Yet Another HS2 Delay: Number 10 Watching Closely

Downing Street is monitoring the situation closely after HS2 delayed the awarding of a £170 million contract amid conflict of interest allegations. Following Guido’s stories on the revolving door between HS2 and American engineering firm CH2M, also covered extensively in the FT, Times and City AM, defeated bidder Mace threatened HS2 with legal action. They are understandably suspicious that the contract was handed to CH2M, the boss of HS2’s previous employer.

In response, HS2 has now delayed the signing of the contract with CH2M while it meets with Mace to discuss the allegations of a conflict of interest. Remember dozens of CH2M staff on secondment at HS2 continue to take home huge salaries while not a rail is being laid. Guido hears Number 10 is watching developments with increasing interest. Yet another HS2 delay…

New LibDem Donor Promoted Anti-Israel Website Which Defends Suicide Bombers

The LibDems’ new million pound donor has posted material advocating a boycott of Israel from a notorious website which expresses sympathy with suicide bombers. Greg Nasmyth, who it was revealed last week had made the major donation to the LibDems, posted a link to the Innovative Minds site calling for a boycott of companies “that support Apartheid Israel”Innovative Minds gained notoriety last year when it emerged the site had published sympathetic articles about suicide bombers, including a terrorist who murdered 19 Israelis outside a nightclub. The site has also claimed Israel has no right to exist and should be “dismantled”. When John McDonnell was caught posting links to Innovative Minds last year he was forced to delete the posts and condemn the site. The unhinged article shared by Nasmyth calls for a boycott of companies including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca Cola for “supporting Apartheid Israel“. Unfortunate for the party of David Ward…

Corbyn’s Numbers Don’t Tally With Government Accounts

Jeremy Corbyn’s team say he was paid just £27,192 in his role as Leader of the Opposition in the year 2015/16. Yet this does not tally with the government’s accounts – dug out by James Tapsfield – which say Corbyn was paid £30,587 in 2016/16. Why is Corbyn’s declaration not the same as this figure? Team Corbyn say the £27,192 figure comes from his P60. They don’t know why the government’s accounts show him being paid £30,587…

What’s more, his earnings as Leader of the Opposition are clearly a salary. As you can see above, the government accounts call it a “salary“. So why does it appear in the pensions section of his tax summary, not the salary section? Have to wonder if this tax stunt was worth it for Jez…

UPDATE: Statement from Labour six hours later.

£40,000 ‘Missing’ From Corbyn’s Tax Return

It’s Budget week so Jeremy Corbyn has published a summary of his tax return to put pressure on Theresa May and Philip Hammond. What could go wrong? Well, it appears £40,000 in earnings from his role as Leader of the Opposition are missing from his 2015/16 declaration. Corbyn declared £114,342 in earnings from his MP’s salary, outside earnings and pension. Yet the £40,000 he should have earned as Labour leader during the financial year does not appear on his return. It is an offence not to declare income correctly. Remember he messed up last year’s tax return too and had to pay a £100 fine. Corbyn also published his National Insurance number and his Unique Taxpayer Reference, which Guido is choosing not to reproduce. Shotgun loaded, aimed and fired straight into his own foot…

UPDATE: Statement from Team Corbyn:

“Claims in some media that Jeremy Corbyn failed to declare £40,000 of income to the taxman are untrue. The extra payment following Jeremy’s election as Labour leader of £27,192 is recorded in the tax return under the heading of ‘public office’. We are confident the total income of £114,342 in the tax return is correct, as is the income tax charge of £35,298. Nearly all the tax was paid at source.”
Corbyn says that for some reason he included the £27,192 LOTO salary in the “pensions and state benefits” section, hence the confusion – it took his team about four hours to work it out themselves and inform the media. They will only say they are “confident” the tax return and amount of tax paid are correct…

Hammond: Brexit Bill Won’t Be €60 Billion

Hammond says he doesn’t “recognise” the EU’s €60 billion Brexit bill figure though says Britain will pay what it owes…

And we will “fight back and forge new trade deals around the world” if we don’t get a trade deal with the EU…

Nick Timothy Was ‘In Charge’ of Thanet Campaign

The Tories have consistently denied that Downing Street chief of staff Nick Timothy worked directly on the expenses scandal-hit South Thanet campaign. CCHQ’s line has been that Timothy only “provided assistance for the Conservative Party’s national team“. Tim Ross’ book ‘Why the Tories won‘ – the authoritative inside account of the 2015 general election – tells a very different story. By this account Timothy was drafted in by Lynton Crosby to “take charge” of the Thanet campaign:

Lynton Crosby called in Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s special adviser, who had experience of working on successful by-election campaigns before the 2010 election. He was sent to take charge of the party’s flagging campaign to stop Farage in Thanet, where Henry Macrory, the party’s former press chief, and Marion Little, from CCHQ’s campaign team, were already on the ground. The CCHQ reinforcements found a campaign in Thanet devoid of effective messages, with no strategy for turning the tide….

