said Britain’s fruit and vegetable supply could soon be “in trouble”, as she urged the government to help producers under severe strain from soaring costs.

Ms Batters also said Brexit was partly to blame for the food sectors’ woes because of acute labour shortages and the costly burden of red tape faced by British exporters trying to sell to the EU.

Decrying the ongoing “challenges of trade” with the bloc after Brexit, the NFU chief told The Independent: “It has added cost. We are exporting less into the EU than we were. Leaving the EU was always going to add cost.”

Saying Brexit problems had been “compounded” by Covid and soaring energy costs, Ms Batters added: “The global pandemic added a lot of cost inflation, and the war in Ukraine has blown all of that apart and added a whole new level of cost inflation that no-one could have predicted.”

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) also said trade and immigration barriers brought by Brexit were continuing to cause problems – with most plants experiencing around 10 per cent to 15 per cent shortages in workers.

“All the new requirements on exports to the EU has made everything more costly and time consuming, with some meat exporters losing customers in Europe,” said Nan Jones, the BMPA’s policy manager.

We're going to need a bigger bus.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

New revelations in Tory PPE scandal

Today's Guardian reveals that a second company that the Tory peer Michelle Mone lobbied ministers over in an attempt to secure government Covid contracts was a secret entity of her husband’s family office.

The paper says that Lady Mone’s lobbying on behalf of the company, LFI Diagnostics, which she tried to help secure government contracts for Covid lateral flow tests, prompted a formal rebuke from a health minister who reminded her of “the need for propriety”:

A departmental source told the Guardian that Mone was “in a class of her own in terms of the sheer aggression of her advocacy” on behalf of LFI Diagnostics.

However, it is the revelation that the company was a secret entity of the office that manages the wealth of her husband, Douglas Barrowman, that will deepen the controversy over the Tory peer and her access to ministers.

On Tuesday, Mone’s spokesperson said that she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords with immediate effect, adding she was doing so “in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her”.

Mone’s apparent lobbying during the pandemic of at least four Tory ministers – Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Lord Agnew and Lord Bethell – is threatening to become a major scandal for the government.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, MPs voted to force the government to release documents relating to £200m contracts that were given to PPE Medpro in June 2020, weeks after Mone referred it to Gove and Agnew, using their personal email addresses.

A crucial document seen by the Guardian suggests that both PPE Medpro and LFI Diagnostics were set up for the ultimate benefit of Barrowman and his family.

The document was prepared by Anthony Page, who runs Barrowman’s family office in the Isle of Man. It lists both PPE Medpro and LFI Diagnostics as “entities” of his family office, also known as the Knox family office.

A source familiar with the Barrowman family office said its “entities” are owned, either directly or indirectly, for the ultimate benefit of Barrowman or his family. While Page runs the family office, it is ultimately controlled by Barrowman, the source added.

It is little wonder that the public want the Tories out of office as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Labour's damp squib

Never believe the hype, a phrase that lends itself to Gordon Brown's constitutional review with unerring accuracy. As the Independent says, Brown himself described his report as the ‘biggest transfer of power out of Westminster’ ever seen, unfortunately, for those of us who want to see real reform, it was just another damp squib.

In particular, the absence of any proposal to reform the voting system for Westminster and other elections is a major omission. As the Labour MP Clive Lewis, a former member of the shadow cabinet, says:: “A welcome acknowledgement in the Brown report is that millions feel ‘neglected, ignored, and invisible’. In short, disempowered. The basis of any democracy is the ability to be heard. That starts with an electoral system where votes count equally – PR.”

The Independent points out that Labour’s annual conference in September voted for the party to back proportional representation in Westminster elections, but Keir Starmer ruled out its inclusion in the manifesto, saying: “It’s not a priority for me.”.

That is a major error. How for example can these half-baked reforms be a priority, when allowing people to have an equal voice in electing their government is not? Fair voting is the major structural change that this country needs.

There is diappointment on other levels too, not least the lack of any overall vision or constitutional model for the UK as a whole. It is all very well devolving powers piecmmeal, but without a propor Federal framework, all that does is allow resentment to build up in areas that do not have those powers or the local democratic structure to implement them.

Even with the powers devolved to Wales, enshrining the Sewell convention in law is welcome but why only devolve small parts of the justice system to Wales?

These proposals are a mess. Why did we expect anything else?

Monday, December 05, 2022

Who is really helping Putin?

The Guardian reports that Conservative party chairman, Nadhim Zahawi, has been accused of insulting NHS workers with a “ludicrous” suggestion that it is the wrong time to strike over low pay because it would help Vladimir Putin divide the west.

In an apparent abandonment of common sense, compassion and political judgement, Rishi Sunak's choice to win over the hearts and minds of voters told broadcasters that nurses should call off their strikes and abandon their pay demands because it risked playing into the hands of the Russian president, who he said, wanted to fuel inflation in the west.

Zahawi then compounded his ineptitude by calling on unions representing nurses and other medical workers to enter into talks, even though, as the Royal College of Nurses pointed out, it was government ministers who were refusing to open any negotiations over the NHS pay deal.

The irony is, of course, that the people really offering succour to the Russian President are the Tory Party, who have accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, many of whom are Putin's allies. The Tory Government has also bent over backwards over the last decade in facilitating those oligarchs' luxourious lifestye in the UK.

