Crisis in the tax office: The cost of Covid 19 to HM Revenue and Customs

Chancellor to make a statement this week

Tax revenue down £70 billion while tens of billions spent saving jobs and the economy

Just before the first phase of Covid 19 peaked HM Revenue and Customs had a very good year. Tax revenues had peaked at £636.7 billion from more national insurance contributions, a record target of 95.3 per cent of tax due had been paid and £36.9 billion had been recovered from tax fraud and evasion. Then Covid hit.

Now as the Chancellor prepares his latest spending statement the latest annual report and accounts of HMRC and a National Audit Office report qualifying the accounts a very different picture is emerging. To give you an idea the Revenue lost £70 billion in tax revenue in five months.

The Covid-19 pandemic turned HMRC upside down and at least three planned targets will be missed this year. Just like the Department for Work and Pensions thousands of staff were moved to help handle the pandemic. But the pandemic also means a big loss of revenue , the cancellation of plans to combat firms who avoid tax by using the black market and an expected increase in money lost through fraud and error on working tax credit.|

On working tax credit it says: “As we no longer accept new claims to tax credits (with limited minor exceptions), our work to restrict error and
fraud now focuses on existing awards.. ..The continuing need to divert compliance staff to support other departmental pressures means we expect not to meet the 5% maximum target for 2019 to 2020.”

On collecting tax it says:” Due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the end of year HMRC debt balance for March 2020 is £2.5 billion higher
than forecast, coming in at £22.4 billion, significantly over the forecast of £19.9 billion… It is anticipated that the economic impact of COVID-19 will continue into financial year 2020 to 2021 as customers find it increasingly difficult to fulfil their tax obligations.”

black market tax avoidance

And on tackling black market tax avoidance – called conditionality in tax office jargon – it says:” Budget 2018 said that the government would consider legislating to introduce conditionality at Finance Bill 2019-20.
However Budget 2020, which was delayed from autumn 2019, announced that the legislation would be included in Finance Bill 2020-21. Internal milestones were adjusted to work towards that revised timetable.”

You have to turn to the report by the NAO to find out the real impact of Covid-19 on the tax offices. For a start offices were deserted. 80 per cent of the 50,000 staff worked from home and as a result the public faced long delays in getting through to HMRC because only 7000 had secure phones to handle queries.

People kept waiting on the phone

From March 2020 there was an increase in the time HMRC took to answer telephone calls, peaking at 14:59 minutes in May and improving to 9:15 minutes in June 2020.

Like DWP large numbers were switched to working on Covid-19 work.

“At the peak, in May 2020, of 58,592 full-time equivalent staff, 9,097 (16%) were reallocated to COVID-19-related roles. Of the two largest groups of staff, 25.2% of staff in the customer services group were allocated to COVID-19-related work in April 2020 and 17.3% of staff from customer compliance group were allocated to COVID-19 in May 2020.”

Numbers have since fallen but will probably have gone up again with the second wave. The key schemes were the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Self Employed scheme and “Eat to Help Out”. The Job Retention Scheme is thought to have been targeted by organised crime and billions of pounds may have been defrauded. See my article in Byline Times.

As a result “yield from its tax compliance activities is likely to
reduce in 2020-21. For comparison purposes, HMRC achieved a compliance yield of some £7.5 billion in the period April to June 2020, 51% less than the yield of £15.4 billion achieved in the same period in 2019-20.”

tax losses

The detail over tax losses is daunting. Some £70 billion between April and August this year -£38 billion alone from VAT. Some £13.5 billion from tax and national insurance; Another £10 billion from Corporation tax and over £4 billion from fuel duties as people stopped travelling.

Receipts recovered at the end of the first lockdown in July and August, particularly VAT by £10 billion.

HMRC: Pic credit: David Palmer

However a tables in both report also reveal how much HMRC is paying out and how much they don’t how much it will cost. The furlough scheme was £39bn up to September; Eat Out to Help Out cost them £522m for August, Payments to the self employed cost £13bn but they don’t yet know the real cost of a host of projects. Some £1.5m was set aside for putting up basic working tax credit by £1045 for the tax year but figures for the claims are not available. Another £200m was put aside for repaying employers contributions to statutory sick pay but we don’t know how much was spent.

