Brexit: How Parliament abdicated its role to scrutinise the biggest change in UK life for 50 years

Parliament: Abdicating scrutiny

The most potent slogan of the Vote Leave campaign was the promise that Brexit meant that the country could ” take back control” and Parliament would be sovereign and we will be governed by our own laws.

Today Parliament abdicated its role to take back control of scrutinising the Brexit deal by kowtowing to a manipulative government which left little time to examine the Treaty before it had to come into effect.

Boris Johnson opening the debate with Rishi Sunak looking on Pic Credit: @UK Parliament _jessica Taylor

A huge bill which will change Britain’s relationship with our nearest neighbours, end the freedom of British people to work and study in Europe, and introduce a raft of bureaucratic red tape to do business with Europe while avoiding tariffs and quotas, will be debated in just half a day. The bill will have no clause by clause examination because there will be no time in the Commons to do this. It will be just rubber stamped. And MPs will have just four minutes – later reduced to three – each to comment.

Keir Starmer backing the “thin deal rather than no deal” with Opposition chief whip Nick Brown

Similarly the House of Lords will not have time to scrutinise the bill either and though 145 peers have said they want to comment the new bill – they have precisely three minutes each to do so. The House of Lords Constitution Committee will scrutinise the detail of the bill after it has become law – even though the government does not want this to happen. The government in its explanatory memorandum says the bill is not suitable for pre legislation scrutiny. But Baroness Taylor, who chairs the Lords Constitution Committee, points out that the means the government uses to implement the treaty are subject to scrutiny – and she indicated that many of the Commission powers had been transferred to ministers not Parliament.

Ian Blackford, Scottish National Party leader, who opposed the deal and whose party voted against of it.

By midnight tonight the Royal Assent will be given. As the Hansard Society says: “Parliament’s role around the end of the Brexit transition and conclusion of the EU future relationship treaty is a constitutional failure to properly scrutinise the executive and the law.”

It rightly says the proceedings amount to a farce. Compare it with the European Parliament – which Brexiteers say amount to bureaucratic dictators. They declined to rush through a debate approving the deal until they could properly consider it. Instead they rely on a temporary agreement to allow trade to continue and will set aside much more time to debate it than the UK Parliament. They have two months to do this.

The reason why this is important is if there are defects in the legislation that will show up later and end up discrediting the issue even for Brexiteers. Much better to get the legislation right – and Parliamentary scrutiny is the best way to do this. Particularly as the deal runs to 1200 pages and you have to check the bill with the Treaty and refer to other legislation. We have now thrown away that chance.

In a way this is a microcosm of the way Boris Johnson and his Cabinet colleagues want to govern this country. They do not want scrutiny and want “to take back control” for themselves and not for Parliament or the people. They want to use Parliament and the people for their own agenda. Today was a bad day for Parliament and democracy.

The latest toxic progress on the great nuclear decommissioning mess

The now decommissioned Bradwell nuclear power station – the first one to be safeguarded

Full report on the scandal still not published as top officials try to avoid blame for the fiasco

Just over two years ago this site carried a blog post with Byline Times on one of the biggest and most incompetent contracts ever made in Whitehall by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.(NDA) The £6.2 billion contract to the Texas company Cavendish Fluor Partnerships ended up in the courts where it was successfully challenged by rivals Energy Solutions including Bechtel who won £97m compensation on the grounds that the contract had been awarded illegally.

The contract was to clean up and make safe 10 ageing Magnox nuclear power stations and two research facilities at enormous cost to the taxpayer. It is part of a long term decommissioning programme which will eventually cost the taxpayer a staggering £132 billion and not be finally completed until 2140 long after anybody reading this ( and me) will have died.

At the time Sir Amyas Morse, then comptroller and auditor general , said “The NDA’s fundamental failures in the Magnox contract procurement raise serious questions about its understanding of procurement regulations; its ability to manage large, complex procurements; and why the errors detected by the High Court judgement were not identified earlier.”

