This is just a note to my readers that after an absence of nearly three months I am now back in rather a different England that I left in January.
I have been extremely lucky as the trip I took with my disabled wife sailing round the whole of South America was about the safest place to be at the time – as the ship kept ahead of the spread of COFID 19 until the every end.
Then a very wise captain decided not admit any new passengers or crew when we docked at Fort Lauderdale and only allow passengers to disembark – not even go ashore and return – protecting the ship from the virus.
We then sailed straight for Southampton and were able to dock without facing the terrible fate some cruise liners had to endure where passengers had caught the disease. Cunard deserve a lot of praise for this. I will put up a blog with lots of pictures of what we saw in South America at a later date – as an antidote to today’s gloomy situation.
But now having had to painfully adapt to the new situation and look after and protect my wife from this invisible scourge I am back to investigating from home again.
I have a lot to catch up. I am planning fresh articles on developments on the BackTo60 campaign and the continuing plight of #50sWomen now hit by the fall out from the coronavirus. While I was away their victory at the Court of Appeal to challenge the findings of the judicial review on all grounds was an amazing achievement.
I am also back working for Byline Times which is doing a series of investigations in to the NHS and the coronavirus and I will keep an eye out for any other issues in Whitehall that are being buried by the current crisis.
I also have a number of more long term and complicated investigations – nearly all raised by people who contacted me directly and are taking many months to sort out. You will know who you are but I ask you for some patience as it will take time to get round to them.
In the meantime it will soon be back to business as usual.
I have put up tonight a very interesting story on Byline Times about a rushed award of a £1.7m contract without competitive tendering to Idox, an electoral management software company, which will change the canvassing system to get you on the electoral register next year and mean sharing data on you held by the Department of Work and Pensions. Read it here.
Last year was an extraordinary year for this blog and my readers deserve a big thank you for following me. The number of hits is at record levels topping over a million for the first time.
This is more than double the previous year and the main driver has been the campaign by BackTo60 along with other groups to get back lost pensions for 3.8 million people born in the 1950s. The interest in this issue has been phenomenal. In 2017 I had less than 100,000 hits. In 2018 it was 464,000 and this year’s figure shows it has grown ten fold since 2017 – at over a million.
Reporting the campaign for 50swomen has been a big insight into how difficult it is for such a large group of people to get justice or even get noticed by the mainstream media.
That there was injustice over the five and then six year delay in paying out pensions to the 50swomen is unquestionable. That the Department of Work and Pensions took every step possible to deny the women the money – even down to arguing in court that the ministry has no duty to tell anyone about their pension was unbelievable.
The campaign by BackTo60 has had its highs and lows. The fact the claimants initially won the case for a judicial review at all – when detractors said it would never be granted- was a key victory. But to be followed by a comprehensive defeat at the High Court was a big low.
Ironically the defeat finally brought the issue to front page mainstream media and TV and secured sympathetic coverage.
Then there was the general election campaign. Labour became the first party to publish a compensation package with support from two of the biggest trade unions, Unison and Unite, was a major acheivement.
It was only half way to full restitution – but it opened a debate on how it should be paid and that compensation should be paid to the women.
But Labour was defeated in last month’s election- and the very offer to the women was derided by opponents as an example of the party making too many generous promises with public money.
So where does it go now? There are three routes to justice. First there is the approach to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the judgement. Lawyers for BackTo60 would not have recommended this action and the raising of money to do it unless they could see there was a good case.
Then there is the approach by Waspi and others to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – putting forward six test cases – this will take some time before he issues a judgement.
There is also the case for a special temporary measure being passed by Parliament to pay out the money on the grounds of inequality – this could lead to full restitution without going to the courts. But the composition of the new Parliament will make it difficult to get it passed.
That all this is problematic does not mean people should give up – and I for one will still continue reporting this campaign – because the sense of injustice has not changed one iota and the women deserve to be compensated.
People will notice this year that many of the blogs are appearing in full on Byline Times – a growing independent print and on-line media group dedicated to holding power to account. I have a retainer with them to analyse and investigate issues arising in Whitehall and Westminster especially as now Britain will be in a post Brexit world.