At least eight other measures spending figures are not available – these include the concessions on stamp duty for homer buyers, deferring tax payments for the self employed, VAT reductions on food and accommodation, exempting personal protective clothing from VAT, and cutting import duties on essential medical equipment.

We do know that as of June £28 billion of VAT was deferred.

Finally the Department’s bad record of recovering payments on working tax credits led its annual accounts to be qualified by the auditor general.

Some £1.11 billion was overpaid or almost 5 per cent of all payments and it will get worse this year. But because staff disruption over Covid 19 we won’t know this year’s figure until next June. Covid-19 could currently slow the transfer of people from working tax credit beyond the current delayed deadline of 2024.

Only 10 people switched to universal credit

Just TEN people instead of an expected 2000 transferred to Universal Credit last year under a new pilot project. The project has now been halted. Covid 19 did encourage a number of people to voluntarily transfer after the rates were temporarily raised.

Meanwhile the huge expense of preparing for Brexit – temporarily stalled by Covid 19 for part of the year – is now estimated to have cost £516m in the last tax year and there are now 6,100 staff working on it. Altogether since the referendum it has cost not far short of £800m because they have to prepare for so many scenarios.

Updated:The disgraceful case of the expelled ex Labour peer

Lord Ahmed Pic credit: BBC

Today the House of Lords expelled its first peer – after an excoriating report by the Lords conduct committee

Lord Nazir Ahmed, a life peer, who was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998 and first Muslim peer in the UK, is being thrown out after the House of Lords Conduct Committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge, Lord Mance, upheld a serious complaint of sexual assault against a vunerable woman who sought his help.

The case is so bad that the report carries a health warning that it ” includes allegations of sexual misconduct and of racism which some readers may find upsetting or offensive.”

The decision to expel the peer followed a battle between him and the Lords Standards Commissioner, Lucy  Scott-Moncrieff , after he appealed her findings against him and tried to discredit the woman who made the complaint. The appeal was heard by the conduct committee who have upheld her decision.

Labour Party suspension

The peer resigned once he knew the result and now says he is going to the European Court of Human Rights to clear his name. He had already resigned from the Labour Party in 2013 after the party suspended him when he said a ” Jewish conspiracy” was behind his conviction for a driving offence in Pakistan.

In 2017 he offered to help a woman who wanted to go to the Met Police to complain about a faith healer who she said was sexually and financially exploiting vulnerable people.

According to the report “Her complaint against Lord Ahmed was that when she asked him for help he initially made unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature with her and later held out the promise of using his influence to help her, when in fact his aim was to have sex with her.”

Instead of helping Tahura Zaman, the report says” “Lord Ahmed used the possibility of arranging a meeting with the Metropolitan Police to lure her to his house, where he had sex with her, possibly after drugging her. They then had a sexual relationship that lasted from September to November 2017, during which time he continued to say that he was going to arrange the meeting with the Metropolitan Police.
“During their sexual relationship she said that Lord Ahmed tried to pass her
to an associate, X, for X’s sexual gratification. She also told us that after Lord
Ahmed ended their sexual relationship, this associate deleted or made her delete all messages and other data to and from Lord Ahmed from her phone, which she believed was at Lord Ahmed’s instigation.”

Lord Ahmed denied all this and said it was a social arrangement and claimed she had initiated the sexual relationship at his house which he claimed he had politely rebuffed and tried to end.

The Commissioner found for the woman and concluded that Lord Ahmed was being dishonest and in denial over the incident. The only point she did not uphold was that she was drugged while she was a his house.

He appealed to the conduct committee which has backed the commissioner’s findings and recommended he be expelled.