Not a pretty picture

Now two years on the National Audit Office and MPs on the Public Accounts Committee have looked at what has happened. And the saga is continuing with not altogether a pretty picture. And the final report was held up by legal action from the NDA’s former senior management team.

The result of the first court case meant that the NDA shortened the contract and it finished last year.

The cost of doing this was to ratchet up another £20 million bill for the taxpayer to avoid yet more litigation this time from the contractor. This took the extra cost to the taxpayer to £140m.

Then the cost of the whole project of decommissioning the power stations has gone up yet again. From an estimated £6.2 billion to anything from £6.9 billion to £8.7 billion. The reason is that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority don’t know the real state of all the sites. And it is obvious that there is a huge amount asbestos on the sites are a major problems.

And they haven’t been very good at making sure the contractor did a good good job. One defective performance notice on Bradwell nuclear power station had to be issued three times before it was correct- and then it was too late as it came during the month the contract finished. In the end the contractor agreed a post contract payment cutting £2.98 million from its bill. Bradwell was the first to move to a ” care and maintenance ” contract in 2018.

Management has been strengthened since the fiasco with new people brought in. New state companies have been set up to deal with decommissioning. But we won’t know the complete story of the debacle until the final report from Steve Holliday, the former head of the national grid, reveals what happened and who is to blame.

He has issued a bland interim report but publication of the final report was hit by yet more legal action.

Inquiry chief insists he will investigate top management and ministers

Mr Holliday concludes in his interim report: “

“I will further investigate whether the actions of individuals within the NDA , and those of government officials and ministers, were consistent with the standards expected of them, including relevant codes of conduct.
“I will continue to investigate whether decision makers (individuals, including government officials and ministers or boards) had the necessary information to make those decisions and, if not, why not. This will cover decision making at all stages of the matters covered by the terms of reference, including the procurement, the litigation and the matters leading to the termination for convenience.”

This led to five officials – John Clarke. the former NDA chief executive; Stephen Henwood, the former chairman; Robert Higgins, the former head of legal services; Mr Graeme Rankin, former head of competition and Mr Sean Balmer, former commercial director, to go to court to seek a judicial review into Mr Holliday’s inquiry.

Each had been notified they could be subject to criticism by Mr Holliday and were alarmed it could affect their reputations and livelihoods.

They claimed they had all had their human rights breached by Mr Holliday unlawfully delegating work and criticisms of them to his staff; hadn’t disclosed all the material to them and prevented them from sharing information while making representations to him.

Judicial review dismissed

On Christmas Eve last year the judge Mr Justice Murray dismissed the ” arguable” case over the delegation of work and all the other grounds. It was pointed out that there are 2.5 million documents in the case and Mr Holliday could hardly be expected to read every one.

The result is that we still have no final report nearly a year after the court decision suggesting that wrangling is still continuing. As MPs on the public accounts committee point out :”Implementing the recommendations of the Holliday inquiry into the Magnox contract and the Department’s ‘Tailored Review’ of the role of the NDA will be critical and the publication of these reports cannot come soon enough.”

How on earth could the Bank of England lose track of £50 billion of our money?

Specimen £20 note – where have they all gone? Pic credit: James Oxley Bank of England

Bizarre story about the missing money

Today a report from MPs revealed the extraordinary fact that the Bank of England doesn’t know where £50 billion of its bank notes are.

It also revealed that since the Covid 19 lockdown the number of notes issued by the Bank of England is at an all time record. Yet this is at time when contactless payments by credit and debit cards are also at an all time high and many shops do not want to accept any cash at all.

Already a year before the Covid 19 led to lockdowns and smashed the economy some 7.4 million people – mainly in the 18-34 year age group were estimated to have virtually stopped using cash altogether.

So what is happening? We both can’t have a growing number of people no longer using cash yet record numbers of banks notes in circulation. There is something strange going on and the Bank of England seems remarkably complacent about it.

As Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which produced the report says:

” £50 billion of sterling notes – or about three quarters of this precious and dwindling supply – is stashed somewhere but the Bank of England doesn’t know where, who by or what for – and doesn’t seem very curious. It needs to be more concerned about where the missing £50 billion is. Depending where it is and what it’s being used for, that amount of money could have material implications for public policy and the public purse.  The Bank needs to get a better handle on the national currency it controls.”

There is some curious speculation in the report. They wonder whether the people who traditionally like payments in cash – window cleaners, gardeners, the odd job man or woman are salting away the money. Or is it because – as I have reported before – that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is offering such appalling interest rates for savers – that they are keeping the cash under the mattress?

Are criminals sorting away the cash?

Or is it something darker like criminals using the cash for nefarious purposes -or has the money been salted away in tax havens or are the Russians or Chinese siphoning off the cash hoping the British economy implodes?

The MPs are demanding the Bank of England investigates so we should have an answer early next year.

The same report also highlighted quite a different problem – that people in poor and rural areas have difficulty accessing this huge amount of cash in the system.

In September, the National Audit Office said that the Treasury, Bank of England, Royal Mint, the Financial Conduct Authority and Payments Systems Regulator need to coordinate more effectively so that people have access to cash.

But the number of cash machines are declining and the Post Office is not open all hours. so people can’t always access cash.

The Royal Mint is losing money striking coins as well.

The report said: “The Mint’s UK coin production has reduced by 65% over the last ten years, from about 1.1 billion coins made in 2010–11 to 383 million in 2019–20. This reflects the overall fall in production demand over the period, although production volumes increased in some years, for example between 2012 and 2016 with the issue of new 5p, 10p and £1 coins replacing stock already in circulation.”

Mass dumping of coins

It revealed that people have also been dumping coins in massive amounts. The report said:

“A Mint-run exercise to recall the old £1 coin, as an increasing counterfeit risk, led to an unexpectedly huge return of coins of all denominations as households and businesses emptied their stocks of coins. This led to a large increase in coin stocks and a consequent reduction in the number of coins that needed to be produced.”

But there still is some demand for coins.

The report said: “It now expects the Treasury to ask it to manufacture new 2p coins in the next 6 months and more £2 coins within the next 3 years. Nevertheless, the Mint expects the increase in demand to be temporary, and that the long-term impact of the pandemic will be to exacerbate the decline in coin use.”

Meanwhile it has lost millions of pounds for the last three years in minting new coins as it coins as it costs more than their face value to produce them.

The scary chaotic privatised Covid-19 national survey and me

The ONS survey promises they could not fulfill

Inside story of how the government can’t even organise a Covid- 19 survey let alone sort out the pandemic

Much has been said of the government’s expensive muddle and mishandling of the Covid -19 pandemic where millions if not billions of taxpayer’s cash has gone down the drain. Contracts have gone to the Vote Leave chumocracy, apps have failed, people have unnecessarily died in care homes and it has been bonanza time for private firms.

What has been missed is that while all this is happening the Department for Health through the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University have undertaken a randomised survey of 220,000 people to find out about the spread of Covid -19.

This is not just a once off questionnaire but those taking part in each household can opt to participate for a year. For the first month they are swabbed once a week and then monthly. The aim is to provide the government with a detailed picture of the pandemic’s progress and once approved the effectiveness of any new vaccines.

The scheme has been branded with trustworthy names – who would object to helping researchers at Oxford University or the Office for National Statistics.

Private company bonanza

But in fact the work is yet another bonanza for private companies and labs just like test and trace. What could possibly go wrong?

Well it did and this blog is my personal experience and my wife Margaret’s experience.

It started with a package being posted through our front door.

We were invited to ring a free number to sign up. Then within a week you would have an appointment. A pleasant socially distanced study worker would turn up, take your details, show you how to administer your own swab and send it off to a lab. You would get the result – if positive – within 24 to 72 hours from Public Health England. If it was negative you wouldn’t hear. You would also be eventually paid £50 in vouchers for the first visit and £25 for subsequent visits.