Ross also places Timothy at a restaurant in Thanet when one Nigel Farage walked in:

On one otherwise unexceptional evening, Farage, his election strategist, Chris Bruni-Lowe, and a number of other team members were enjoying a meal and relaxing over a few drinks – or maybe more than a few, after a long day, one of those present recalls. At a table across the room sat the rival Conservative team, including Henry Macrory and Nick Timothy. Farage spotted the table of Tories and, ever the bon viveur, picked up his glass and wandered over to engage them in conversation. ‘So this is what I’m up against, is it?’ the UKIP leader joked, in an attempt to break the ice. But there was no sign of a thaw. The table of Conservatives put down their forks and turned to Farage, fixing him with a hard stare. ‘We all just kind of looked at him and didn’t really say anything. After a while he went away,’ one of the Tories recalls. Another source says the Conservatives muttered abuse at Farage and told him he was ‘splitting the right’ and risked allowing Labour to win. Farage quickly concluded his attempt to socialise with the enemy would be fruitless and so he left. ‘Well, if they want to be rude, fuck ’em,’ he thought as he returned to his table and sat back down.

The original Tory line on this is in danger of blowing up…

Hammond Blasted Labour’s “Shocking” Death Taxes as “Terrible Solution”

In today’s Times Rachel Sylvester reports that Philip Hammond is “raising the spectre of death taxes” to pay for social care. New death tax proposals on the table are said to include a compulsory social care levy on estates over a certain value. Sylvester says “the Tory taboo of taking money from someone after their death, along with the assumption that hard-working people should be able to hand their wealth down to their children, has been broken”. That is quite a shift from the famous Tory posters about Gordon Brown’s death tax.

When Labour proposed a levy to pay for social care in 2010 – a very similar policy to the one now reportedly being considered by the Treasury – the then Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond warned:

“The revelation that grieving families could be forced to stump up for a massive £4.5 billion a year death tax shows what a terrible solution this is to the problem of long term care. Labour should rule out a compulsory levy now so that we can get on with finding the right solutions for helping elderly people across the country.”

He also blasted Labour’s proposal as “shocking“:

“The more we see of Labour’s death tax plans, the more shocking they will appear to people. 

And he condemned Labour for taking money from those with savings when they die:

“When you die, a Labour Government would take £20,000 from what you leave to your children and family.”

Seven years later, could Hammond really be considering this for next week’s Budget?

Taxpayers Billed £60,000 Per Month For Conflicted HS2 Boss

Taxpayers were billed almost £60,000 per month so HS2 Ltd could hire the director of a firm it later awarded a £170 million contract. A written question by Cheryl Gillan reveals HS2 Ltd paid US engineering firm CH2M an astonishing £48,500 plus VAT per month pro rata for the services of interim chief executive Roy Hill. Under Hill’s tenure, HS2 awarded CH2M a highly controversial £170 million contract which is currently the subject of legal threats over conflict of interest allegations. The HS2 deal to hire Hill from CH2M is equivalent to a package worth £700,000 per year, nearly five times the salary of the Prime Minister. An extraordinary amount of money for any taxpayer-funded official, let alone one at the centre of a half-a-billion pound conflict of interest row. HS2 is already delayed and over budget, so it is hardly performance related pay. How do the Department for Transport possibly justify these numbers? 

Mosley Gives Watson Half a Million

Max Mosley has given Tom Watson another £300,000, meaning Labour’s deputy leader has accepted £500,000 in donations from Max in the last eight months. Imagine what Labour would say if a Cabinet minister had taken half a million quid from a former black-shirt who once punched a policeman in the face at a fascist rally…

200 Staff Went Through HS2 Revolving Door

Earlier this month Guido reported that HS2 Ltd had given half-a-billion pounds worth of taxpayer-funded contracts to CH2M, a US engineering firm that just happened to be the former company of the HS2 CEO. Well, now a rival construction business which lost out on the contract is threatening to sue HS2 Ltd over this alleged conflict of interest. Mace say they are “looking closely at our options”. Their case: CH2M was awarded the latest £170 million contract during the tenure of HS2 CEO Roy Hill, a former employee of CH2M. And the revolving door spins even faster than that – industry insiders claim CH2M currently has around 200 members of staff working for HS2. A CH2M man took charge of HS2, HS2 hired 200 CH2M staff, and then HS2 awarded CH2M a huge contract… Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money spent without a rail being laid…

Top Merkel Ally Slaps Down Juncker Over Brexit Bill

A top ally of Angela Merkel has strongly criticised Jean-Claude Juncker for threatening Britain with a “very hefty” Brexit bill on day one of the negotiation. CDU Home Affairs spokesman Stephan Meyer told the Today programme:

“I am not very happy, to be frank, with the statement of Jean-Claude Juncker. The negotiations haven’t started yet and I think it’s not very clever and it’s not very fair also to mention such sums and such amounts… It’s not very smart now to start these negotiations with such amounts which are mentioned.”