Today Lord Mance in moving the motion said:

“We noted that the commissioner had found Lord Ahmed unco-operative and dishonest in the key areas and that he had shown no regret, remorse or understanding of the inappropriateness of his conduct or its effect on a vulnerable victim. We said in paragraph 45 of our report:

“The abuse of the privileged position of membership for a member’s own gain or gratification, at the expense of the vulnerable or less privileged, involves a fundamental breach of trust and merits the gravest sanction. Even though it is possible to think of even more serious breaches, the case in all its circumstances which we have set out crosses the threshold calling for immediate and definitive expulsion.”

This finding comes when the House of Lords has strengthened its code of conduct and made all peers go on courses to improve their behaviour following two other cases involving former Labour peers.

Lord Ahmed will keep his title even though he is barred from sitting in the Lords as it would require legislation to remove an individual peer’s title.

But Lord Mance added:” Lord Ahmed will retain none of the privileges of a retired Member. If this Motion is agreed today, the House of Lords Commission has agreed that with immediate effect Lord Ahmed will not be entitled to a retired Member’s pass and will not be able to access any of the facilities of the House.”

The motion was agreed unanimously. I think the time has come in cases like this to change the law so he can lose his title – otherwise he could still pose as a peer to people who do not know his circumstances.

A damning indictment on the uncompassionate Roman Catholic Church

Cardinal Vincent Nichols: Pic credit: Twitter

The Independent Child Sex Abuse Inquiry’s verdict on lip service provision to tackle child sexual abuse

The CSA inquiry report into the Roman Catholic Church -published this week – and its handling of years of child sexual abuse makes very grim reading . It suggests that while the Church may have put in structures to deal with the issue there was no real compassionate commitment from the top of the Church to act.

In particular the report is scathing about Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the  Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, for his lack of compassion and the extraordinary failure of the former Papal Nuncio,  Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, to proffer even a statement to the inquiry. Instead he retired without saying a word.

This would suggest that neither Pope Francis nor the Cardinal – whatever words of contrition he made – are really bothered about the serious state of child sex abuse in the church in England and Wales.

3000 complaints of sexual abuse

And serious it is. The report says:

“Between 1970 and 2015, the Church received more than 3,000 complaints of child sexual abuse against more than 900 individuals connected to the Church. Those complaints involved over 1,750 victims and complainants. Civil claims against dioceses and religious institutes have resulted in millions of pounds being paid in compensation.

Even so,the true scale of child sexual abuse is likely to be greater than these figures.” (my emphasis).

The Church’s attitude is in contrast to the Anglican Church – which while by no means perfect – does seem committed to change its ethos and culture. Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seems more determined to take practical measures than Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

Not that the Roman Catholic Church did not know it had a problem. Two reports -one by the late Lord Michael Nolan – who also was the founder chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life which investigated Westminster- and another by Baroness Cumberlege, a former health minister in John Major’s government -looked at the issue.

Both provided a framework to protect and safeguard children and adolescents from sexual abuse.

Lord Nolan’s thorough review

Lord Nolan made a thoroughly reviewed the situation, The inquiry said:

“His report, published in 2001, contained 83 recommendations applicable to the dioceses and religious institutes. At the heart of the Nolan report was the ‘One Church’ approach – a single set of principles, policies and practices across the Church that put the welfare of the child first.

“The first recommendation required the Church to “become an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse and in responding to it”.

 A body was set up to implement Nolan but it was not wholeheartedly done with some bishops opposing it and Baroness Cumberlege did another review in 2007. There were improvements but more needed to be done.

The report says:

“In May 2019, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “We humbly ask forgiveness … for our slowness and defensiveness and for our neglect of both preventative and restorative actions”.

“That slowness is exemplified by the Church’s failure to fully implement two of the Cumberlege Recommendations (one of which was 13 years overdue) and by its failure to establish the Safe Spaces joint project with the Anglican Church until September 2020. Six years have elapsed since this project was commenced and it seems little progress has been made to ensure that victims and survivors have access to the pastoral and therapeutic support that the Safe Spaces project was set up to provide.”

I suspect Safe Spaces was set up because the church knew they faced criticism by the inquiry.

