HS2 Don’t Deny They’re About to Can CH2M

HS2 is refusing to deny that they are about to scrap their scandal-hit £170 million contract with CH2M following Guido’s revelations of conflicts of interest. On a long day of spin yesterday, DfT and HS2 officials declined to answer Guido’s questions on whether the contract with CH2M would still go ahead. A spokesman would only say:

“The matter remains under discussion. We will let people know when those discussions conclude. We’re not providing any other comment at this stage.”

This morning’s FT quotes a source close to CH2M as saying: “CH2M has been told that they either stand down or they will be kicked off. It is going to happen this week”. Good time to bury bad news…

Taxpayer Billed £100 Million After Government Breached EU Procurement Rules

The taxpayer has been hit with a £100 million bill after the government breached EU procurement rules over a contract to decommission nuclear power plants. Business Secretary Greg Clark today confirmed the compensation will be paid to American companies Energy Solutions and Bechtel after the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority awarded the £6 billion contract to Cavendish Fluor Group. Energy Solutions argued the decision breached the EU’s public procurement rules as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority did not “award the contract to the most economically advantageous tenderer”. This went against the EU’s Public Sector Directive, and therefore Energy Solutions were qualified for a remedy under the Remedies Directive. A giant cock-up by the government, but it’s EU law that has cost the taxpayer the equivalent of the salaries of 4,500 NHS nurses…

Gravy Train: HS2 Awards Contracts to 17 PR Agencies

The taxpayer is funding a preposterous 17 (seventeen!) PR agencies to provide communications advice to HS2, the Department for Transport have disclosed in response to a parliamentary question. The 17 comms firms which have been paid by the taxpayer to spin for the beleaguered project are:

JBP Associates, Blue Rubicon, MHP Communications, Brand and Deliver, Brandnew, M-is, Precedent Communications, Crown Business Communications, PRgloo, Booz & Company, SKV Communications, Emergn, Stairway Communications, Gorkana, Hopscotch Consulting, Weber Shandwick, Westbourne Communications

12 other consultancy and production firms have also been handed lucrative contracts:

JBP Associates, ATK Productions, Future Thinking, NLA Media Access, NTA Monitor, Consultation Institute, Dialogue by Design, Elro Associates, Emergn, The Edge Picture Company, The Skills Show, Tomboy Films

Why does the taxpayer need to fund all these companies when not a rail on the HS2 line has yet been laid? Why does HS2 possibly need 17 taxpayer-funded spin shops? Know they are getting bad press but come on…

HS2 Delays Contract AGAIN Over Conflicts of Interest

HS2 has delayed the controversial award of a £170 million contract for a second time as it investigates conflict of interest concerns. Last week we reported how the taxpayer-funded contract to construction firm CH2M had not been signed off because a rival bidder, Mace, had threatened legal action. They claim the deal was conflicted because the current and former bosses of HS2, Mark Thurston and Roy Hill, both previously worked for CH2M. The revolving door makes George Osborne’s multi-jobbing seem above board.

Mace has now appointed a QC to advise them, and was due to have a second meeting with HS2 last week to discuss concerns. Yet HS2 delayed that meeting after failing to conclude its internal investigation into the conflicts of interest in time. Mace say:

“It is right and proper that HS2 are taking our concerns over conflict of interest and tender process seriously. However, it is taking a significant amount of time for HS2 to conclude their investigations.”

This is costing taxpayers thousands and thousands of pounds, all the while delaying HS2 again and again…

How Mackinlay Gained Financial Advantage Over Farage

The Electoral Commission report is conservative in its conclusions on Tory overspending in South Thanet. The Commission say they “cannot determine precisely” whether Craig Mackinlay breached his spending limit because of the party’s failure to keep records. Look closely however and is clear that Mackinlay breached his limit. 

Mackinlay reported short campaign expenses of £14,837.77. His short campaign limit was £15,016.38, meaning he was £178.61 below the spending threshold. The Electoral Commission says Mackinlay did not declare expenses for his South Thanet team to stay at the Royal Harbour hotel in the short campaign between 20 April and 7 May 2015. Given Mackinlay was just £178.61 away from busting his limit, this alone puts him over. And that’s before going anywhere near the pro-rata salary costs of CCHQ officials being added to the bill.

More generally, the Electoral Commission concludes:

“the inclusion in the Party return of what in the Commission’s view should have been reported as candidate spending meant that there was a realistic prospect that this enabled its candidates to gain a financial advantage over opponents”

Apply this specifically to South Thanet, and it is clear that because Mackinlay breached his spending limit he “gained a financial advantage” over Nigel Farage. UKIP will say, with some justification, that this is grounds to re-run the Thanet election…

Tories Fined £70,000 | Treasurer Faces Charges | Thanet Could Be Re-Run

The Electoral Commission report into Tory election spending is out. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Tories fined £70,000
  • £104,765 missing from 2015 election return
  • Another £118,124 not reported or reported incorrectly
  • A further 81 payments to the value of £52,924 missing
  • Registered Tory treasurer and former Tory party CEO, now CFO, Simon Day committed three contraventions under section 41 and two offences under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA
  • Day committed an offence in relation to spending in South Thanet in 2015
  • Tories overspent in Newark, Rochester & Strood and Clacton by-elections in 2014

The Tories admit fault: “This is the first time the Conservative Party has been fined for a reporting error. We regret that and will continue to keep our internal processes under review to ensure this does not happen again”. This means that Labour, LibDems and the Tories have all had maximum fines for breaching electoral laws in 2015.