Given the government now has a solid majority this is needed more than ever and I intend to pursue this vigorously.
Child sex abuse
I have not done so much this year on this topic but it does not mean I have lost interest in it. Many of the cases involve people who have never had justice so I will return to it.
I did put forward my opinions following the conviction of the paedophile Carl Beech for perverting the course of justice.
Travel and reviews
This blog will occasionally do a review of a film and a book. This year I reviewed Andrew Lownie’s biography of the Mountbattens and a film on the Durham Miner’s Gala.
I also travelled this year taking my disabled wife, Maragaret on an eye -opening world cruise – blogging from Bermuda, Samoa, Waitangi in News Zealand, Darwen in Australia, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Singapore.
I am taking another break later this month when I am taking my disabled wife on a cruise round South America, going up the Amazon and across the Beagle Channel and visiting Rio, Buenos Aires, Chile and Panama among other places. So expect some more blogs from unusual places.
I shall be back by April ready to resume full domestic coverage of everything from the continuing battle for justice for the 50swomen and the latest political developments. Have a great New Year everybody.
For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package
There are a number of new points revealed in this video.
Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.
When someone as distinguished as Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, writes to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Met Police chief, and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, people should take sit up and take notice.
The extraordinary story that senior people in Downing Street and the Conservative Party were prepared to either bribe people with peerages or offer other inducements such as jobs, presumably funded by the taxpayer to stand down in a general election is almost unbelievable.
Not since David Lloyd George, a former Liberal PM, was involved in handing out peerages has this ever happened in British politics. And if anything this is almost Trumpian in its excess – only that the Prime Minister would not get impeached in this country if he allowed it.
I am not surprised that Downing Street and the Conservative Party is desperately trying to deny it happened – as they would know it was a criminal offence.
I am reproducing the letter in full here:
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
15 November 2019
Dear Director and Dame Cressida,
I wish to raise with you as a matter of urgency a number of recent reports in which senior figures in the Brexit Party have alleged that some of their candidates had been approached by the Conservative Party in an effort to persuade them to withdraw their candidacies from the upcoming General Election.
On 14 November the Leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage MEP, tweeted that “Boris Johnson’s Chief Strategic Adviser Sir Edward Lister is calling our candidates and offering them jobs if they withdraw”.[i]
The following day Mr Farage said that candidates from his party had come “under intimidation” from the Conservative Party, and added that “officials from Number 10 ringing up candidates and offering them jobs if they stand down.”
Mr Farage also claimed that he, along with eight “senior figures” in his party, were offered peerages.[ii] Meanwhile, it was reported on Thursday that one Brexit Party candidate, Anne Widecombe, was told she would be part of the government’s post-election Brexit negotiating team if she stood down, according to senior Brexit party officials.[ii
Today, Ms Widdecombe has given an interview to the BBC confirming that she had received multiple phone calls from a figure in No. 10 attempting to persuade her to stand down and offering inducements to do so:
“I was rung up twice by somebody at No 10.The first time it was really about how I had a moral obligation to stand down. It was all that kind of stuff. The second time it was to say that if I did stand down, I would be offered ‘a role in the negotiations’.” Anne Widdecombe, BBC News, 15 November 2019
On the 11 November, Mr Farage announced that his party would not stand candidates in 317 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017, but would be standing candidates in all other seats in Great Britain. However, since then at least two Brexit Party candidates have withdrawn from seats which the Conservative Party did not win in 2017.[iv]
I believe these allegations raise serious questions about the integrity of the upcoming General Election, and in particular whether senior individuals at CCHQ or No. 10 have breached two sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983 namely:
s.107: Any person who corruptly induces or procures any other person to withdraw from being a candidate at an election, in consideration of any payment or promise of payment, and any person withdrawing in pursuance of the inducement or procurement, shall be guilty of an illegal payment. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2
And/or s. 113 (2): (2) A person shall be guilty of bribery if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf— (c) makes any such gift or procurement [gives money or procured an office] as mentioned above to or for any person in order to induce that person to procure, or endeavour to procure, the return of any person at an election or the vote of any voter,or if upon or in consequence of any such gift or procurement as mentioned above he procures or engages, promises or endeavours to procure the return of any person at an election or the vote of any voter. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/15-16/72
Given that ‘payment’ is defined in s.118 of the 1983 Act as meaning “any pecuniary or other reward”, this would indicate that s. 107 is wide enough to cover promises of the kind alleged to have been made in this case. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/2/section/118
I also bring to your attention s.1 (2) of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which states: If any person gives, or agrees or proposes to give, or offers to any person any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/15-16/72
Furthermore, as breaches of the 1983 Act may have taken place, pursuant to s. 181 of the 1983 Act, I am formally requesting that the Director of Public Prosecutions do institute the necessary investigations and commence such prosecutions as he sees fit. Finally, as a senior civil servant has been named in these allegations, I am also sending a copy of this letter to the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Mark Sedwill.