The report details the most harrowing cases of sexual abuse.

As it says: “we heard appalling accounts of sexual abuse of children
perpetrated by clergy and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The sexual offending involved acts of masturbation, oral sex, vaginal rape and anal rape. On occasions, it was accompanied by sadistic beatings driven by sexual gratification, and often involved deeply manipulative behaviour by those in positions of trust, who were respected by parents and children alike.”

sexual crimes

Examples include sexual crimes against children at Gilling Castle, a preparatory school for Ampleforth College; Downside School, Ealing Abbey St, Benedicts School in Ealing. Ampleforth College was particularly determined that these crimes should not exposed. Child sexual abuse at St. Benedicts was described the report as extensive.

Yet despite this harrowing evidence Cardinal Nichols did not show any compassion for the victims and survivors. The report says:

“”As the figurehead and the most senior leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Catholics look to Cardinal Nichols to lead by example. During the final public hearing in November 2018, he apologised for the Church’s failings, noting that this was a source of “great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed I know, for the Catholic Church”. But there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change. Nor did he demonstrate compassion towards victims in the recent cases which we examined.”

terrible indictment

This is a terrible indictment of both the man and the organisation. The report makes seven recommendations ” covering leadership and oversight on safeguarding matters, a framework for dealing with cases of non-compliance with safeguarding policies and procedures, re-framing canonical crimes relating to child sexual abuse, reviewing policies and procedures, and also a complaints policy for safeguarding
cases.”

My worry is that the Roman Catholic Church will still see a repeat of these problems even after receiving such a damning report. If the leadership is not there to get things changed, there will be no real progress.

Will the Church of England keep faith with supporting and compensating child sex abuse survivors?

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, moved to help survivors with emergency fund

It will take time to implement and insiders think it will cost the Church tens of millions of pounds to put right

Just three weeks before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse produced its shocking report on child sexual abuse inside the Anglican Church, the Archbishops Council decided to provide both help and financial support for survivors of this heinous crime.

The support was two fold – an emergency fund drawn from the reserves for just over a handful of desperate child abuse survivors and a long term project for a major compensation and support scheme for possibly hundreds if not more survivors.

As well as direct financial support this would fund counselling for survivors which is by nature long term and very expensive.

bigger demand from survivors

Inquiries revealed that the emergency package of help has already produced a bigger demand from survivors than anticipated. As the Church Times reported one survivor known as ” VB” received emergency funds both before ( at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s insistence) and after the emergency fund was set up after suffering bouts of severe depression following historic child sex abuse by multiple church officers as his business, already hit by Covid-19 was about to go bust.

Last week the Church confirmed that three survivors had received emergency help – one of them receiving a large sum – and that 12 people had either been referred or applied for help from the fund.

The good news is that the Church says none of 12 has been ruled ineligible for help and that more money will be forthcoming from the reserves to help them if that is what is required. The figure for the fund is being kept confidential but I understand it is not far short of £1m.

The big question us the long term solution. Phil Johnson, chair of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, and has been critical of the support given to survivors in the past, is delighted at the support being given now.

Could cost tens of millions

He estimates that if the Church is to help all the people who have been victims of child sex abuse the cost could run ” to tens of millions of pounds”- if not shy of £100m.

This will be a tall order and must raise the issue of whether the Church will have to sell any of its assets and investments.

The Church itself says: “No way to tell [the final cost] and there is an important point to make that redress is not all about money but also apology, restorative justice and other factors. The Church is now responding to and engaging with survivors to provide the help and support needed to overcome the impacts of abuse, whatever form that takes. This is initially with the most urgent cases for help but eventually to address the needs of all Church-based abuse survivors.”

The delay in setting up a permanent fund is because it will take time to set up formal structures and procedures and the Church hopes to learn from running the emergency fund the best way to proceed.

Meg Munn

Meg Munn, chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, is also keeping an eye on progress.

