Number 10 Sidelines Baroness Scotland

Number 10 has brutally snubbed Baroness Scotland by failing to mention the Commonwealth Secretary General entirely in its announcement on the Commonwealth Summit today. Downing Street set out the schedule for the summit this morning, which will be attended by leaders from more than 50 countries in April 2018. The press release revealed the Prime Minister and Cabinet will “oversee preparations” and that Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson have been tasked with chairing an Inter-Ministerial Group on the summit. Number 10 adds that they have implemented a new “dedicated unit” led by diplomat Tim Hitchens to look after proceedings:

“A central team has also been established in the Cabinet Office to deliver the Summit, working closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat and member states. The dedicated unit will report directly to the Prime Minister, who has appointed Tim Hitchens as its CEO. Tim Hitchens was previously British Ambassador to Japan, and has served as Africa Director and Europe Director in the Foreign Office, and also as Assistant Private Secretary to The Queen.”
Name-checks for Theresa May, the Cabinet, Amber Rudd, Boris and Tim Hitchens – and no mention whatsoever of Baroness Scotland. Almost as if Number 10 is making clear that it has taken responsibility for the Commonwealth summit away from its scandal-hit Secretary-General. Sidelined…

Olney Standards Investigation Three Months Into Job

New LibDem MP Sarah Olney is facing an investigation by the standards commissioner just three months after coming to Westminster. Guido understands the complaint relates to using her website for party political purposes, though the LibDems say there are confident it will be dismissed: “This is an utterly spurious allegation without any basis. We are confident this complaint will be rejected at the first opportunity.” A record for quickest standards probe for a new MP?

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…

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…”

Vaz Sets Carter Ruck on Andrew Pierce

Keith Vaz is very unhappy with the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce over an article published last week in which Pierce reported Vaz had paid rent boys for their services. Vaz has instructed £500-an-hour Carter Ruck to insist he has “never had ‘sex’ with any ‘rent boys'”.

We have been contacted by Carter-Ruck on behalf of Keith Vaz in connection with an article in the Daily Mail dated 8 February 2017, pages 6 and 7, headed “How the king of the freebies splashes your cash” and on Mail Online headed “Chauffeur-driven cars, taxpayer-funded suits and hospitality at the tennis and Arsenal matches: How the king of freebies John Bercow splashes your cash”

Carter-Ruck say their client has never ‘paid rent boys for sex’ and never had ‘sex’ with any ‘rent boys’. They also say there was never a Police investigation in relation to this.

Vaz told the rent boys in the Sunday Mirror sting “Try and pick up some poppers” and asked “How will this work, do you want me to f*** him first or all together”. Reportedly talking about an encounter with another escort, Vaz said “He was OK. He forgot the condom though. I had to f*** him without a condom”. Yet “Carter-Ruck say their client has never ‘paid rent boys for sex’ and never had ‘sex’ with any ‘rent boys'”. What about Jim the washing machine salesman?

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… 

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…

Baroness Scotland: Government Intervenes, Queen Snub, Officials Say She Can’t Survive

The BBC has some major developments in the Baroness Scotland expenses scandal: the government has sent in two senior civil servants to take charge of the Commonwealth Secretariat following complaints about her leadership and extravagant spending. Former FCO official Sir Simon Gass has been installed as chief operating officer at the Secretariat and Tim Hitchens, another former FCO mandarin, has been put in charge of next year’s Commonwealth summit. The Queen has also snubbed Baroness Scotland’s main Commonwealth Day event. James Landale quotes senior sources as saying:

“The Queen has only got to nip down the road from Buckingham Palace to Marlborough House in a Bentley. It’s not that hard. And yet she has decided not to come. The Palace are thinking there is so much more to be done with the Commonwealth and yet they are lumbered with such poor leadership. The Commonwealth is stuffed. The High Commissioners have all given up on (Lady Scotland). They have other fish to fry. I do wonder if she can survive. She just treats people appallingly. And she has this political tin ear.”

The Queen and the government are throwing the Baroness under a bus and diplomats are speculating whether she can survive. Will she still be in post by the time of next year’s CHOGM summit?