Sounds a doddle. It wasn’t.

First try and ring up and get an answer. I got through on the sixth attempt. And it is not to Oxford University but to IQVIA, an American multinational based in Durham, North Carolina, not Durham, England, with an income of $11.11 billion – effectively a health care data mining company. They have set up offices in the UK and guess what they are under staffed – hence the difficulty in getting through.

I was told to expect a call from NatCen, a private social research company, based in London that were in charge of appointments.

Rhe survey organisation must have been going wrong – they sent out this standardised apology to me and plenty of others.

A week went by, two, three, then a month and nothing. Finally there was a knock on the door and a genial man called Kirk asked me who I was.

” We have been trying to ring you for weeks and couldn’t get you. We got someone else who was already on the programme”, he told me

The reason was simple. The mobile number they had for me was not remotely like mine – they had put in someone else’s in their records

The came the swab – straightforward. We were told if we heard nothing after 48 hours we would be in the clear.

Then SIX days later we took a call from Hertfordshire County Council. It was for my wife – we are both in our 70s – she was Covid 19 positive . She had to self isolate for another four days. I was negative but had to self isolate for another seven.

The woman didn’t seem to know why we had been tested together, didn’t know about the national survey, and then told my wife not to have another swab in case it was a false positive.

This was scary because my wife did not have ONE SYMPTOM, no temperature, no cough, nothing. But we had to quickly cancel a hospital outpatient appointment for that day and cancel a visit due the next day from a physiotherapist.

The advice from Herts County Council was contradicted the next day by another study worker pointed out that the survey required people who were positive to take another test. He was puzzled that she – given we are part of the vulnerable group susceptible to Covid 19 – had no symptoms. He could not explain why we had been contacted by Herts County Council and not Public Health England.

Even after we got the invalidated result they still sent us the wrong result ( Note they spelt our surname wrong

After scary days of waiting to see if anything developed we had another call from IQVIA. It was to tell us that Lighthouse Laboratories – the privatised mega lab consortium – set up by  Medicines Discovery Catapult Ltd and UK Biocentre Ltd- who tested the swab had got it wrong. She was not positive and the test had been invalidated because the lab had used the wrong compounds to test it.

Nor were we the only ones – an entire batch – was wrong. Imagine the distress this would cause.It wasn’t the first time either. The Independent reported in September that tens of thousands of people had been cleared of Covid- 19 by the same labs when they were positive.

We now await our promised vouchers. I see they are provided by Sodexo – a private company which I remember was responsible for the hopeless failed privatisation of the probation service. They also provide child care vouchers. I wonder what they can to do to muck things up. I can’t wait.

Top international experts join the People’s Tribunal campaign to end discrimination against women and girls

Aim is to write the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] into UK domestic law.

Meghan Campbell: Pic credit Birmingham University

Nearly 40 years ago Margaret Thatcher signed the UK up to the UN convention to end all discrmination against women but successive Tory, Labour and coalition governments have never passed the convention in British law.

Now in an age when the Boris Johnson led Tory government is trying to renege on international law agreements during European Union negotiations and opt out of parts of the European Convention on Human Rights it will face the wrath of women and girls who feel they have been treated as second class citizens for too long in the UK.

The movement has grown out of the far too long campaign by BackTo60 to get women born in the 1950s compensation for the loss of their pensions from the age of 60 which will be decided at a Court of Appeal hearing on Tuesday on grounds of discrimination.

The issue of inequality under CEDAW was an issue in the court case – but because it is not part of British domestic law – it is difficult issue to argue.

Now it looks like with real support from international figures and human rights lawyers that the Conservative government is going to face a campaign that will make the BackTo60 fight look like a sideshow.