She said :We were updated that work is ongoing on the final scheme with recruitment of a manager for it. Work is also underway to establish the interim hardship fund that was agreed by the Archbishop’s council in September.

“We don’t have a date for when the interim scheme will be in place, but we were assured that there is a desire to have this in place as soon as possible.”

Meg Munn’s warning

In a recent blog she wrote: “Profound change will not be established until there is complete acceptance across the whole of the church that striving for a safe church is at the heart of its mission. Consequently, the current structure which sustains unaccountable and powerful clergy must change. Without this, the Church will continue to have dangerous places for children and adults as I described in my interview nearly two years ago.

“There may never be a better opportunity for those with responsibility and influence to step up to this challenge. It will mean tackling long and dearly held principles, something some might not want to do. But not doing so will lead to more lives devastated, and more damage to the reputation of the church. Is this generation of church leaders prepared to accept that? “

If the Church do proceed and keep up their good intentions perhaps at last the stain of hidden child sex abuse will be finally removed. That is why I am pleased IICSA will look again at the progress made by the Anglican Church before the inquiry is over.

Only eight weeks to go to Boris Johnson’s border chaos day

Lorries leaving ferries at a British port. Pic credit: National Audit Office

A damning new report has come from Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, on what to expect at the ports on January 2 whether the country leaves the EU with a deal or no deal.

Despite spending a humungous £1.41 billion for new infrastructure and IT systems – which wouldn’t be required if we had stayed in the EU – it looks like we are heading for chaos because we are still not properly prepared.

Instead of having to process some 55 million customs declarations a year Customs and Excise will have to handle 270 million.

And some 219.5 million tonnes of freight crossed the border between the UK and EU in 2019 and only between 30 and 60 per cent of lorries are prepared for the change.

And guess what? With eight weeks to go the government doesn’t know how much trade there is between the UK and Northern Ireland which is subject to the new Northern Ireland protocol that Boris Johnson signed last year. This will require new documentation and registering with a new import control service. And again the government doesn’t know how many firms have to sign up pointing to potential chaos on sea routes across the Irish sea between Wales, Scotland and England.

worst case scenario

And in the worst case scenario there could also be queues of up to 7000 lorries trying to access the Channel ports.

The scale of the exercise in Whitehall is shown by the number of departments involved As the report says:

“This includes HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, and the Border and Protocol Delivery Group (BPDG) and Transition Task Force (TTF), which are both situated within the Cabinet Office. BPDG is responsible for coordinating government’s preparations in relation to the border and TTF has oversight of overall EU Exit preparations, following the closure of the Department for Exiting the European Union in January 2020.”

Auditors have also engaged with departments within the
Northern Ireland civil service which have the most significant roles in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The picture is not pretty. The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a three month pause in ministerial meetings to organise the new border regulations and as a result many of the new customs declarations will be delayed until July 2021 rather than January. Yet for political reasons the Cabinet would not extend the transition period,

computer glitches

Then there is a good chance of computer glitches in the operating of the new system at all ports. The report says:

“Integrating the processes, IT systems, infrastructure and resources to operate together for the first time from 1 January 2021 is inherently complex and high-risk. In addition third parties, such as ports and community software providers, who need to develop new software
which integrates with new or changed government systems, have been given very little time in which to prepare and are unlikely to be able to do so in time for 1 January 2021. “

Can you imagine the mess there will be on the first day and it won’t just be teething problems.

The government is hoping to get round it by appointing customs intermediaries – at a cost of £84 m – to help firms negotiate the new system. But it has started slowly, not all the money to appoint them has been used and Whitehall has given the plan a red light because they fear it would not be ready in time.

Covid-19

Also the present second wave of Covid-19 could make matters worse as firms will have to cope with that and a new system. The report says:

“The emergency response to COVID-19 has placed strain on local authorities, industry and supply chains’ ability to plan and put in place contingency arrangements. Disruption at the border maybe harder to manage if it also happens alongside further COVID-19 outbreaks and a background of economic uncertainty.”