Slippery Vaz Gets Off Again

The police have dropped their investigation into Keith Vaz after he was caught on camera offering to buy cocaine for rent boys. This particular police investigation was always at the mild end of Vaz’s sleazy private life…

Baroness Scotland Refuses to Answer Questions at Anti-Corruption Lecture

Baroness Scotland refused to answer questions about her conduct as she delivered Transparency International’s annual anti-corruption lecture last night. The organisers had said Scotland would address her expenses scandal, telling guests it was the “ideal opportunity for her to respond directly to those claims, as well as allowing members of the public and press to raise any questions they may wish to ask”. Alas, Baroness Scotland told an unimpressed audience she was “unable” to answer questions on the scandal because the press regulator is investigating. There is no reason an IPSO investigation means she cannot answer questions, the Baroness is stretching the truth once again…

Scotland did tell the room that corruption “is a scourge which holds in thrall millions of our Commonwealth sisters and brothers… the Commonwealth will.. eliminate the scourge of corruption from institutions of governance and public life at every level”We know where to start…

Full “Confidential” Bung Claims By Green Party Chair

This is the full 30 page report written by Kingston Green Party chair Ryan Coley alleging the party was offered a £250,000 bung to stand aside in Richmond. Coley has confirmed to Guido that he co-wrote the report. A lot of questions for the Greens to answer here…

UPDATE: At some point tonight the Green Party put in a copyright complaint to our previous host – this from the party that prides itself on transparency – so it is now hosted elsewhere and will be available by email to anyone who wants it (team@order-order.com) if we have any other problems. Bear in mind that they originally said they denied all knowledge of it – now they claim copyright.

Full PDF download here.

Green Party ‘Offered £250,000 Bung Not to Stand in Richmond’

green2

The Green Party was offered a £250,000 inducement not to stand a candidate against the LibDems in Richmond, according to the chairman of the local Greens. Ryan Coley, the Kingston Green Party chair, claims his members were pressured by party officials not to run a candidate because the party had been offered £250,000 conditional on standing aside for the LibDems. Guido has obtained an internal report written by the local chairman and members Clare Keogh and Kieron Merrett. They complain “party staff added pressure” on them, “telling us that there was an offer of a large donation to the party which was conditional on the party demonstrating its desire for a progressive alliance”. They allege the offer amounted to £250,000 and the order to stand aside came “on the instruction of the Chief Executive“.

green1

The report says the offer failed the party’s donation scrutiny procedures and the donation did not go through. After Guido put the allegations to the Green Party they confirmed they would investigate. A Green Party spokesman does not deny the offer of the bung:

“This is an unofficial report from a handful of members of Kingston Green Party and is not officially recognised by either the national Green Party or the local party in question. Many of the claims are disputed and this report has been referred to the Green Party Regional Council and will be looked into as soon as possible.” 

This is a bombshell allegation – not denied by the Greens – that a wealthy donor offered them cash to stand aside for the Remain cause. Local Greens are furious with Caroline Lucas and Jon Bartley over this…

UPDATE: The Greens have a carefully worded new line:

“The Green Party has not accepted any donations connected with the Richmond Park by-election and no donation offer was made on the basis that the Party choose not to field a candidate. Any donation accepted by the Green Party must meet strict ethical criteria and that includes the donation not being used to gain leverage over strategic decisions.”

Guido has asked them if an offer was made in relation to the ‘Progressive Alliance’, as the local chair claims, and why party officials told the local party such an offer existed. They have declined to answer…

Brooks Newmark Back Helping Women2Win

women

One of the main reasons Brooks Newmark’s sexting was so inappropriate is that he co-founded the Women2Win group helping young women get involved in politics. Newmark invited our Sophie to a Women2Win event – he was abusing his position in the group to meet young Tory women. Well, Women2Win have welcomed Brooks back into the fold, there he is in the photo above holding a Women2Win placard while campaigning for the Tory candidate in the Sleaford by-election. Alongside a bevy of young Tory women. Have to wonder if this is responsible from those now running Women2Win…

DfID Slams “Poorest Performer” Baroness Scotland

scotland

The Department for International Development has delivered a scathing assessment of Baroness Scotland, labelling her Commonwealth Secretariat one of the “poorest performers” when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money. A new DfID report out today has found “the Commonwealth Secretariat continues to underperform” and that “improvement is essential if DFID is to continue to fund the organisation”. The report warns “the Secretariat requires urgent organisational reform” in terms of “transparency” and “human resource management”, slamming Scotland’s department for its poor “financial management and budget discipline”. The Commonwealth Secretariat scored a mark of 2 out of 5 on transparency, accountability and value. This could not be a more damning indictment of Baroness Scotland’s exorbitant spending and lack of accountability…