Guido’s take is that the Tories will probably get away with just fines for the by-election over-spends in Clacton, Rochester & Strood and Newark. South Thanet however looks likely to be re-run. Eighth time lucky for Nige?

Crackdown on MPs Shagging Secretaries

MPs will be banned from hiring their wives and husbands at the taxpayer’s expense after the next election. Taxpayers will however be disappointed to learn that the rule change only affects new hires, meaning the 150 “connected parties” currently paid by the taxpayer at a cost of £4 million a year will be allowed to keep their jobs. Good news for the likes of £45,000-a-year Mrs Bone.

Guido has found one other amusing rule in the new code. MPs who shack up with their secretaries – and there have been a few in this parliament already – will only be allowed to employ them for two years “after the point at which they become connected parties”.

Guido dreads to think how they determine at which point the MP and his secretary become “connected”…

DCLG Offered Surrey Council Unique Deal

It has consistently been the Number 10 / DCLG line that no sweetheart deal or gentleman’s agreement was offered to Surrey council. The above email published by the BBC shows that DCLG’s Director of Local Government Finance Matthew Style clearly did offer a unique “draft of a draft” deal “in confidence”, which proposed more cash for Surrey and a plan to make them the first two tier council to pilot 100% business rates retention. Three days later Style withdrew the offer:

It’s getting lost in the Budget noise, but this would appear to show a deal was at least initially proposed, contrary to the government’s spin…

Osborne Earning £650,000 For Four Days’ Work a Month

Yesterday George Osborne was tweeting about how when he was Chancellor “we were all in this together”. Today this entry in the Register of MPs’ Interests dropped:

That’s £650,000 a year for four days’ work a month. Nice day for that news to come out…

Surrey Council Leader Admits “Gentleman’s Agreement” in Leaked Tape

Pre-Budget bombshell for the government: BBC Surrey has got hold of a leaked recording where Surrey council leader David Hodge admits he secured a “gentleman’s agreement” with the government over the council tax referendum. In the leaked tape Hodge says he has written assurances and recordings from ministers including Sajid Javid. He says he secured a “gentleman’s agreement” with the government – something he and Number 10 have publicly denied. And he claims Javid met with Philip Hammond and then relayed to Surrey council “things we could say and things we couldn’t say”.

When Corbyn made the allegations of a sweetheart deal at PMQs Theresa May accused him of “alternative facts”. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that “the suggestion there was extra money promised” was “without any basis”. Uh oh…

UPDATE: Tim Farron calls for Theresa May to come to the House to apologise.

UPDATE II: Team Corbyn say the PM’s spokesman has “clearly lied”.

UPDATE III: A government spokesman dumps on David Hodge:

“As we have repeatedly made clear, there was no special deal for Surrey County Council and they will not receive any extra funding that would not otherwise be provided or offered to other councils. To imply the opposite is simply untrue.

Hammond Transferred Shares and Property to His Wife

Philip Hammond very sensibly says he will not be publishing his tax return, saving himself the grief that Corbyn had yesterday. It also saves the Chancellor from having to talk about Castlemead Ltd. In 2010 Hammond was the subject of a Dispatches investigation which accused him of “doing a Philip Green”, transferring 40% of his shares in Castlemead – which had already paid him millions in dividend payments – to his wife. The programme claimed that any payouts Mrs Hammond then received from the company could be taxed at a lower rate, potentially giving the Hammonds a nifty tax saving. The other 60% of the shares were put in a trust, of which he remains a beneficiary to this day. At the time Hammond strongly denied he had avoided any tax, though he confirmed tax on the dividends would be lower if his wife was in a lower tax band than him. He declined to discuss whether this was the case.

There’s more. In 2014 the Mirror reported that Hammond had gifted his share of a £600,000 property to his wife, meaning Mrs Hammond was now responsible for paying all tax on the rent from the property. The paper accused the Hammonds of using the move to avoid tax. Hammond insisted it was a “private matter” but said any suggestion the transfer was “designed” to avoid tax was “incorrect”. 

There is of course no suggestion that Hammond evaded any tax or did anything other than pay the amount of tax he owed. Guido is of the view that compelling politicians to reveal their tax returns is a slippery slope – how long before a politician argues we should be like Norway where members of the public have no privacy. Though you can see why the Chancellor would want to save himself the trouble of explaining all this…

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…[…] Read the rest

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Tory MP Nick Boles says what everyone thinks…

“There is a timidity and lack of ambition about Mrs May’s Government which means it constantly disappoints. Time to raise your game, Prime Minister.”

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