Blog Archives

“We’re all in this together” . . . ?

david henckeEarlier today David Hencke, investigative journalist, The Guardians Westminster Correspondent for many years, named ‘Political Journalist of the Year’ at the British Journalism Awards 2012, posted:

“The government has always claimed that the main reason it is holding down pay in Whitehall, schools and the NHS is because the taxpayer can’t afford it and we need to cut the deficit”.

In 2011, ex-banker living wage, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for Whitehall’s industrial relations, claimed to have safeguarded the very lowest paid and attacked perks given to richer civil servants – at a time when Exaro News revealed that Ed Lester, head of the Student Loans Company, had secured a lucrative – but short-lived – payment ‘package’ where he avoided paying tax or national insurance at source, before he moved to head the Land Registry with a regular tax-paying commitment.

Hencke: “Now in the same organisation a new drama is being played out . . .”

student loans company glasgowThe ostentatious Student Loans Company headquarters in Glasgow

An interesting negotiating ploy by the Public and Commercial Services Union

Hencke related that the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents Whitehall’s lowest paid, suggested that Ed Lester’s successor, Mike Laverty, could forgo a £25,000 a year bonus and redistribute it to the staff, benefiting the lowest paid. He explains:

“The union had calculated that, if all the money available, including a below inflation rise and one off £265 payment (worth £595) for those earning less than £21,000 a year, and a one-off £560 payment to those over £21,000, all 2400 staff could get an increase of more than £600 incorporated into their salaries. The few very lowest paid would get a £960 pay rise to take them up to the nationally-recognised living wage. It would benefit people working in Glasgow, Darlington and Colwyn Bay”.

Mike Laverty is unusual in that he returned some £80,000 to the Treasury last year from a previous redundancy deal when he got his new job, but his reaction to the PCS proposal is not on record.

However, David Hencke understands that the Cabinet Office blocked this move and is insisting that the bonus be paid to one person instead. His verdict will surprise few people:

“This indicates that the government has no intention of protecting the lowest paid and curb bonuses for the rich”.

Making it a crime not to blow the whistle?

Exaro News: a panel of top-flight lawyers is being put together to protect whistleblowers. Turning current practice ‘on its head’

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VERY bad decisions by government – 29: privatising the work of the Audit Commission

eric pickles23jpgBefore referring to the decision of Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles to scrap the Audit Commission, protector of the ‘public purse’ which pays for local government, health, housing, police, fire and rescue and other public services, David Hencke questions the wisdom of doing this.

Will its work be done more effectively by private companies which are part of that corporate-political nexus (‘cosy relationships’) deplored by the Vested Interest in Politics people and the public in general?

Hencke says:

david hencke2“Basically Pickles wants to leave it to local councils, health trusts and the new NHS commissioning bodies to police themselves by appointing their own auditors, taking away a whistleblower hot line to the Audit Commission, and allowing big accountancy firms free rein to up their charges by picking off individual councils. It also allows even more cosy relationships to be built between the auditor and the local council and leaves whistleblowers nowhere to go”.

The Commission has already had to start outsourcing

In March last year it awarded the following contracts to:

  • Grant Thornton (UK) LLP, a total notional value of £41.3 million a year covering four contract areas in the North West, West Midlands, London (South) Surrey & Kent, and South West;
  • KPMG LLP a total notional value of £23.1 million a year covering three contract areas in Humberside & Yorkshire, East Midlands, and London (North);
  • Ernst & Young LLP a total notional value of £20 million a year covering two contract areas in Eastern and South East; and
  • DA Partnership Ltd a total notional value of £5 million a year covering one contract area in the North East & North Yorkshire.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has come to some damning conclusions on what the government is about to do – see Hansard. Points include:
  • The government claims it will save £137m a year but the MPs say the figure is more likely to be £2.4m.
  • The audit regime will be fragmented and more complex.
  • The proposals for self-appointment of local auditors risk compromising the independence of audit.
  • There are risks of duplicating governance structures, losing economies of scale in audit fees, diminished quality of audit and increased tendering costs
It also stresses that there must be provision to enable auditor removal, whistleblowing and public interest reporting.

There is a full report by Hencke on the Exaro News website.

 

Yet more on the corporate-political nexus: Ministry of Defence and Saudi Arabia

 Ministry of Defence: Saudi Arabia pays for its Sangcom project team

Exaro news header

 

After a protracted investigation saga (details via any search engine), Exaro has finally driven the UK’s Ministry of Defence to admit that officials working on a contract embroiled in bribery allegations are paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Snapshot

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The extraordinary story of persistent investigation as MoD twists and turns may be read after registration with Exaro News.

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.