This backs up the report in yesterday’s Times which said Merkel was siding with Britain over Juncker and Michel Barnier over an immediate Brexit bill. It is possible that Britain will end up paying a smaller charge for the future aspects of the relationship we want to keep, for example the Erasmus programme for students. What Theresa May cannot accept is a €60 billion bill on day one of the negotiations. The government’s plan has always been to appeal to German self-interest rather than deal with, as ministers call them in private, the “ayatollahs of the European Commission”…

Taxi For Baroness D’Souza

Interesting timing for the new BBC documentary on the House of Lords. The choice quote is from Baroness D’Souza:

“There is a core of peers who work incredibly hard, who do that work, and there are, sad to say, many, many, many peers who contribute absolutely nothing but who claim the full allowance. I can remember one occasion when I was leaving the House quite late and there was a peer – who shall be utterly nameless – who jumped out of a taxi just outside the peers’ entrance, left the engine running. He ran in, presumably to show that he’d attended, and then ran out again while the taxi was still running. So I mean that’s not normal, but it is something that does happen and I think that we have lost the sense of honour that used to pertain, and that is a great, great shame.”

That would be the same Baroness D’Souza who infamously billed the taxpayer £230 to keep a chauffeur-driven car waiting for four hours while she watched an opera a mile from Parliament. As well as another £270 bill to keep the meter running while she had lunch with the Japanese ambassador. And another £738 to keep a Mercedes parked while she attended an event at Windsor Castle. D’Souza also spent £4,000 of taxpayer cash on flowers for her office and £1,120 for drinks and a trip to the ballet with a delegation from Russia. “We have lost the sense of honour and that is a great shame…”

Arron Banks Sues Over Russia Claims

Arron Banks is suing Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council, which accused him of serving as a “key pro-Russian actor in the UK”. He’s unhappy with their report “The Kremlin’s Trojans”, which describes Banks and Leave.EU / Grassroots Out as having links with “pro-Russian figures”, namely UKIP and George Galloway. Banks says the report accuses him of being a “Russian agent” who is “clandestinely working for Russia”. Guido has had a quick read – the bit specifically about Banks doesn’t seem to make those claims, though the introduction does talk about “Trojan horses” working for the Kremlin. Banks is also suing 3 British MPs though his spinner says he cannot name them for legal reasons. Remember Banks himself wound the rumours up by claiming a “KGB man” took him to the Russian Embassy. Expect they will settle quickly…

Bercow’s Freebies-For-Access

John Bercow is famous for his love of freebies – he has one of the longest Register of Interests of anyone in parliament. Take the Lawn Tennis Association, from whom he has accepted some £3,000 of hospitality over the last two years. In September 2015 they paid for the Speaker’s tickets to the Davis Cup. Last summer they sponsored him to attend both the Aegon International and the Aegon Championships. In the autumn he was at the Davis Cup again, also courtesy of the LTA, with two free tickets worth £1,385. What does the LTA actually get in return for giving the Speaker all these free tickets? A Freedom of Information reveals Bercow has quite literally returned the favour by hosting members of the LTA’s executive team at a reception at Speaker’s House. Throwing open the corridors of power so execs could glad-hand, lobby and drink wine with politicians in the Speaker’s lavish residence, all paid for by the taxpayer. A bang to rights case of freebies-for-access, the sort of petty abuse of position that causes so many to want Bercow gone…

HS2’s Half-a-Billion Pound Revolving Door With US Contractor

HS2 Ltd has today awarded a £170 million taxpayer-funded contract to its CEO’s previous employer. As Guido illustrates above, this is the latest evidence of a revolving door between HS2 and the American engineering firm CH2M. The golden handshakes date back to 2012, when CH2M was appointed as HS2’s “Phase 1 delivery partner”. In March 2016 the firm was appointed as HS2’s “engineering delivery partner”. These contracts were worth some £350 million.

