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. But look these things ultimately aren’t what matters.”

BBC: “And your salary?”

Doyle: “… Aren’t what matters in terms of the work of the Commonwealth. What matters is that the Commonwealth continues to deal with those big challenges that there are…”

BBC: “Indeed, but just on this question about your salary, which I notice you’re not answering.”

Doyle: “Well the figures aren’t correct but I really don’t think that that’s important.”

A straight denial that his salary was £15,000 per month. Below is Doyle’s Commonwealth contract, bearing his signature, showing his salary was two monthly instalments of £15,000 followed by a third if £18,000:

This contract bears Doyle’s signature. He just said on the radio that the figures in it are not correct. Remarkable behaviour…

TfL Told Khan He Could Freeze All Fares

Sadiq Khan has repeatedly explained his broken TfL fares promise by claiming that Travelcards and daily and weekly caps are out of his control. Of course this doesn’t justify the broken manifesto pledge that commuters would “not pay a penny more”. And it turns out it isn’t even true…

The excellent Mayorwatch blog has got hold of the advice TfL sent Khan when he took office. In it, TfL told the Mayor it would be possible to freeze Travelcard prices and daily and weekly caps, even going as far as giving him a cost plan:

“the financial impact on us of freezing Travelcards (and pegged daily/weekly Oyster/contactless caps), which would be an additional £660m over five years”

If Travelcards and daily and weekly caps are out of the Mayor’s control, why would TfL include the cost of freezing them in their advice to him? Khan really enjoying the lack of accountability in his new job. Gordon Brown’s team didn’t call him Sadiq the sneak for nothing…

Osborne Drops News of BlackRock Job 17 Minutes Before Trump Inauguration

George Osborne drops the news he’s taking a job at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, 17 minutes before Trump’s inauguration kicks off. He will be joining his old aide Rupert Harrison and keeping his part-time role as MP for Tatton. Gotta commend him on his timing and spin:

“BlackRock wants better outcomes for pensioners and savers – and I want to help them deliver that.”

Next month’s Register of MPs’ Interests will be one to look out for…

Guido’s Davos Fashion Report

George Osborne has turned heads with his suit, jumper and trainers combo at Davos this week, complete with a white sole trendy some time in early 2016. He’s with Amal Clooney, fighting injustice in a Chanel haute couture ivory dress on sale at £9,875, styled with a pair of Paul Andrew “Escarpins en daim”, which retail at £290. David Cameron sits back and chillaxes in his natty suede boots, perhaps a new purchase paid for by his speeches in Switzerland this week. Then we have Gordon Brown, who has grown his grey locks long for a slightly Beatles feel. He’s chatting to Shakira, her Latin roots showing through her wavy honey blonde hair with sun-kissed highlights and strawberry blonde lowlights, kept healthy with sulphate-free shampoo. She also poses with Jamie Oliver, slightly out of place with his spivvy over-gelled hair and flasher’s mac. It’s the place to be seen…

Oxfam Would Take 150 Years to Raise as Much for Charity as 8 Billionaires

Oxfam this morning launches an attack on eight billionaires whose wealth they label “grotesque“, claiming this “super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us“. Guido has done some cursory digging and found that the eight billionaires lambasted by Oxfam have made at least $60 billion in charitable donations. By contrast Oxfam spends around £300 million a year on charitable causes. It would take more than 150 years for Oxfam to raise as much for charity as the eight billionaires they condemn today.

  1. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft: More than $27 billion dollars in charitable donations, some 48% of his net worth, saving some 6 million lives fighting malaria and polio.
  2. Amancio Ortega, founder of Inditex: More than $95 million in charitable donations.
  3. Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway: More than $21.5 billion in charitable donations.
  4. Carlos Slim Helu, owner of Grupo Carso: More than $4 billion dollars in charitable donations.
  5. Jeff Bezos, founder, Amazon: More than $25 million dollars in charitable donations, invests hundreds of millions in not-for-profit ventures.
  6. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook: More than $1.6 billion in charitable donations.
  7. Larry Ellison, co-founder, Oracle: More than $564 million dollars in charitable donations.
  8. Michael Bloomberg, founder, Bloomberg LP: More than $4.22 billion dollars in charitable donations.
Sources: The IndependentForbes, WealthX