Baroness Scotland to Deliver Anti-Corruption Lecture

scotland

Who have Transparency International decided is the best person to deliver their “Annual Anti-Corruption Lecture” next week? Baroness Scotland will be giving the talk, discussing how important it is “to champion integrity, increase public awareness on the adverse impact of corruption, and promote appreciation of how important it is that the UK acknowledges the pressing need to tackle corruption within its own borders”. Transparency International admit it’s a slightly odd choice given the Baroness has been mired in a sleaze scandal of her own. They say:

“We are aware that since then a number of allegations have been made against Baroness Scotland and our Annual Lecture will provide the ideal opportunity for her to respond directly to those claims, as well as allowing members of the public and press to raise any questions they may wish to ask.”

Starting with that £307 toilet seat, those phantom school fees and her £90,000 crony contract

Vaz Dodges National Crime Agency Meeting

vaz-dodging-nca

Since Keith Vaz’s appointment to the Criminal Finance Bill committee this week it has sat twice, on Tuesday and today. For some reason – to the great disappointment of hacks – Vaz has absented himself from both sessions. Guido can give readers some background as to why that might be…

Guido understands Labour whips have been told that not only is Vaz now under investigation by Scotland Yard, they have been made aware that four files regarding Vaz have been passed to the National Crime Agency. Given that the Bill committee has been taking evidence from the National Crime Agency, it would clearly be completely inappropriate for Vaz to attend this committee. If Vaz had attended he would either have to recuse himself or declare his interest. Rather than face the embarrassment, slippery Vaz has unofficially recused himself by not showing up…

Vaz to Scrutinise Unexplained Wealth Laws

vaz

Today’s Sun reports Keith Vaz has been appointed a member of the Criminal Finance Bill committee despite being under active police investigation. As Guido reported last month, Vaz’s role will include helping to scrutinise new plans to strengthen so-called Unexplained Wealth Orders, anti-corruption laws where assets can be seized if owners are unable to explain how they were funded. This is something of personal significance to Vaz, who in 2012 was subject to another police investigation which found up to £500,000 of funds believed to have been “of a suspicious nature” were paid into current and savings accounts in his name or linked to him:

“There are numerous unexplained payments into the accounts and large transfers between accounts that require further investigation… the level of funds received … are of a suspicious nature”

Vaz did not declare where the money came from. At one point detectives claimed £28,959 in cash was paid into an HSBC account held by Vaz, with no explanation. This is all without mentioning the mystery behind Vaz’s £4 million global property empire, which he has also never explained how he has been able to afford. Vaz is now scrutinising laws on unexplained wealth…

Baroness Scotland’s New Loo Seat Cost £307

haslam

Baroness Scotland charged the taxpayer £307 for a new loo seat in a bathroom in her Mayfair home which cost £24,000 to refurbish. She has also admitted spending thousands to paint six rooms with top-of-the-range Farrow & Ball paint, despite previously dismissing reports as “outright lies, half-truths and innuendo”. Scotland spins in today’s Times that she was “furious about some of the money spent”, yet leaked emails show it was her staff who complained to her about the costs and pleaded with her to reduce her demands. In the email below the most senior Commonwealth official notes it is Scotland who “wants her bathroom completely done” and says the paint was her priority:

bathroom

Makes a complete mockery of Scotland’s previous statements. Remember her promise: “There has been no extravagance…”

Guy News Visits Baroness Scotland’s Mayfair Mansion

During her Today programme interview last week, Baroness Scotland invited listeners into her Mayfair home to show she was telling the truth that there is “no extravagance”. Guy News took her up on her offer…

PM Demands Answers From Baroness Scotland

scotland

Theresa May has broken her silence on Baroness Scotland, demanding answers and insisting the Commonwealth Secretariat needs “reform”. The PM has said during her trip to India:

“The UK is a strong supporter of the Commonwealth – we believe as an organisation it has a role to play in dealing with shared challenges around the world such as human rights.

[…] Read the rest

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