Boris Johnson thought he had got away with Parliament not being able to scrutinise his EU Withdrawal bill by calling an election. But on the last day of Parliament the House of Lords rumbled him and their analysis does not paint a pretty picture. Full report on Byline Times.
For purists actual House of Lords Constitution Committee report here.
As the manifesto season gears up – a very timely report today from the National Audit Office. It reveals David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto pledge to build 200,000 homes for first time buyers has resulted in not a single starter home being built. The full facts of this failed pledge are on Byline Timeshere.
Another day. Another taxpayer disaster for the Conservatives. This time it is the National Audit Office reporting on the full cost of Michael Gove’s failed vocational education initiative which cost taxpayers £800m and left a trail of brand new closed colleges. Read the horrendous details of this latest scandal on Byline Times here.
Today I have decided to highlight one of my angry blog supporters who lives in Spain and is a victim of the pension scandal that has seen 3.8 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pension.
So outraged at the Prime Minister refusing to consider any compensation for the women that she has written to complain to Boris Johnson and highlight how much money he and his ministers have wasted after researching the bills.
As she puts it: ” Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet you are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night!
Carole Irwin lives in the mountains behind Malaga. She tells me :
” I am 60 years old and during my working life paid NI payments whilst working as a nurse for several years, and as a civilian in the Police Service. I then brought up my children, so received child benefit credits for those years.
I moved to Spain to retire with my family 14 years ago. 6 years ago l was diagnosed with an incurable and life changing illness. This costs me between 80€ and 90€ in medications per month alone.
This is why I became a member of #WePaidInYouPayOut which has been supporting Back to 60.
….I am one of the many who has received no letter informing me of this change. When I started working it was on the understanding although only an assumed agreement that I would receive my pension at 60.This change of retirement age along with my illness has affected our plans for our future life in Spain. “
This is her full letter to Mr Johnson:
” I am writing to you as l have many concerns about the enormous amounts of money being wasted by Government’s various departments. In order to be concise l am writing it in bullet points so as not to waste your time.
Firstly Chris Grayling ( who possibly has wasted the most money) who has served in several roles during his time in government and unbelievably still is employed as Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom (2016 to 2019). Had he been employed in the private sector would have been dismissed as his record shows how incapable he actually is! *Chris Grayling alone has so far wasted almost 3 billion pounds of public money…
*At least £500 million to sort out the mess he made when attempting to privatise the probation service (source: National Audit Office)
*£33 million when sued by Eurotunnel over Seaborne Freight fiasco (source: The Guardian)
*£38 million – cost to the economy in the north of England due to the rail chaos in July 2018 (source The London Economic)
*£50,000 on the failed ‘lorry jam’ Brexit exercise in Kent (source: The Guardian)
*£70,000 on failed attempt to ban books from prisons (source: The Independent)
*£2 billion cost to taxpayers on the collapse of Virgin Trains east coast franchise (source The London Economic)
*£15 million a year in additional costs to the Carillion contract to run facilities management in prisons (source The London Economic)
*£5 million on ‘wasted rail fares’ for HS2 staff (source: Huffington Post)
*£50 million on cancelled No Deal ferry contracts (source: The Guardian)
*£32 million of charges that were unlawfully collected – which the government were ordered to pay back (source The London Economic)
*£23 million contract to develop a new generation of GPS tracking tags for dangerous offenders written off because the project proved “too challenging” (source The London Economic)
*£60 million over the £130 million original budget on the electronic tagging programme – described by the PAC as a “catastrophic waste of public money” (source The London Economic)
More government waste is shown by the Tax payers alliance.