It will begin with the setting up of a People’s Tribunal under John Cooper QC and renowned human rights lawyer who was Chair of the International Steering Committee and Prosecutor at the Iran Tribunal in The Hague and is named by The Times as one of the top 100 lawyers in the country.

Andrew Byrnes Pic Credit: Oxford University Law Faculty

Now he is joined by three international experts. One is Andrew Byrnes, Professor of Law of Law at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where he served as Chair of the Australian Human Rights Centre from 2005 to 2017.

He is an expert on both People’s Tribunals and CEDAW . With Gabrielle Simm (a senior law lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney) he recently published the edited collection Peoples’ tribunals and international law (Cambridge University Press, 2018) and forthcoming publications includes chapters on the work of the UN Committee on the Discrimination against Women and the UN Committee against Torture, as well as the protection of economic and social rights through the parliamentary process.

He also was involved in the drafting of the CEDAW Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is working with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions in current UN discussions about a possible new convention on the human rights of older persons. 

The second international expert who will join the advocacy team is Meghan Campbell, an Associate Professor at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub. Her monograph, Women, Poverty, Equality: The Role of CEDAW (Hart 2018) was shortlisted for the Socio-Legal Scholars Association-Early Career Research Prize. The bookoffers an interpretation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to demonstrate how equality and non-discrimination can address the harms of gender-based poverty.

Professor Christine Chinkin Pic credit Twitter

The third international expert is Professor Christine Chinkin CMG FBA is Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, where she leads three major projects: ‘A Feminist International Law of Peace and Security’ funded by the AHRC, ‘Gendered Peace’ funded by the ERC and the UKRI GCRF Gender, Justice and Security Hub. Professor Chinkin was Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security from 2015-2018.

 She co-edited the book ‘The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: A Commentary’ and authored the chapter on violence against women and girls. She was scientific advisor to the Council of Europe Committee that drafted the Convention on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’), the most far-reaching international treaty aimed at tackling violence against women and domestic violence.

Hannah Wilson Pic credit: Women’s Link

She will be joined by Hannah Wilson who works for Women’s Link Worldwide, an international human rights organisation which seeks to use the power of the law to promote social change which advances the rights of women and girls, particularly those facing multiple inequalities. She is based in Madrid and has recently raised issues about the poor conditions of workers harvesting strawberries in Huelva Spain who are mainly women and women’ rights in Rwanda.

Bright energetic women

In addition the People’s Tribunal have recruited a number of new bright energetic women legal associates as volunteers who are starting out in their careers after graduating. They include Isabelle Ehiorobo, a Law graduate from the University of Sussex; Shauna Lyttle who read history at King’s College London and is now completing a graduate LLB and Natalie Payne a recent LLB graduate from the University of Warwick, ( my former university) beginning a postgraduate study in Human Rights Law in 2020.

When the tribunal gets going it will be on a much broader canvas than the BackTo60 campaign. It will raise issues about poor working conditions, poverty, job discrimination, domestic abuse as well as pension discrimination among many others. It should prove a catalyst making discrimination against women a mainstream issue. It will also be a big fight with the government to get legislation on the agenda.

In the meantime the group has a spanking new website which can be reached here. The campaign is just beginning.

From hero to zero and fighting back: How celeb chef Mark Hix revived his fish restaurant in Lyme Regis

Celebrity chef Mark Hix

The hospitality industry has suffered huge damage because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Not only are chains like Pizza Express , Frankie and Benny’s closing branches but even more up market venues like the Ledbury in Notting Hill.

One of the latter hit was a number of London restaurants run by Mark Hix, a celebrity chef, author, and owned jointly by the Reading based WHS Restaurant Investments where he had a 25 per cent share.

Without his agreement the company went into administration closing its four restaurants in London and one restaurant and town house in Lyme Regis.

The administrator’s report says that even before the Covid 19 crisis ” the business has struggled to maintain sales… with revenue declining in 2018 and 2019 as a result of sector-wide pressure across the casual dining market”.

