A tainted and improper appointment by Nicky Morgan

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On the day  of the Hillsborough  disaster verdict Nicky Morgan,  education secretary  with a sideshow job as women and equalities minister, slipped out that she had appointed a new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

On the scale of wrong decision making this probably trumps her plan to force all schools to become academies,describe budget cuts as a consultation exercise and avoiding live TV coverage of her remarks on child sex abuse  at a conference in her Loughborough constituency last year. I will explain why.

The appointment of David Isaac, a millionaire lawyer and equity partner at the global law firm, Pinsent Masons, has been highly controversial.

The two chairs of the Joint Committee of Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee –  Labour’s Harriet Harman and the Conservative’s Maria Miller – were unable to confirm the appointment because of perceived conflict of interest. Both are highly experienced ex  ministers and both took top legal advice before they objected.

The most damning evidence  against this appointment comes from another highly distinguished lawyer, Michael Carpenter, the Speakers Counsel. He was asked by both chairs as to whether the appointment met the strict criteria of what are known as the Nolan  Principles ( named after Lord Nolan, the first chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life). These lay down strict guidelines of selflessness,integrity, objectivity,accountability,openness, honesty and leadership. They were brought in after the aftermath of the corrupt ” cash for questions ” scandal and apply to every public appointment.

Mr Isaac’s appointment fails to meet two of these standards – selflessness and integrity.

As Mr Carpenter highlights Mr Isaac  failed to meet the selflessness standard – because holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. (His emphasis added) . He failed to meet the  integrity standard  because holders of public office must declare and resolve any interests and relationships. (His emphasis added).

Mr Carpenter concluded that because Mr Isaac both remained as an equity partner with responsibility for the development of the law firm which had many government contracts and because he was also a practising lawyer with a duty of confidentiality to his clients – some of which could be investigated by the Commission- that he would not fulfil the Nolan principles. Mr Isaac will be earning ten times his salary as an equity partner with Pinsent Masons  than his salary as commission chair.

He also concluded that a promise of keeping Chinese walls in his legal work by Mr Isaac would not work in this case.

He concluded: “It is difficult to predict where the overlap between these two bodies may result in an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest. With the best will in the world, Mr Isaac may well not be aware of a problem until it is published elsewhere – at that point, a “Chinese Wall” will be ineffective and too late.”

Now in her rush to  appoint Isaac  Nicky Morgan  decided to ignore this advice. Her reasoning is perverse. She actually argues in a letter that having a conflict of interest in public life is a good thing.

She wrote: “What is important is that there is transparency around these interests and that appropriate action is taken to deal with any potential conflicts. Mr Isaac’s CV refers clearly to these interests and, given his openness and assurances to deal with any actual or perceived conflicts of interest, I feel that is to be welcomed rather than a cause for concern. “

How wrong can you get.. You can’t trade off one Nolan Principle against another. It’s illogical and plainly improper.

Frankly her decision could well be the start of slippery slope where people ( not Mr Isaac in this case) with dodgy private connections get access to public jobs.

Mr Isaac has delayed accepting the job until he has further talks with Commission. Very wise.

If  he accepts both he and the Commission will be tainted. And among his  legal peers he will be regarded as the first public appointment that compromised the Nolan Principles.

And if there is ever any breach of any equality or gender law in Pinsent Masons he will find himself at the centre of  a  storm.

Nicky Morgan has been extremely stupid . I hope it comes back to haunt her political career for the rest of her life.

I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.

 

Top lawyer faces storm over ” perceived conflict of interest” in government job

David Isaac Pinsent Masons

David Isaac: Controversy over his planned appointment to chair the Equality and Human rights Commission

Nicky Morgan education secretary Wikipedia

Nicky Morgan : education Secretary who recommended his appointment as preferred candidate

 

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A row will break out when Parliament returns over the government’s choice for the new chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee have delayed approving the government preferred candidate, David Isaac, a lawyer earning over £500,000 a year because of a “ perceived conflict of interest “ between his new job and his  firm’s financial interests.

The chairs of both committee, both experienced ex ministers, Harriet Harman and Maria Miller, have decided to summon Nicky Morgan, the education secretary who has responsibility for equalities; Sir David Normington, Commissioner for Public Appointments and Sue Gray,Director-General, Propriety and Ethics Team at the Cabinet Office, to a hearing as soon as possible after Parliament returns. I have written about this in Tribune magazine..

The row followed the disclosure during a pre- appointment scrutiny hearing  before Easter that Mr Isaac, a partner in lawyers Pinsent Masons, would keep a equity share holding in the firm while being the new chair. The British law firm has global ambitions.

Pinsent Masons has substantial government contracts  in fields covered by the commission and Mr Isaac would stand to get a share of the profits from these contracts. He earns £500,000 a year as an equity partner compared £50,000 as part time chair of the commission.

The committees were promised that there would be “Chinese Walls” created to ensure Mr Isaac would have no say over any new contracts but were not satisfied and asked to see documentation to ensure that this was the case.

The committees then consulted their panel adviser on the matter and got nowhere.

As the letter  from the committee chairs to Nicky Morgan says: “The Committees sought information from the panel assessor who will have considered in detail potential conflicts of interest as part of the process that determined Mr Isaac is an ‘appointable candidate’.

“ However, we were told that under the terms of the Liaison Committee and Cabinet Office guidance such documents could not be released to the Select Committees either in part or in full. As a result, the committees were unable to undertake one of their purposes as set out by the Liaison Committee terms of reference: “scrutiny of the quality of ministerial decision-making”.

