As accusations of misconduct swirl around government – from Nadhim Zahawi’s tax fine to Rishi’s seatbelt slip-up – Guido can perhaps illuminate another instance of Prime Ministerial impropriety. Following previous revelations that Kuti Miah, the restaurateur who gave Rishi the “best training I’ve ever had”, repeatedly liquidated his restaurant’s companies and didn’t adequately distribute furlough cash to workers, Guido has been looking more closely at Sunak’s story.
The PM has described his time with Kuti as his “first job” as other reports say the PM worked for “pocket money”. Kuti, meanwhile, is quoted as saying Rishi worked shifts “for fun”. It’s understandable why the restaurateur might want to deflect attention from his payment practices…
A number of Kuti’s former staff allege that he often paid cash in hand. In a public Facebook comment, one worker claims they were paid off the books. The practise is contextualised by the following charge that they, and three of their colleagues, are still owed over £7,700 collectively.
Another confirmed to Guido that Kuti switched their payments to cash in hand during the pandemic, whilst other colleagues were perpetually paid off the books. Rishi said his curry house experience gave him an “appreciation of business and the importance of treating people fairly”. Kuti’s employees might have something to say about that.
As public finances buckle, treasury coffers could do with all the contributions they can get. It begs the obvious question, was Rishi paid cash in hand?
After Guido first revealed that Rishi’s former curry house employer was experiencing tough times, and then that these might not be entirely unusual for its owner, Guido can now reveal yet more of Kuti Miah’s dubious business dealings.
Rishi’s ex-boss, mentor and family friend came off well from the former Chancellor’s covid support. Kuti’s Brasserie put staff on furlough, accepting Rishi’s state subsidy, and yet conveniently failed to pass on this windfall to its employees. Kuti has form for not paying staff what was due to them. At an employment tribunal Kuti was forced to repay over £2,200 to one claimant over unpaid holiday pay:
Others weren’t so lucky, a former staff member says that:
“[Neither] me nor any of my colleagues got paid furlough, and if we did it would total something silly like £80 a month”.
The resulting financial hardship forced them into another job…
Kuti’s furlough funds came on top of £40,000 in covid loans that weren’t repaid after one of the many iterations of his restaurant’s company liquidated. If Rishi really wants the government to get to grips with wasted taxpayer covid cash, he might want to look a little closer to home.
To make matters worse, Kuti’s covid payments didn’t even stop him from flouting the rules. His restaurant was issued a fixed penalty notice for staying open during the pandemic.
With Liz Truss announcing that as PM she would declare China an “acute threat” — whatever that means, Guido has been perusing Tory links to China. Liz might want to consider some of her party’s donors before she can be taken seriously.
Billionaire Tory donor, Hong Kong tai-pan, and former owner of The Spectator, Sir Henry Keswick, is proving himself to be quite the political chameleon — with his political allegiances miraculously changing east of Suez. Guido was amused to see photos out of Hong Kong sent by a co-conspirator that show Hongkong Land, a subsidiary of Sir Henry’s family company, Jardine Matheson, paying for hundreds of Chinese propaganda posters that have been installed across much of central Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of the handover.
These posters hailed the arrival of “Stability. Prosperity. Opportunity”. This joyous patriotic occasion was marked by a sham rigged election of a new Chief Executive, a visit by Xi Jinping, and the banning of media organisations from attending events. 47 democrats are soon to go on trial for ‘subversion’ after 15 months in custody for holding an election primary — for their own party. Sir Henry clearly hasn’t read his wife’s advice about not “grovelling up to China”.
Back in the UK, Sir Henry has been enjoying his well-earned retirement. When not shooting at his 18,000-acre country pad, Sir Henry has kept up with his hobby of donating to the Conservative party — around £800,000 in the last five years. Guido couldn’t help noticing that some of these donations are often conveniently timed around when Jardine Matheson representatives meet with government ministers. Handy. Others who have enjoyed the fruits of Sir Henry’s hard work include Jacob Rees-Mogg (£2,000), Dominic Raab (£2,000), Nickie Aitken (£2,000). Winner, however, was fellow OE, Danny Kruger (£10,000). Jardine Matheson is now led by Sir Henry’s nephew, Ben. Sir Henry remains chairman-emeritus. Fortunately for Sir Henry, he doesn’t have to worry about recouping his losses — his net worth increased by a cheeky £2.4 billion in 2020.