Seven months later, in October 2016, CH2M’s Roy Hill was appointed as the interim CEO of HS2, on secondment from CH2M. Last month HS2 appointed another CEO. Can you guess where from? Mark Thurston also joined from CH2M, replacing his former CH2M predecessor. Very, very cosy…

This afternoon a press release from HS2 Ltd arrived in Guido’s inbox:

“Plans to bring HS2 to Manchester and Leeds took a step forward today with the confirmation that contracts will be awarded to CH2M… CH2M will be become Phase Two B Development Partner”

The contract is worth some £170 million – the shortlist was announced under Roy Hill’s tenure. HS2 Ltd “is an executive non-departmental public body” funded by the taxpayer via a grant-in-aid from the Department for Transport. They have just given a massive taxpayer-funded contract to their CEO’s old company – this smells… 

Black and White Ball “Just About Managings” Include Supercar Tycoon

Last night’s Black and White Ball – sorry, “Party” – was supposed to be a modest affair. Tory organisers promised the event would be open to the “just about managing”, offering cheapo £75 tickets to move the guest list away from the opulence of international playboy millionaires of past years. Among the humble ordinary folk to grace Battersea Evolution last night was Anthony Keating, “representing” just-about-managing Bolton. By which meek means does Anthony make a living? As you can see from the photos on his Twitter feed, he’s the founder of Keating Supercars, which “takes sports car driving to a new level” with cars costing £750,000:

Tory spinners earned their wages convincing the papers that this year’s event would not be about “the privileged few”…

Bercow Hosted North Korea and Vietnam For Tea in Parliament

John Bercow had representatives from the authoritarian regimes of North Korea and Vietnam round for tea and charged the bill to the taxpayer, Guido can reveal. On 16 July 2009, the Speaker hosted a reception on the parliamentary estate for the vice chairman of Vietnam’s national assembly, at a cost of £81 to the taxpayer. At the time the Vietnamese press reported:

“Vice Chairman Luu held a separate meeting with the newly appointed Speaker of the U.K. House of Commons John Bercow in which he delivered Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong’s congratulations on Bercow’s election and an invitation for him to visit Vietnam soon.”

Vietnam is a communist one party state. Human Rights Watch says “Vietnam’s human rights record remains dire in all areas”, with no democracy and routine use of torture by the police. Bercow charged the taxpayer to have them round for tea.

On 28 March 2011, the Speaker had representatives from the North Korean regime round for tea in the Speaker’s House. A Freedom of Information response shows Bercow hosted a party of four including the “Speaker of North Korea”. Human Rights Watch says “North Korea remains among the world’s most repressive countries. All basic freedoms have been severely restricted”. Bercow’s team insist they met “to tell him candidly what they thought of the conduct of his regime”. Yet he won’t extend an invite to the leader of the free world…

UKIP MEP Ordered to Pay £160,000 to Rotherham MPs

UKIP MEP Jane Collins has been ordered to pay over £160,000 to the three Rotherham Labour MPs she libelled about the town’s child abuse scandal. The MPs had wanted £150,000 each, though a court today ruled Collins must may £54,000 to Kevin Barron, John Healey and Sarah Champion. Collins will also have to pay significant costs. A very expensive party conference speech.

Denis MacShane Condemns Expenses Cheats

You might want to sit down before you read this. Denis MacShane has written an opinion piece for CityAM laying into politicians who fiddle their expenses. Yes, that’s the convicted expenses fraudster Denis MacShane. Criticising politicians who cheat the taxpayer. You couldn’t make this up.

“The revelations that Francois Fillon has been using parliamentary funds to pay his wife and family are now getting so strong and so reeking that it is hard to see how he can continue. Fillon portrayed himself as Monsieur Irréprochable, France’s Mr Clean, and now he has been infected by the English MPs’ disease of putting wives, sons and daughters on the parliamentary payroll.

But Marine Le Pen has similar problems. Yesterday, the European Parliament demanded she pay back €300,000 she took in parliamentary expenses and used to pay two associates who did party political work. She is up to her ears in dodgy loans from Kremlin controlled banks and any spotlight on exotic political money changing hands catches her in its beam.”

“Reeking” misuse of parliamentary funds? “Infected by the English MPs’ disease“? “Dodgy” deals and “exotic political money changing hands”? Is MacShane on a wind up?

The disgraced crook was jailed for making £13,000 of bogus expenses claims – he got away with fiddling even more. He was guilty of filing a total of 19 fake expenses receipts. At the Old Bailey Mr Justice Sweeney said of MacShane’s crimes:

“The dishonesty involved was considerable and was repeated many times over a long period. The deception used was calculated and designed to avoid suspicion falling on your claims.”

And now this convicted fraudster is shamelessly writing lofty newspaper columns lambasting expense fiddlers?  Next week – Rolf Harris on childcare…

Baroness Scotland’s Aide Matthew Doyle Caught Red-Handed

With the Baroness Scotland scandal back in the news, her former special adviser Matthew Doyle went out to bat for her on the World at One. He was grilled repeatedly about his massive taxpayer-funded contract, refusing to answer several times before claiming the figures reported are wrong:

BBC: “It’s been reported that you yourself were paid £15,000 per month.”

Doyle: “Yeah and you’ve seen these sorts of stories about the official residence… I think what’s important to recognise is the fact that the official residence is redecorated every time there’s a new Secretary-General.

[…] Read the rest

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