Although excellent work has been undertaken by the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group in terms of finding savings, taxpayers’ cash has still been wasted in a number of ways, with significant sums ripe for being saved in many areas, including:
*£53 billion – Additional cost of funding pay and pensions for public sector workers over and above the private sector average, based on analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Pension Policy Institute *£25 billion – Amount wasted through inefficient public sector procurement and poor use of outsourcing, based on an authoritative report from the Institute of Directors *£20.3 billion – Cost to the economy of public sector fraud, according to the National Fraud Authority *£5 billion – Amount paid in benefits to those with an income in excess of £100,000 *£4 billion – Losses to the taxpayer from RBS and the sale of Northern Rock£2.9 billion – Amount spent needlessly by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Culture, Media & Sport, which should both be scrapped *£1.2 billion – Annual subsidy to foreign farmers through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy The planning of the London garden bridge cost £58 million without so much as a pot plant being placed! These figures are also almost certainly an underestimate. A rigorous assessment of the public sector efficiency commissioned by the European Central Bank found that if the UK’s bloated public sector were as efficient as that in the economies of countries like the US, Australia, and Japan, no less than £137 billion could have been saved in the last year! Those is a Huge amount of money!
In addition to the big ticket items, we have identified hundreds of examples of smaller sums being wasted. It is, however, all still taxpayers’ money and there is no excuse for waste, regardless of the amount involved. Among the culprits identified are:
Arts Council: Gave a £95,000 grant to artists in Brighton for “Skip”, a rubbish dumpster outlined with yellow lights!
Crawley Council: Spent £5,070 on 12,200 hot drinks from vending machines for council employees, when the equivalent number of tea bags would have cost just £200!
Department for International Development: Spent £21.2 million on a road maintenance project in Bangladesh, later pulled due to “fiduciary irregularities” after it emerged that less than 10% had actually been spent on roads!
Durham Council: Funded a £12,000 clothing allowance to allow councillors to wear “Geordie Armani”!
Hull Council: Spent £40,000 on a concert in honour of the councillor who is Lord Mayor this year!
Ministry of Defence: Paid £22 for light bulbs that are normally 65p!
Prison Service: Paid £720,000 to professional actors for role playing that is aimed at helping inmates become employed.
Scottish Government: Signed a £1.4 million 4-year contract for taxis for civil servants in Edinburgh – despite staff being told to use buses.
Stoke-on-Trent Council: Spent £330,000 to pay for redundancy packages and subsequently rehiring 25 members of staff.
All this money wasted by your government was paid for by the hard working tax payers and I’m sure if l did more research l could find many more examples. One being to your own embarrassment the purchasing of water cannons. I wonder what they were worth at the local scrap dealer?
There are a great many extremely angry women not yet receiving their hard earned Pensions which was paid for by themselves throughout their lives by paying national insurance. I’m sure they would not have chosen to waste so much money in the way you did, as had that money still been available you could have decided we earned and deserved our pensions. Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet to are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night! Due to the appalling waste as listed above, please do it get too comfortable in your role as Prime Minister as l have a strong feeling come the next general election you will have many people choosing not to vote for your incompetent and cruel party.”
On Byline next month I am planning to try and see how much money the PM has also wasted on the No Deal Brexit which increasingly looks unlikely to happen on October 31. This can be added to the figures she has researched.
But I thought it was worth publishing this gigantic list because it highlights the anger people feel about this issue and the waste of taxpayers money by politicians. No doubt the reply will be stuck in a queue in the PM’s correspondence unit. But wider publication will not allow him so easily to get away with it. Nor should he.