Guido has a lot of time for the Father of the House, Peter Bottomley. He was clear in the debate on Paterson, and he was right. His suggestion in The Times this morning on how to improve Parliament, “pay MPs more“, however, is not right. £81,932 is more than sufficient, and puts you in the top 3% of earners. Voters will not sympathise with Peter when he pleads for more money.
Many Tory MPs complain that it is simply not enough to raise a family, and won’t even cover the school fees. Here’s a thought: don’t go into politics if you want to finance an expensive lifestyle. Make some money first. The modern politico’s ascent of the greasy pole – graduate, become a researcher or a lobbyist, then get a SpAd job or work in the party HQ, then run for Parliament and become a minister in your late twenties / early thirties – means you are unlikely to have made much money at a time when your peers who did not go into politics are starting a family and getting a mortgage. It is a recipe for financial envy.
It also means our political class have little real world experience outside politics. Michael Heseltine had it right when he said people should make their place (and some money) in the real world before going into politics. If you can’t have the lifestyle you want on an MP’s pay, don’t go into politics young…
See also Performance Related Pay for MPs
Further to Guido’s story yesterday that the Bercows have over £400,000 in the bank, an eagle-eyed bean counting co-conspirator spotted a detail tucked away near the bottom of their company’s accounts: the outline of an accounting policy for government grants. That policy is typically only for businesses which have relied on the furlough scheme.
Given that the accounts statement also shows the company only employs two people (John and Sally), there are a limited number of ways the grants could have been spent. Guido wonders whether these tough economic times left John with no choice other than to furlough Sally for the past year…
UPDATE: HMRC documents reveal that the Bercows did claim furlough money, with the report showing that their company (Fedhead Ltd.) made three claims across December 2020, January 2021, and February 2021 for a total of up to £30,000.
Keir Starmer has joined a long list of MPs attacking the inflation-busting pay rise being handed to them, calling for the cash to go to key workers instead. Pay setting body IPSA has a structure deliberately designed by MPs after the 2009 expenses scandal to give them plausibly deniable cover for expense claims and pay hikes. “Nothing to do with us, it is independent” is the excuse MPs trot out. Well Parliament is sovereign and they can rule that a pay rise will not be awarded this year in solidarity with the people, as has happened in other legislatures around the world.
IPSA is set to authorise a 4.1% per cent increase – taking MPs’ salaries up by about £3,360 from £81,932 to over £85,000. Which means a newly elected MP, a couple of years out of university with no experience, immediately will be in the top 2% of earners. This is not a pay scale commensurate with the real world in normal times, it certainly is not commensurate with the current situation of the voters whom MPs represent. Unemployment is surging by thousands every day, millions of furloughed workers are facing a 33% cut in already low incomes, even if you have a job the prospect of a pay rise is small. MPs are not in this together with the rest of us…
IPSA is hiding behind a formula based on public sector average weekly earnings. There is no performance related aspect to MPs pay. Turn up, don’t turn up. Vote in person, drop in on Zoom. Whatever happens they get paid and they get pay rises. Unlike the rest of us.
In the real world workers get performance related pay – MPs should too. MPs are supposed to improve our lives by raising the standard of living for all. A measure of that is GDP per capita. Pegging MPs’ pay to GDP per capita would link their prosperity to the prosperity of all voters, not just the judges and generals that MPs want to be on a par with. The representatives of the people should prosper with the people. If we get richer as a whole, their pay goes up, if we get poorer, their pay goes down. This will incentivise politicians to enact policies that make the people prosper.
IPSA is running a public consultation and Guido’s friends at the Taxpayers’ Alliance have come up with a handy tool to convey co-conspirators thoughts on MPs’ pay to IPSA. If you want MPs pay to be aligned with performance, now is your chance to push for that to IPSA…