Details of the Northern Ireland arrangements are partly in the hands of the Northern Ireland government. But report says: “Its ability
to take forward this work has been severely hampered by the ongoing
negotiations and, in the case of infrastructure, the lack of clarity about
the level of checking that will be required.”

Boris the Bodger

The final picture is dire. The report says:

“It is very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready
for the end of the transition period, particularly if the EU implements its
stated intention of introducing full controls at its border from 1 January 2021.”
If the EU keep to its word and the government is as unprepared as this report suggests – the chaos with lorries stranded in new overflow car parks, delays and confusion in operating the system and computer systems failing all on the same day will be very bad news. Boris the Builder will become Boris the Bodger and no one will thank him for the mess.

My views on the US election on The Greatest Music of All Time podcast

This is a podcast I was invited to do today for Tom Cridland on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast site. I am expecting Joe Biden to win despite Trump’s flaying all over the place. I also talked to one of the Democrat insiders about the present impasse and situation.

A Joe Biden win is likely to be bad for both Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings as they are seen by the Democrats to be too aligned to Donald Trump and his advisers. I was told Biden’s advisers are still not very happy about Johnson’s description of Barack Obama being a Kenyan at the time Obama’s birthright was being falsely questioned by the American far right.

I am told that Biden is likely to want to be closer to France and Germany than the UK – as Britain is no longer a member of the EU and therefore is not the gateway for US influence in Europe. He is not keen on rushing through a UK/US trade deal either.

So there will be consequences for the UK and we could end up being more isolated rather than a world leader. Interesting times ahead.

House of Lords approve new compulsory training on behaviour for all peers

Former judge Lord Mance, chair of the Lords Conduct Committee, which proposed the changes Pic credit; June Buck

The House of Lords approved without a vote new rules which will mean that all 798 peers will have to attend behaviour training course or face being reported to the Lords Commissioner for Standards for breaching their code of conduct.

two public dissenters

The scheme had only two public dissenters – both Conservative peers – who claimed it was unnecessary. The move followed a couple of cases in the last year where two former Labour peers were found to have bullied and harassed Parliamentary staff. See my last blog here.

Lord Cormack, a former Tory MP who had a junior job in the Thatcher government said; “Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very ​sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. “

 … “I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle.”

Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a former London Labour councillor and a Labour MEP until he switched to the Tories in 2002, called for the House of Lords Conduct committee to reconsider the move.

“I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be.”

Lord Mance, a former judge and deputy president of the Supreme Court, chairs the Lords conduct committee which proposed the compulsory training, received support from a number of other peers who welcomed the move.

He said: “There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.”

All peers will have to either have attended or booked a training course by next April. Half of them have already attended one.

Updated: Why Rishi Sunak’s rip off rates at National Savings should be boycotted this month

Rishi Sunak: King of the rip off rates for the ordinary savers

See end of this blog for three accounts offering you more money than these scam rates

While The Treasury has had to hand out the largesse to keep the economy alive during the Covid-19 pandemic a really nasty trick is being played on the millions of small savers who rely on National Savings for a safe home for their money.

Effectively Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is making sure that millions of savers and those who have a flutter on the Premium Bonds subsidise the government’s multi billion pay outs by losing money every year they invest.

Their savings are being destroyed and made smaller every year – even if we are having record lower rates of inflation.

It is also sending out an appalling message to people who wish to save money by telling them that even their meagre savings will be reduced year on year as inflation erodes them.

What I am talking about is the new interest rates being offered by National Savings from November 24. They echo the free fall in interest rates offered by most banks hit by the Covid-19 panic. The only difference is that this government will use your money to prop up their finances.

The rates are truly horrendous as shown here. The worst case example are Income Bonds shown here.

As you can see the rate falls from 1.15 per cent to 0.01 per cent – virtually providing nobody with any income. Indeed if you have less than 646 pounds invested you literally won’t even get a penny.

Similarly with an investment account. And you will get far fewer prizes from premium bonds – the odds rise from 24,500 to 1 to 34,500 to 1.

