Whitehall is condemned yesterday by a powerful all party committee of MPs for being over secretive over the award of nearly £100m of management consultants contracts to handle Brexit.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee accuses Whitehall of breaching government guidelines in making public contract details, awarding nearly all the work to just six companies and covering up some of the contracts.
This weekend I had the honour of chairing a session at the Byline Festival for BackTo60 Campaigning Group in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.
The occasion was important for giving wider publicity to a new generation how successive government’s cruel treatment of a large group of 3.8 million women who are waiting up to six years for their pension. And also to show to the young that by having guts and determination ( which the 5,000 people at Byline Fest have in droves) us oldies can also press our case home by arguing and succeeding in getting a judicial review to try and remedy this injustice.
It was also to warn them that this group will be the first of many to find themselves in a similar predicament. This is particularly so if former Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s charity, the Centre for Social Justice, succeeds in getting the UK to have a retirement age of 75 by 2035 – giving it by then the dubious accolade of being a world leader in forcing people to work until they drop.
Amber Rudd, the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, says the government won’t do it, I don’t believe her. For the role of think tanks is to influence government and prepare the people for the changes they want, and this is the think tank that proposed Universal Credit, which any self respecting person will think has been an unmitigated disaster for the poor and the disabled.
The story of the pension scandal that hit the 50s born women is not a boring pensions tale. It covers Whitehall skulduggery, effectively saving £271 billion of public money by removing the Treasury contribution to the National Insurance Fund; a failure to properly communicate the change in pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 to the people affected until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
And the revelation of the hardship, and misery it had inflicted on people driving them to despair even suicide as they haven’t the money to live on.
And finally the fake news that we are all living longer – which has hardly been the case since 2011 when it flatlined. It has only been the wealthy who are living longer, for the poor in part of the UK like Glasgow and Blackpool it has started to fall.
It also a tale of hope – of challenging the government in the courts and finding a legal mechanism – a temporary special measure – which can be used to redress this balance – thanks to the work of one of the speakers at the session, Jackie Jones, MEP for Wales and a former professor of feminist studies at the West of England University.
What was gratifying was the interest among the young and older festival goers who came to listen. They engaged with the issue, asked pertinent questions, even if some were shocked at the antiquated attitudes in the 1970s when Dr Davina Lloyd, revealed that she was banned from going to university in the 1970s because she was a married woman and was expected to stay at home. She was saved by Roy Jenkins, who went on to become home secretary, who passed a law allowing married women to train as teachers.
Members of the panel did a YouTube film with the Byline Festival after the session. It is below.
A group of leading BackTo60 campaigners and top people from Unison, the public service union, today delivered a personal letter to Boris Johnson calling on him to act to pay out the money owed to 3.8 million women whose pensions have been delayed by up to six years.
The delegation went direct to Downing Street preceded by Larry the Cat to press Boris Johnson to fulfill a pledge that he would look again at the problem for this particular group of women, many of whom have driven to poverty by the decision enacted by successive governments.
They are backed by a petition signed by 177 MPs of all parties calling for a Special temporary measure to grant the money owed without reversing the existing pensions legislation by returning the pension age to 60 for women.
The full delegation were Prof Jackie Jones, Barrister, MEP, Wales; Gloria Mills CBE, National Secretary, UNISON, Equalities, Sian Stockham, Senior Vice-President, UNISON, Alan Fox. National Pensions Officer, UNISON, Joanne Welch, Campaign Director,BackTo60.com and Callum Jones, Undergraduate.
Prof Jones said “It’s beyond time for women to have equal rights and equal financial entitlements for years of service. Equal pension is part of this. No way are women going to settle for anything less.”
Gloria Mills said”1950s women deserve their full state pension now and the government should act by using the Temporary Special Measure contained to right this wrong. UNISON the UK’s largest trade union with 1 million women members will continue to fight for pension justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s many of whom are UNISON members.”.
She added: ” The recent idea that people may have to work to 75 is a disgrace to all working people. All these women have been discriminated against all their life by not being able to claim a pension while they are working part time or bringing up a family. Their pensions pots are miniscule compared to many men.”
Sian Stockham said : ” Some women who just paid the married woman’s pension have been left with the disgraceful sum of just 10p a month which is a disgrace.
Callum Jones, an undergraduate student who joined the delegation said : “It is clear to see that the government is trying to take advantage of vulnerable members of society and if we don’t look after the most vulnerable members of our society what kind of society would we have.”
Earlier petitions, one of which reached 728,000, were delivered to former Prime Minister, Theresa May on 3 separate occasions: It was ignored and this led BackTo60 to succeed in getting o a Judicial Review, held on 5th and 6th June was hthe Royal Courts of Justice,t and the Reserved Judgment is due soon.
In a rather bizarre move this May WASPI Ltd, which also represents some of the women, tried to urge MPs not to sign the motion calling for the restitution of the money to the 3.8 million. They believe the women should only get a bridging loan which will have to be paid back by having reduced pensions for life.
But this action is rather late as 177 MPs have already signed and the motion was delivered to Number Ten demanding full restitution today.
Parliament’s financial watchdog announced the “super
investigation” a week after Parliament rose. It now includes the extra £2
billion Johnson earmarked this month for “turbo charging” the No deal process.
It follows a total of
24 reports by the NAO on Brexit since 2016 which highlighted scandals and
public waste. This included the exposure of former transport secretary Chris
Grayling’s mishandling of No Deal Brexit freight contracts which cost the
country over £50m including paying Eurotunnel £33m in an out of court
Halloween or October 31 may be more of a dramatic day this year than just the date set for a ” no deal ” Brexit.
It could also be the day of the next general election – if
the ruthless approach by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief executive to
get Brexit done is a top priority.
I have no inside information but logic points to this
possibility now the political scene in Whitehall has changed beyond all
recognition with the election of Boris Johnson as PM and surrounding himself
with a Vote Leave government.
With a majority of one it is quite clear that Johnson cannot continue as PM until 2022 and hope to get anything through Parliament. But he needs to choose a general election date with considerable care. Too early and he risks a more resurgent Remain Parliament since the Liberal Democrats ,SNP and Labour will campaign against a “ No deal” and move to revoke Article 50. Too late and he could face a backlash if “Project Fear” turns into “Project Reality” and the experience of Brexit goes sour on the British people.
Britain’s 43,000 citizens living in Holland will have to
retake their driving test if they do not apply for a Dutch driving licence by
31 October, according to new No Deal Brexit advice from the Department of
In Spain any of the 300,000 British citizens who have not
exchanged their licence by October 31 will have to pass a medical test to
continue driving to get a new licence.
These are just two of a whole plethora of confusing and
chaotic rules that will vary from country to country when the British driving
licence is no longer recognised by the EU.
UK’s 1.3 million citizens living in the 27 countries will face different
rules, time deadlines for applications and compulsory medical checks before
they can drive again in some countries.
The Revenue and Customs agency has sacrificed the monitoring
of fraud and error in paying out £22.9 billion a year in tax credits to
millions of people so it can meet deadlines for Brexit.
The switching of 270 civil servants to prepare for Brexit from
checking error and fraud among people claiming tax credits has cost Revenue and
Customs up to £1.46 billion in overpayments, the National Audit Office has
The losses are the highest since 2011 and has led to the NAO
qualifying the accounts of Revenue and Customs as inaccurate for the 15th
year running since former Labour chancellor Gordon Brown first introduced tax
credits in 2003.
The losses come on top of figures from the Department for Work and Pensions which disclosed that in the last financial year benefit error and fraud is running at record levels. Altogether the level of known error and fraud in both departments has now been revealed to total a record £7.5 billion.