But instead of accepting this huge setback by just taking early retirement at 57, Mark Hix went back to his roots in Dorset, bought a fish truck and started selling local fish at a local farm shop. The man who was an chef director at Caprice Holdings ( sadly the Caprice is now closed) before he had his own restaurants is now back on home turf.

A table overlooking the sea. Pic credit: Matt Austin

He has managed to buy back the lease from Deloitte’s, the administrators, of his first restaurant in Lyme Regis and is working almost non stop to revive the business with some of his signature dishes. Extraordinarily Deloitte’s won’t allow him to use his name in the title of the restaurant, The Oyster and Fish House, and according to an article in the Telegraph Magazine wanted £11,000 for it.

He is a great example of someone who has refused to take Covid 19 lying down and with luck should benefit from the staycation boom in the UK as people flock to the seaside.

There is a curious bizarre local issue about the place he has got back – none of which, I might say, is anything to do with him. Some 60 years ago the land next to the restaurant including a nearby house, reputed to be summer home of the Cadbury family – the famous chocolate manufacturers – collapsed into the sea. This led to Lyme Regis Borough Council ( as it was then) compulsorily purchasing the land.

What didn’t fall into the sea was the gardener’s home Cliff Cottage and the land surrounding it. This included an old garage on the site.

According to Marilyn Bolton, an ex councillor in the past and his present landlord, an informal agreement was made with the then town clerk on the boundary between the new council owned land and her property. This was strongly contradicted by Stan Williams, the deputy mayor, who said there was no agreement allowing her to encroach on council land.

And it is certain this was never legally clarified. Land registry records show that Mark Hix’s restaurant ( the garage was demolished and a new restaurant built) straddle her property and council owned land – enough for it to be legally codified in a lease agreement in 2013. So he has two landlords.

The view of Lyme from the balcony of the restaurant

To make life even more complicated it also straddles a right of way Stile Lane which according to Dorset Council has never been rerouted or extinguished.

Dorset Council said in a statement: “We can confirm that Footpath W2/12 from Pound Street to Marine Parade in Lyme Regis is obstructed by a number of buildings and landscaping works carried out over many years to re-profile the area following landslips and the creation of Langmoor Gardens.”

“The Highway Authority has powers to enforce an obstruction of the public’s right of free passage over a public highway, but there is an alternative route, which is safer and more commodious for the public. Therefore, this is a considered to be a low priority for already stretched public funds.

” When planning permission was granted to extend the building that is currently obstructing the footpath, this did not give permission to obstruct the footpath. The applicant was advised to apply to divert the footpath by legal order and that this order must be confirmed before work commenced. We do not believe that West Dorset District Council received such an application.”

60 year old row over footpath and land encroachment

None of this would matter at a jot – if it wasn’t becoming a live issue after an elderly resident complained about it to the mayor of Lyme Regis, Brian Larcombe, and the deputy mayor, Stan Williams. They are now investigating this and seek explanations.

It appears that secrecy surrounding property and boundary deals by successive town clerks going back years has come back to bite them by not being open about what was going on.

In the meantime if you want to savour a good meal and are holidaying in Lyme I suggest you dine there and enjoy modern British cuisine. You will be helping a very determined man get his business back on track – in defiance of the bean counters and the bureaucrats who seem to have rather messed up.

Revealed: How “Failing Grayling” derailed transport billionaires Richard Branson and Brian Souter

Ex transport secretary Chris Grayling Pic credit:BBC

Chris Grayling – who tomorrow is expected to become chair of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee – is a byword for wasting public money.

I have already written for Byline Times on his activities – and so extensive were his failings it took two long articles to add up the cost of Chris Grayling. You can read them here and here. He seems to have cost the nation some £2.7 billion – an extraordinary achievement for one individual – as well as causing misery for the probation and prison service and for millions of commuters.

Yet every human being can sometimes get things right. And last month Chris Grayling did so in a decision which involved risk.

