How bungling ministers are closing down specialist help for child abuse victims

Graham Wilner: Picture reproduced courtesy Rory Wilmer Photography

Graham Wilner: Picture reproduced courtesy Rory Wilmer Photography

Last week  I wrote a blog showing how David Cameron had failed to implement immediate help for people who witnessed child abuse. Downing Street responded by saying that there was £10.5m was available to help.

Not only has this proved to be wrong . But the situation  is far worse than I could have imagined. The government is closing down what specialist support that might be available just when the police led by the  Metropolitan Police Paedophile Unit are expanding their investigations so people all over the country  are being contacted about historic child abuse – whether over Savile or the Fernbridge and Fairbank operations or  further allegations against music schools or Roman Catholic priests.

Now I have learned from Graham Wilmer, pictured above, that we are just a week or so away from the closure a pioneering project in Merseyside, the Lantern project. This project ( see http://www.lanternproject.org.uk) is unusual since it is run by a person who was sexually abused in his youth. It is also a specialist site.

Mr Wilmer is alarmed about  the situation facing people now being contacted by the police who cannot get help. See my article in Exaro News (http://www.exaronews.com/articles/4909/child-sex-abuse-groups-offering-support-services-face-closure)  for the full story.

But his experience of government support under the coalition is appalling. First the funding of his centre was halted by the justice department under Ken Clarke. Then he was advised to apply through the Cabinet Office under Francis Maude who pushed him to the Big Lottery. But the Big Lottery would not fund him for bureaucratic reasons – and only the use literally of the old boy’s network – did he get any cash.  He rang Gus O’Donnell, then Cabinet Secretary, who used to be head boy at his old school to explain the situation. An hour later,he says, £29.000, was promised to the charity.

The money was given to put on a course to train health professionals in giving proper support to people who had been abused as children. But the NHS re-organisation under then health secretary Andrew Lansley, meant that the local primary care trust, was being abolished and did not send anyone on  the course. Its successor body may have some money under Jeremy Hunt next year, but by then the centre will be closed.

As he said: “We will be closing down in two weeks time. The outgoing government did promise to set up a national strategy which would include funding for child sexual abuse but this was cancelled by the new government.”

His will not be the only none. Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust, said: “A significant number are going to have to close as they are funded by private trusts and money from the lottery and this is not forthcoming.

So far from the government supporting victims and witnesses to child sexual abuse – they are actively  hindering any help. Cynics might think the ministers might not care because after all some of the alleged paedophiles are linked to the Tory  and Liberal Democrat parties in the past. I do not think this is case but people could be forgiven for thinking it.

This situation is a disgrace and the present coalition government has not got a grip on the scale of the problem. Hang your heads in shame Francis Maude, Jeremy Hunt and the present justic secretary, Chris Grayling. You don’t seem to have clue about what is happening.

Did the former Cabinet Secretary unwittingly sanction “tax avoidance”?

Gus O'Donnell: Tax avoiders friend in Whitehall? Pic Courtesy: Daily Telegraph

The huge  row following the disclosure  of the tax  ” avoidance” arrangements for Ed Lester, chief executive of the Students Loans Company, has concentrated on how government ministers approved the arrangement.

Not highlighted was the role of the then Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, recently retired on an index linked pension and getting £300 a day for every day he turns up as a newly ennobled peer.

Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Gus O’Donnell when he heard Lester was not going to be on the pay roll of the Student Loans Company rightly demanded an ” urgent clarification “. He also insisted on an explanation about the ” costs to the Exchequer” of the arrangement. He was then sent a detailed document which showed that if he was paid through an agency it would cost less than if he was on the staff. Details of  the document are published tonight on the Exaronews website (www.exaronews.com)  and also detailed in a story by Rajeev Syal on the Guardian website(http://bit.ly/yWOy7H ).

Basically it is a scam explanation – revealing huge fees (£83,000) to be paid to Penna Consulting, the management firm, who acted as middlemen to pass money on to  his private company – if he was taken on the pay roll. It also suggested that his expenses of £550 a week for a flat and fare would have to be grossed up to cover his personal tax bill if he was on the staff.

Meanwhile the savings side if he was not on the pay roll included a whopping £17,000 to the SLC for avoiding paying the employers national insurance contribution.

 Any cursory glance at these figures by anybody reasonably intelligent would suggest that these were sham calculations and could have been knocked down, particularly the big fee to the agency. Yet the e-mails show Gus was ” content”.

Frankly this is as bad as Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, not realising the tax implications of the deal. Here one of the most highly paid people in Whitehall and head of the civil service appears to be oblivious of what he is sanctioning. What does this say of the ability of people at the top or are they so used to paying out such big fees (taxpayers money) that they don’t notice?

I have tried to contact Lord O’Donnell for an explanation but he has not returned my calls. And the Cabinet Office is now sheltering around the fact that Danny Alexander has ordered a review to stop answering questions – even though some of the points I have raised have nothing to do with the review. Senior civil servants seem rather good at covering their tracks – it is probably a key part of their training.