Once again it falls to Guido to point out the wholesale transfer of political operatives to the charity sector is backfiring. In 2014 the Charity Commission found Oxfam guilty of failing to maintain their political neutrality over their anti-Tory electioneering. Oxfam’s policy director Richard Pyle is a Labour supporter whose Facebook likes include LGBT Labour and a string of Labour candidates, MPs and MEPs. Oxfam’s treasurer David Pitt-Watson was Labour’s Finance Director for two years and was even appointed General Secretary of the party. The Red Cross secured a week of anti-Tory headlines with its overblown claims that the NHS is experiencing a “humanitarian crisis”, its new head of media is the left-wing former Guardian journalist Polly Curtis. Today’s Oxfam report effectively endorses Jeremy Corbyn’s new policy position, slamming pay ratios at FTSE 100 companies. People aren’t taking the naked political spin of the Labour-centric third sector seriously. It says it all that the best media hit Oxfam had today was the front page splash on the communist Morning Star…

Corbyn Confirms Wage Cap Will Target Footballers

Corbyn tells Sky News his maximum wage cap will target footballers, arguing that £8 million a year Arsene Wenger would support a salary limit in the Premier League. A cap of say £1 million a year would mean all the top footballers move abroad and Premier League teams are left fielding teenagers…

Olney Summed Up

Sarah Olney is looking for your support, something doesn’t add up…

Brexit Means Bonfire of Costly Farming Regulations

Before Christmas Guido reported that Andrea Leadsom was the first Cabinet minister to produce a departmental plan for Brexit. Today the Environment Secretary reveals what Brexit means for farming: a bonfire of cumbersome regulations that currently cost the industry million of pounds a year. When we leave the EU Andrea’s farming minister George Eustice will end the ‘three crop rule’ regulating how many different crops farms must plant. Defra say this will allow 40,000 farmers to grow the foods people want and add millions to the economy.

Barmy Brussels diktats defining what makes a hedge a hedge or when a puddle becomes a pond will be binned. Paperwork required from flood-hit farmers will be reduced, as will the number of expensive government inspections. Most satisfying of all: farms will no longer have to pay for and display ridiculous 6ft by 4ft propaganda billboards publicising the EU contribution for grants, as they are currently required to do. Millions saved, millions added to the economy, hundreds of thousands of hours saved. As the old joke almost goes, how does the Environment Secretary compare with colleagues on Brexit? She’s outstanding in her field…

Khan’s Nick Clegg Moment: TfL Travelcards Hiked By 2%

“From today, I’ve frozen all TfL fares until 2020″ tweeted Sadiq Khan yesterday, linking his followers to a page on the TfL website listing fares which have been frozen. The Mayor was being misleading at best, downright untruthful at worst. The link he tweeted did not include the fares that are going up. 

Buried on the TfL website is the news that daily and weekly caps are rising by an average of 2%. The price of a monthly Travelcard (zones 1&2) will rise by £2.30. Adult Day Travelcard prices have been hiked by up to 50p, Child Day Travelcard prices are going up by 30p. Travelcard season ticket prices are rising by an average of 2%, some by considerably more than that. If you’re a commuter you will likely use a Travelcard and Khan’s fake “freeze” will not apply to you.

During the mayoral election Khan promised: “Londoners won’t pay a penny more for their travel in 2020 than they do today”. In his manifesto he said he would “freeze London transport fares for four years”. The new TfL fares released yesterday confirm that these promises have been completely and utterly 100% broken. While Westminster and the media are focused on other things, Khan is getting away with Nick Clegg-level dishonesty in the capital…

Gloomy Wonks are EU-Funded Europhiles

Britain will be “older, more unequal and blighted by Brexit”, according to a gloomy new report from the IPPR think tank. Apparently there will be a decade of disaster and misery caused by the Leave vote. Two things the Guardian didn’t include in their write-up: The IPPR was formerly run by the head of the Remain campaign Will Straw.[…] Read the rest

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Tory MP Nick Boles says what everyone thinks…

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