A court judgement – virtually unreported except in the Financial Times – vindicated a very controversial decision he took as transport secretary way back in April last year on every count.

Grayling decided to disqualify three bidders from getting hold of three very lucrative rail franchises – the West Coast main line from London Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh; the East Midlands franchise and the commuter lucrative South Eastern franchise from Kent into London.

Sir Richard Branson : A quote that came back to bite him

The bidders banned were Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains (as part of the West Coast partnership with the French state owned SNCF) Sir Brian Souter’s Stagecoach and Arriva owned by German state railways Deutsche Bahn.

The reason why Grayling disqualified them is because all three did not want to take on a big share of the liability for paying out pensions to some 346,000 retired and active train drivers and staff while they were running the services. Instead they wanted to make as money as they could by dumping the pension cost onto the state – that’s you and me.

pension costs

Their move was despite a ruling by the Pension Regulator which said anybody running a privatised rail service should have to fund any pension shortfall and not taxpayers.

Their decision caused consternation in rail franchise industry since two of the contracts were subsequently let to new providers. The East Midland franchise was awarded to Abellio East Midlands Ltd and the West Coast Partnership franchise was later awarded to First Trenitalia West Coast Rail Ltd. The South Eastern competition was cancelled.

Expensive law case

A lengthy and extremely expensive trial followed with costs building up not only for the ministry but the three companies and the companies who subsequently won the contracts who had to keep an eye on the case. Deutsche Bahn’s owned Arriva decided to settle out of court.

So complicated is the judgement from Mr Justice Stuart Smith that it runs to 193 pages and the Courts and Tribunals Service issued a rare explanatory memorandum to help the public understand it.

If it had gone the other way it could have thrown the whole rail franchise system into further chaos – since it would have meant that the two private contractors would have won the franchises by an illegal competition and they would have to bid again.

But it didn’t. As the Department for Transport said; “We strongly welcome this decision, which finds our franchise process was fair, our conduct was transparent, and the disqualification at the heart of this case was proportionate.”

There is a sting in the tale. The Department of Transport want Sir Richard Branson and Sir Brian Souter to pay all its costs.

Sir Brian Souter was chairman of Stagecoach when Grayling took action. He is still a member of the board.

This is a blow to Sir Brian who condemned the ministry when it took the original decision as ” dysfunctional and deceitful”.

And it will be lesson for Sir Richard who once wrote: You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

This time he has taken a real tumble, particularly after suing the NHS when he failed to win an £82 million contract and then blaming the NHS Commissioners. See the riposte here. The case was settled out of court and it is understood his company Virgin Care got £328,000.

This new judgement may explain something else. The Department for Transport is very wary about continuing the present franchise system. And because of Covid 19 it has virtually nationalised the railways. I suspect it won’t return to the old system as it won’t want any more nail biting court cases even though it won.

Labour is much clearer – they will simply nationalise the system permanently – a decision that its new leader Sir Keir Starmer has followed through from Jeremy Corbyn.

Cummings cunning Whitehall revolution

Next month Boris Johnson is expected to have a Cabinet reshuffle. This will be his chance to mould his government’s image for the rest of the Parliament.

If he takes the advice of his chief of staff Dominic Cummings it will be another opportunity to throw a disruptive spanner in the works.

For Cummings is already on record as saying he wants big changes.

At an event hosted by the think tank IPPR in 2014, he was reported as saying: “The whole Cabinet Office structure and No. 10 structure is completely broken, [as] anyone who has to deal with it knows.”

Cabinet size “a complete farce”

The system had to change, he said, and the Treasury’s broken, while having a Cabinet of 30 people was a “complete farce” and should be whittled down to just six or seven key ministers.

Whether Johnson goes as far as this will be a matter for him but I would not be surprised to see some radical changes. And what changes he makes to the Cabinet will affect Whitehall. Since Parliamentary scrutiny through select committees is based on Whitehall departments , it would also affect the accountability of government.

