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Campaign: remove covert corporate influence from political life – 2: David Hencke

David Hencke spent time in the Parliamentary lobby as Westminster Correspondent covering Whitehall & Westminster, winning three awards for investigations – the most serious being the ”cash for questions” scandal which led to the bankruptcy of Ian Greer Associates, one of the country’s biggest lobbying companies and the resignations of two junior ministers, Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith, who have since left politics.

Now freelance, he has remained in Parliament as Westminster Correspondent for Tribune, writing for the Sunday Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, Guardian, Independent, IPPR Journal, The Journalist, British Journalism Review, the Guardian’s Comment is Free, politics.co.uk, new Fleet Street based ExaroNews, and has written a blog, Tory tracker, for Progress.

David Hencke took part in the Fox investigative team for The Friend, a Quaker publication and worked as head of current affairs for for Raw Cut TV and has his own TV company, Brown Envelope TV registered in Edgbaston, Birmingham. He is working freelance to contribute to the Fire Brigades Union campaign to stop privatisation of emergency services and investigating the companies and people behind the privatisation and doing some research for the Unite union on cuts.

Update:

See his recent post on the conduct of London’s former fire chair and Barnet councillor, Brian Coleman and the abolition – in the name of  localism – of the Local Government Standards board which set standards for England. Now, even if Mr Coleman is convicted, he could stay in office –  provided he doesn’t spend three months or more in prison. Mr Hencke comments:

“Frankly this is both damaging to the standards required in local government and to the Conservative Party in particular. It gives the impression that there is one law for Tories, and another for the rest of the public. It chimes well with the recent behaviour of Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip, who swore at the police, and sits very badly with David Cameron’s initiative on Monday for tough intelligent justice”.

Another item which would be of particular interest to PCU readers is the Silence of the Whistleblowers.

Hencke rightly wrote that confidential evidence on fraud within the Labour and Conservative governments’ Welfare to Work scheme, given by a team of whistleblowers to Parliament’s most powerful committee of MPs, should have become public. It led to a damning report  by MPs on the Department of Work and Pensions’ stewardship of  taxpayers’ money handed over to profit-making companies such as A4e.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “The DWP’s arrangements for overseeing and inspecting its contractors were so weak that vital evidence on potential fraud and improper practice was not picked up.” Richard Bacon, Conservative MP and deputy chairman of the committee, said: “Encouraging innovation and fresh approaches is important, but so is ensuring value for taxpayers. Providers cannot be allowed to run wild and free with public money.”

Eddie Hutchinson, former chief auditor of A4e, told the committee in his submission of “systemic” fraud and malpractice at the company. Hutchinson, worked at A4e from October 2010 until May last year, and at Working Links before that. He described what he saw at both companies as “a multi-billion-pound scandal”.  However the final report was censored. Hencke asks:

  • Have the whistleblowers been threatened?
  • Did they decide they had lied to the committee?
  • Or is there a blacklist in the auditing profession to prevent people who blow the whistle from getting fresh work?
His conclusion

(It is) a bad day for transparency and democracy when the most powerful committee in Parliament that holds the government to account cannot publish the facts. The government is making matters worse by changing the law protecting whistleblowers to make it even more unlikely they will risk their careers at the moment.

 

 

News of the Glaxo Four

Salute the four whistleblowers who had sales and marketing jobs with Glaxo in the US and have suffered unemployment for almost ten years since they first raised these concerns with the company.

 

This cartoon comes from the blog of David Hencke, an investigative journalist and writer, whose awards include being named as Journalist of the Year for his investigation uncovering the “Cash-for-questions affair” and the role played by Ian Greer Associates, one of the country’s biggest lobbying companies.  He also won Scoop of the Year’  for the story that caused the first resignation of Peter Mandelson and now works for Exaro news and as the Westminster correspondent for Tribune.

In a recent blog entry he reports that buried in the government’s new  Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (Clause 14) is a plan to limit people with employment contract disputes using the whistleblowers law:

“Think for one second. A company gets a complaint from a whistleblower about a  nefarious practice. What better way to frighten a whistleblower than by going to the courts claiming this is not in the public interest and demanding a hearing before a judge. The company can then rubbish the whistleblower using the absolute privilege afforded by court hearings for maximum publicity  by claiming the complainer is  a bad worker, in breach of contracts etc – damaging the whistleblower’s reputation.”

He adds that there could be another agenda:

“The government’s fast track privatisation programme for public services has already led to whistleblowers revealing bad practice as shown in the recent private hearing of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. There I am told two Tory MPs put pressure on the committee not to hear in public whistleblowers’ allegations about bad practice in A4e, the private work provider, which has £200m of Department of Work and Pensions contracts.

“The next day the Daily Telegraph leaked some of their evidence and Chris Grayling, the minister for work but, one suspects, sympathetic to  A4e, used an appearance on BBC Newsnight to cast doubt on the motives of the whistle blowers.

We hope that many will support his call to back the campaign by Cathy James, chief executive at Public Concern at Work – http://www.pcaw.org.uk to stop this piecemeal change.

At the very least the clause should be redrafted to define what should be excluded as a personal contract rather than submitting everything to a public interest test. 

Otherwise, as he writes, the public will rightly believe that the government has something very different in mind.