So basically this is one giant rip off – in total contrast to the rich and wealthy who can game the stock market , invest in tax havens or have the money to take advantage of investment returns in China and the Far East. Indeed as there is a limit on claiming Universal Credit if you have savings above six thousand pounds in National Savings it is worth spending them or your payment will be reduced. If you have over sixteen thousand pounds you won’t get a penny.

I notice Rishi Sunak himself has recently set up a blind trust which means he has substantial investments – which he does not want people to know about. I bet you they are not offering a return of 0.01 per cent to help fund his millionaire life style.

UPDATE: Three accounts which give you higher interest if you want to boycott National Savings

According to the reliable Which? Money there are three instant access savings accounts that offer you higher interest and allow you to access your money. All three have unfortunately now been withdrawn but their replacements still offer better value than anything at National Savings

The new ones are:

Coventry Building Society Easy Access Isa. Tax free and pays 0.50 per cent . Can withdraw money at any time

Principality BS Easy Access Web Saver 0.6 per cent with unlimited withdrawals

Yorkshire Building Society Six Access e-Saver No 3 and e-Saver ISA issue 3 both over tiered rates between 0.2 per cent and 0.6/0.55 per cent and allow sui withdrawals a year

Lords behaving badly: “Value Everyone” compulsory training proposed for all peers next week

Changes proposed after two peers in their 70s and 80s were found to have bullied and sexually harassed women

A new report from the House of Lords says all 798 peers must undergo training courses in ” Valuing People” or face sanctions including the withdrawal of services.

And former MPs who become peers will face fresh investigations by the authorities if they face complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct while they were a Member of Parliament. At present a loophole means if peers are accused of anything while they were an MP they can escape investigation.

These tough new rules from the House of Lords conduct committee come into force next week if the peers vote for the changes. The full report is here. Members have until next April to complete the training. Those who refuse after that date will be referred to the Commissioner of Standards for breaching the code of conduct.

It is against a background of growing number of complaints about the treatment of staff by both MPs and peers. One former Tory MP and minister is under investigation by the Met Police for alleged rape of a staff member at the moment.

In the last year two Labour peers have been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff  TWICE for breaching standards.

18 complaints

Lord Lea of Crondall, 82, as David Lea, a former TUC assistant general secretary, had two reports whose findings were upheld. Altogether it was revealed that since 2011 no fewer than 18 complaints were made against him.

The report said: “They included one instance involving a racially offensive remark, 15 complaints involving shouting at staff, being aggressive and
making unreasonable demands, and one occasion where a woman had been made to feel uncomfortable by Lord Lea’s alleged behaviour.”

champagne and silver gilt framed photo

The complaint from the woman followed a time she accompanied him on a Parliamentary delegation. According to the report :

” Lord Lea made her very uncomfortable by his behaviour
towards her, which included inviting her to his room to share a bottle of
champagne that he had been given. “

He followed it up later when she had left Parliament for a new job . Then “she received a package from Lord Lea at her place
of work that contained a silver-framed photograph of her taken on the official visit. It also contained a letter from Lord Lea explaining, amongst other things, that he keeps a copy of the photo on his piano at his home. He also invited me to visit him at home and referred to finishing “that bottle of champagne.’’

Lord Lea told the Commissioner: “I think she is egging the pudding in some
way. I can’t think of any reason why she should, if she didn’t have some
feelings for me or some other reason to be disturbed.”

The commissioner decided his behaviour did not amount to sexual misconduct or bullying but harassment.

He agreed to take up voluntary a bespoke behaviour management course but immediately ran into trouble when he forgot to inform the security staff that his coach was coming to Parliament so they could let the person in. He took it out on his staff leading to a fresh complaint of bullying which was upheld.

Lord Lea was asked to apologise to the member of staff :

He wrote: “I am not known for being a bully: I acknowledge having been very argumentative— highly audibly so—on that fateful day, concerning the predicament I found myself in regarding the apparent disappearance of my newly appointed trainer and you said you had felt ‘belittled’ as a consequence.”