As I wrote last week on Byline Times, the Whitehall revolution has already started. You can read the article here.

It began with the first Cabinet reshuffle after the general election when the former Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned rather than take Cummings diktat that he should lose all his independent advisers.

Marched out by armed police

That has already come back to bite him. As The Guardian reported one of his advisers, Sonia Khan, who was marched out of the Treasury by armed police, is taking the case to a tribunal as a sex discrimination case. Cummings dismissed her by phone for allegedly lying about talking to one of Philip Hammond’s ( remember him! he was the chancellor under Theresa May) advisers.

A judge ruled out an attempt by government lawyers to have Cummings name removed from the case – meaning he will have to defend himself publicly. There is a five day hearing put down for December. I would not be surprised if the Cabinet Office tries to offer her large sums of our taxpayer’s money to have it settled out of court to avoid embarrassment to the PM and Cummings.

Parallel to the denuding of independent advisers to the Treasury, Cummings has strengthened his position by appointing Vote Leave campaigner Alex Hickman as the PM’s adviser on business and getting Ben Warner, who worked with him at Vote Leave, as a special adviser in Number Ten. His brother Marc, has a controlling influence in Faculty, a high tech start up, which has already been awarded million pound contracts by the NHS to deal with Covid-19 without competitive tendering.

new permanent secretary

But Cummings wants to go much further in Whitehall. On 1 May, a US recruitment agency won a contract from the Government to headhunt a new permanent secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – a ministry that will play a crucial role in building up Britain post-Brexit. The job is not being advertised internally as is the normal practice.

The New York based firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, is principally a high tech recruiter and its philosophy is pretty much in line with the Cummings credo. Its website is here. The firm believes that all organisations should be run like high tech companies not as bureaucracies.

“The organisations that don’t disrupt themselves are the ones that will be disrupted,” it states.

Cummings is a passionately in favour of the high tech companies – who often employ highly skilled computer savvy people on short term contracts and would like to see Whitehall remodelled along these lines.

In 2018, Cummings expanded his attack on Whitehall in a paper which predicted: “There will be a chance for a small group to face reality and change the political landscape with new priorities and a new approach to the whole problem of high-performance government.”

Permanent secretaries are key figures in Whitehall – the 40 or so are the people who glue together the system – providing leadership and setting the tone of their department. They also can hold ministers to account over unauthorised spending.

The new permanent secretary will start in September well in time to work on business post Brexit. He will act, in my view, as a Trojan horse, to change Whitehall for good if Cummings has his way.

On Byline Times: The £8m contact tracing app contracts for Covid-19 and plans to outsource its management

NHS contact tracing app being trialed in the Isle of Wight Pic Credit: Linked In

I have just had a forensic look at the contracts awarded for the controversial Covid-19 contact tracing app which is now being trialed in the Isle of Wight.

Among the surprises are the plan to allow a big Swiss company Zuhkle Technologies AG to take over its management and allow access for overseas engineers to monitor the app. And there is still the controversy over whether the decentralised Google/ Apple app should be used rather than a centralised NHS App collecting data from your smartphone.

Full report on Byline Times and a link to two of the main contracts.

On Byline Times: UK to impose trade sanctions on Trump tomorrow to meet EU and WTO rules

Pic credit: BBC

While nearly all the attention is being given to the Covid 19 crisis tomorrow the UK will have to impose a limited number of trade sanctions on the Trump administration under a European Commission directive.

But you will say we have left the EU and Trump is a great friend of Boris Johnson? Well not quite. Until December 31 we abide by EU rules but have no say and this is why we are still caught up in the trade row between Trump and the European Union.

Ironically the EU has used a World Trade Organisation rule on anti dumping to put up the tariffs on a very limited number of goods.And the UK can’t afford to break WTO rules – if it is forced into a No Deal Brexit.

Read the full story on Byline Times here.

The Commons committee report where this is revealed came out yesterday. It is No 11 in a long list of new regulations.