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “David Isaac has an impressive track record and brings a range of experience both from his work on LGBT issues and human rights and as an experienced lawyer. We believe that as chair of the EHRC he will be a strong and effective advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.

“We are confident there are no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. All possible conflicts were explored during the recruitment process, which was overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments. In addition, as is usual with significant appointments such as these, there will be a clear framework in place to avoid any potential perceived conflicts.”

His biography on Pinsent Masons says :

“David is a partner and head of the Advanced Manufacturing & Technology sector. He specialises in providing clients with strategic advice on major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects.

Independently recognised for his wealth of knowledge and experience, David leads teams of lawyers on major projects for amongst others DWP, the Home Office,  Transport for London and BP plc. He lectures and writes extensively on IT and legal matters. He is Chair of Modern Art Oxford, a Director of the Big Lottery Fund and a Trustee of both the Human Dignity Trust and 14-18 Now.  He was Chair of Stonewall from 2003 to 2012 and a Trustee of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund from 2005 until it spent out in 2013.”

Police close to charges in Tom Watson’s VIP paedophile ring allegations

The Met Police are close to charging people in the investigation sparked off by Tom Watson’s claims of a paedophile ring at the time of the Thatcher government.

A report in Exaro News reveals that after interviewing and contacting some 100 people police are confident  that they have a number of high profile witnesses -including an Anglican bishop, a pre eminent businessman and a well known journalist – who have given statements alleging sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse.

 The victims have come forward under Operation Cayacos – a spin-off from the original scoping study, Operation Fairbank – which has now been going on for over 18 months.

Watson alleged in Parliament that a network run by Peter Righton, the notorious paedophile, reached into the top levels of British politics. The MP raised the issue in prime minister’s questions soon after the exposure of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC star, as a paedophile.

The late Righton – at one time regarded as a leading specialist in child protection – was a founder of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), which promoted sex with children. The organisation has recently been in the centre of a furious row after the Daily Mail published a series of  stories showing that it was affiliated to the National Council for Civil Liberties during a period when Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, was its legal adviser.  Harman has accused the Daily Mail of smears.

Patricia Hewitt, a former Labour Cabinet minister was  general secretary of the NCCL and according to The Guardian was involved in discussions  with PIE over lowering the age of consent for sexual activity.

According to the witness, Righton boasted of links to powerful figures in government.

When police raided Righton’s house in Evesham, Worcestershire in 1992, they found hard-core images of child abuse from Amsterdam and a “quarter-century of correspondence” between paedophiles in Britain and around the world. But police failed to follow-up the leads at the time, prompting allegations by Watson 16 months ago of an ‘establishment’ cover-up.

  The move suggests that the police have made  more progress in this investigation than in Operation Fernbridge – which has led to two people facing trial at Southwark Crown Court in May.

 

Could seven millionaire donors bankrupt Labour?

In denial: Harriet Harman Pic-courtesy http//:thisislondon.co.uk

The Labour Party is sitting on a financial time bomb which could go off at the next general election in 2015.

Tony Blair  made great play when Lord

In the money: Chai Patel pic courtesy:BBC

Levy managed to recruit millionaire donors to the party to end its dominance by union money. The whole thing ended in tears after the ” cash for peerages” scandal. Even though there was not a single prosecution  this brought unwelcome publicity for all concerned.

The result was that some got their money back and the rest agreed to keep their money there to prevent Labour going bust. Everybody thought that the loans were interest free and they were.

But from August 1 last year the seven remaining millionaires started getting an inflation busting 6.5 per cent  on the £8.9m they had lent the party. Not only was this far better than the C0-op Bank’s modest 3.5 per cent charged on a £2m credit facility to the party but nobody anywhere else could get like it from a bank or building society.

The seven remaining millionaires are Sir Richard  Caring, owner of The Ivy restaurant, Soho House and Annabels night club,£2m ;Sir David Garrard, retired City property developer, £2m after he converted £300,000 into a donation; Dr Chai Patel,  former owner of The Priory rehabilitation centre and now running a private equity company, £1.5 m; Rod Aldridge, former founder of outsourcing firm Capita and now running a trust, £1m; Nigel Morris, founder of Capital One, a loans and savings bank £1m; stockbroker, Barry Townsley, £1m and Sir Derek Tulloch, financier and executive chair of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, £400,000.

Two donors –Nigel Morris and Barry Townsley – according to an Electoral Commission document have upped their interest rate to 6.75 per cent.

One of the outstanding donors, Sir Richard Caring, is now a supporter of David Cameron and has donated some £140,000 in gifts and prizes to party events.

Most of the others now seem to have retired from business and are running trusts and in Rod Aldridge’s case, two academy schools with two more in the pipeline.

Labour’s attitude so far has been ostrich like. Harriet Harman, the deputy party chair, when questioned at the Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch this month  by me about this said this: ” Don’t believe what you read or for that matter what you write.”

Well, Harriet I do believe that Labour’s returns to the Electoral Commission are honest and above-board and that is what they say, for better or worse.  Make up you own mind, see them here.http://registers.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/labpartyloans.cfm.

The horror about this situation is that I calculate that the rolled up interest could add almost another £2m to a party that doesn’t have a lot of cash. It can only be paid back by relying on party members or union donations and is all due plus interest on 30 September 2015.

It also lays the party open to serious repercussions. If I were a particularly mischievous official at Conservative Central Office I might whisper into the ear of my new supporter, Sir Richard Caring, and suggest he might just demand his money back  as Labour is fighting an election.

Labour’s NEC  needs to start planning now how they are going to handle this. Otherwise the People’s Party has put itself at the mercy of some very rich and powerful people with the potential to bankrupt them.