Sexist and transphobic remarks

Lord Stone of Blackheath,78, a former managing director of Marks and Spencer, has also TWICE been found by the Commissioner to have breached the code of conduct. Complaints by four women were upheld only to be followed by a complaint from a fifth woman about being harassed.

In the first case it included allegations of sexist and transphobic remarks as well as unwanted touching.

Among several alleged incidents recorded by the Commissioner, he told a colleague that she was beautiful “to boost her self-esteem” and grabbed her arm.

He also allegedly stroked another staff member’s arm and said to her that he hoped a document on the bill to outlaw upskirting came with photos.

The second case involved two more complaints from women. He met one young woman at a dinner party and offered her a private tour of Parliament. She came with her cousin. He told her she was ” young and beautiful”.

“Lord Stone greeted her in an overfamiliar manner, kissing her on both cheeks near her mouth, and repeatedly touched her arms and her waist during the tour and while having tea in one of the House’s restaurants.”

Lord Stone told the commissioner that: “He was “upset by the inference
that [his] behaviour toward… was anything other than to try and assist”.
He accepted that “her account is factually accurate” but insisted that “the
connotations of inappropriate behaviour that she makes are wholly inaccurate and seem to me be the product of her imagination.”

He was found to have broken the code by harassment and has taken a bespoke course in behaviour management.

Labour Party suspension

Both peers have been suspended from the Labour Party. Half the members of the House of Lords have voluntarily attended the course already. The full list is here.

It is an extraordinary situation that in the times we live that such courses are needed, let alone deemed compulsory. One would have thought that people when they join the House of Lords would know that bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are out of order. But perhaps not.

Saved by a judge: Historic Victorian station with a military history and a setting for “Dad’s Army”

Historic Brandon Station dating from 1845, built by a notable Victorian architect and now listed following the judgement.

Judicial review saves 175 year old station from ” unlawful” demolition by privatised rail company for a car park

When Save Britain’s Heritage appeared before Mrs Justice Lang to argue the case for saving Brandon Station it was almost a lost cause.

Breckland Council in Norfolk had already given the owners Greater Anglian railways the go ahead to demolish the booking hall that had been empty and boarded up for 16 years so they could create a 100 space car park for commuters to Norwich, Cambridge and Ely. The scheme would have cost £1m and was accepted by the Railway Heritage Trust.

The station on the Norfolk /Suffolk border is becoming busier as more rail services are introduced. The town itself is a mixture of historic flint buildings and sprawling estates and has strong military connections because of the nearby Lakenheath and Mildenhall air bases.

unlawful development certificate

But when the judge started examining the case she found the development certificate issued by the council was unlawful because the scheme appeared to encroach on land not owned by the private rail company because of irregularities in the boundaries of the site.

She was not impressed by the council granting permission while the building was being considered for listing. It has since been listed.

The railway station building is constructed of local knapped flint, gault brick and slate to a design by Victorian architect John Thomas in 1845. Mr Thomas had Parliamentary connections as he who was appointed the superintendent of stone-carving at the Palace of Westminster by Sir Charles Barry. when Parliament was rebuilt. He was also commissioned by Prince Albert for stone carving work at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Royal visit to Brandon: Pic Credit D Norton via Save Britain’s Heritage

Local people have archive coverage of a Royal visit by King George VI and the Queen Mum to Brandon station in the second world war. There is a website by Darren Norton about both world wars here.

There were also many foreign troops stationed there. Here is a picture of Polish troops in 1946.

Units of the Polish 2nd Corps arriving at Brandon Station in 1946. Photo: Victor Lukaniuk,locaL councillor

Also the station and the town of Brandon were used for an episode of the iconic BBC series Dad’s Army. See here.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: “This shows that determination, persistence and resourcefulness can bring back historic buildings on death row. We have already commissioned plans by the architect Doug Reid, obtained initial costs from builders, and will now be working with the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust on raising finance.”

The most recent press release from them is here.

The aim is to restore the buildings as local business units with a cafe to encourage new start ups in the area.