Perhaps, once Zahawi climbs out of the hole he has dug himself into, he can address that issue.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Labour backtracking on constitutional reform already

They haven't even written their manifesto yet and already the Labour Party is backing down on its key promises.

The Sunday Times reports that Labour’s proposals to abolish the House of Lords are set to be watered down after an eleventh-hour row between Gordon Brown and Sir Keir Starmer’s advisers.

The paper says that following controversy over Boris Johnson's resignation honours list, Starmer told Labour peers of plans for a consultation on abolishing the Lords in favour of a directly elected body. However that pledge has now been weakened, with party sources stressing that Labour will commit itself to merely consulting on “reform” of the Lords:

The rhetorical shift follows what sources familiar with Brown’s thinking described as a “minute to midnight” dispute over which policies to emphasise on Monday. Starmer and Brown will share a platform in Leeds and together briefed the shadow cabinet on the report yesterday, to what sources insisted was a positive reception.

Some in Starmer’s inner circle fear that Lords reform will detract from the party’s core economic agenda. “Gordon is insisting Keir endorse it all, and wants a headline about Lords abolition,” a source said. “But the leadership don’t.”

Once more we are reduced to asking, 'what is the point of Keir Starmer?'

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Parliament is 'not a safe place to work'

Following on from yesterday's post, it is interesting to see this piece in the Independent reporting on the views of the civil service union, Prospect, that Parliament is not a “safe place to work” .

They were speaking after a group of Conservative politicians reported a fellow MP to police over allegations they committed rape and a string of sexual assaults.

The backbench MP was reported to the force by a group of Tory MPs, whose claims against the accused span a period of two years, broadcasterTalkTV reports.

The MP is said to be subject to an investigation by an independent law firm. They have not, however, had the Conservative whip removed or been suspended by party chiefs.

Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect union, says: “This MP remains free to visit the House of Commons and interact with staff despite these very serious allegations.

“This highlights yet again that there is no fit-for-purpose process in place to deal with this type of case and make Parliament a safe place to work.”

The Major years of Tory Party sleaze appear to have returned with a vengeance.

Friday, December 02, 2022

The failing ministerial code

If anything underlines how ineffective the ministerial code is, it is the reinstatement of Suella Braverman to the role of Home Secretary by Rishi Sunak just days after she was sacked by Liz Truss for a potential security breach. However, according to the Guardian, this is just the most high profile of a whole load of breaches that have never been properly addressed.

The paper says that a parliamentary committee has warned that historic breaches of the code may never be investigated or resolved, including the conduct of the home secretary or Islamophobia claims against a former chief whip, with up to forty potential breaches of the ministerial code never having been referred for investigation by the ethics adviser:

Rishi Sunak has launched a hunt for a new adviser on ministerial interests but the Guardian reported last week several candidates have turned down the role. Sunak is not offering candidates any enhanced powers – which means advisers would not be able to launch their own investigations.

The ethics adviser, when appointed, would probably face calls to renew or open at least two complex investigations – including concluding one into alleged Islamophobic comments made by the then-chief whip Mark Spencer to MP Nusrat Ghani.

There will also probably be pressure to open an investigation into the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who was sacked for a potential security breach by Liz Truss though reinstated by Sunak.

The pressure group Transparency International has been among those calling for the role to have significantly enhanced powers since it was vacated by Christopher Geidt five months ago under Boris Johnson.

In analysis of media reports, the group found 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code have not been investigated over the past five years. Those included:

* Meetings by Nadhim Zahawi and Kwasi Kwarteng with the Libyan politician Fathi Bashagha, organised by the lobbyist Mark Fullbrook who became Truss’s chief of staff. * Michael Gove’s acceptance of £120,000 in donations from property developers while serving as housing secretary. * Multiple meetings held by Anne-Marie Trevelyan with a Chinese state-owned nuclear power company with no record of what was discussed.

All the ministers have claimed donations and meetings were recorded accurately, but Transparency International said each one represents a potential breach that should be investigated where a perceived conflict of interest may arise.

The group has also called for appointments to the role to be made with a competitive process and for the position to be defined in law – rather than both being at the whim of the PM.

Sunak has expressed a desire to instil integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government, but if he doesn't give the new ethics advisor the powers needed to do the job property, then it won't happen.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

On institutional racism in the Royal Household

Just a quick thought on the ongoing row over institutional racism in the Royal Household, following reports of the late Queen’s lady-in-waiting and Prince William's godmother being forced to resign for making offensive remarks during an event.

The Independent says Ngozi Fulani, of Sistah Space, Britain’s leading domestic abuse charity for Black women, spoke of the “traumatic” encounter in which Lady Susan Hussey asked what part of Africa she was from.

They add that it happened at a Violence Against Women and Girls reception hosted by the Queen.

As a result, Lady Hussey, who served as Queen Elizabeth II’s lady-in-waiting for more than 60 years, stepped down from her honorary role on Wednesday and expressed her “profound apologies for the hurt caused” via a statement.

What is strange is that no news outlet has yet linked this event to allegations made by Prince Harry about Meghan's treatment in the Royal Household, and that there was (and is) institutional racism there. If anything it validates their claims.

I wonder why that is? Could it be that making such a link does not fit news editors' agenda of villifying King Charles' second son and his wife.

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