Government Spent Millions Spying on Lockdown Sceptics

The Mail on Sunday previewed some of the excesses of the government’s efforts to combat disinformation contained in a report from Big Brother Watch. They even called in the military.

The revelations shed light on the state’s free speech interventions – including the Army’s shadowy 77th Brigade, tasked with combatting disinformation. Instead of focussing on propaganda coming from Russia or China, the government kept tabs on its critics and those sceptical of lockdowns. David Davis, Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer were amongst those monitored – hardly pressing threats to national security.

A whistleblower from the 77th Brigade quoted in the report added:

“It was about domestic perception, not national security. By being so fixed on the wrong targets, 77x became more akin to a tool for bad information than an antidote to it… It seemed to me that the government geared the counter-disinformation operation not to serving and protecting citizens, but to serving their own careers and influence.”

Peter Hitchens had warned about censorship of his online content. It seems he may have had a point…

There are at least four further Whitehall arms dedicated to social media monitoring:

  • The Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) – for tackling ‘harmful narratives’ during the pandemic.
  • The Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) in DCMS – responsible for flagging disinformation to social media giants. Big Brother Watch adds they deploy a “very loose” use of the term.
  • The Government Information Cell (GIC) in the FCDO – established in response to Russian disinformation in the UK and abroad.
  • The Intelligence and Communications Unit (RICU) in the Home Office – pushes official lines to support counter-extremism.

All of this state social media spying doesn’t come cheap. Big Brother Watch identified £2.3 million in contracts for the CDU, £2.5 million in contracts and £1.3 million in staffing for the RRU and an annual budget of over £6 million for the Intelligence and Communications Unit. This doesn’t include a staggering £65,000,000 in RICU contracts for social media monitoring and PR campaigns…

The full report is available here. Co-conspirators can also find out if they’re being spied on using this handy template.

mdi-timer 30 January 2023 @ 14:00 30 Jan 2023 @ 14:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Work From Home Whitehall Wonks Waste Over £10,000,000 on Taxis

As over 100,000 civil servants have announced their plans to join the picket lines – no doubt they’ll relish the rare opportunity to leave their home offices – Guido can shed yet more light on their notoriously cushty conditions. From the last three years, civil servants in the Department for Work and Pensions alone spent over £2,000,000 on taxis. The enormous drop in expenses after the pandemic, when Whitehall’s remote working obsession began, will surprise nobody.

The DWP currently has just 18% office occupancy, according to the government’s tracker, and still spent £431,000 in the past year alone. For over £1,000 a day, not even one in five can turn up for work.

The figure was attained by an Freedom of Information request and comes on top of those ascertained by Labour written questions in October. Labour found the sum total of Whitehall taxi waste, including the Government Car Service, was a stonking £8,200,000 – though this didn’t include the figure for the DWP (nor the MoD and Home Office). With these numbers on top, government taxi spend over the past 3 years is now well into the eight-figures.
In this context, co-conspirators should spare a thought for our striking civil servants. Assuming they haven’t forgotten where their offices are, how will they get to the picket lines without their taxpayer-funded free rides?

mdi-timer 16 January 2023 @ 13:30 16 Jan 2023 @ 13:30 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Government Recovers Less Than 3% of PPE Fraud Cash

The Government has recovered £18 million from fraudulent PPE contracts. Co-conspirators can be forgiven for thinking this, found in response to a written question, is good news. However put in the broader context of fraudulent PPE, which The Guardian puts at £630 million, this represents just under 3%. The Guardian quotes Daisy Cooper, calling these attempts “pitiful”. In this instance, Guido is inclined to agree…

The figures are based on estimates that 5% of the £12.6 billion in government contracts were fraudulent. Though, figures used by the TPA put an upper estimate for PPE fraud at a staggering £4 billion.  In that case, the government has recovered just 0.45%…

mdi-timer 3 January 2023 @ 15:19 3 Jan 2023 @ 15:19 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
All Aboard Khan’s Costly Publicity Stunt

Sadiq Khan is back doing what he does best: spaffing taxpayer’s cash on publicity stunts. The Mayor’s most recent scheme is a £145,000 advice bus, to provide Londoners with information during the cost of living crisis. The trouble is, just 13% of the budget is being spent on advisers, with the rest going on publicity, project management and logistics. According to the Bus’ decision document, £12,000 was allocated for publicity, £10,000 on a celebrity endorsement and £1,000 on a photographer. £18,000 will go towards actual advice… 

Of the funding for the bus, £45,000 came from London’s Low-income and Food programme and £70,000 from the Children and Young Londoners Early Years budget. Emma Best, the GLA Conservatives’ health spokesperson, said:

“Sadiq Khan should be judged by his actions, not his words, and what he appears to have done here is take money from people in need to fund his own publicity… He claims to want to help those who are most in need, but like some kind of reverse Robin Hood, he takes cash away from those who desperately need it to splash on feel-good campaigns that boost his own PR”

Sadiq’s stunt is not only wasteful, it also highlights the Mayor’s hypocrisy: the bus used in the Mayor’s photo-op is a diesel-guzzler. All the while, Sadiq punishes London’s diesel drivers with his ULEZ expansion.

mdi-timer 22 December 2022 @ 15:30 22 Dec 2022 @ 15:30 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Public Sector Headcount Rises to 426,000 in Just Four Years

New research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance has revealed there are now 426,000 more people working on the public payroll than in September 2018. For all the talk about reining in Whitehall and cutting back on wasteful spending, the public sector headcount has increased to an incredible 5.8 million, with the Civil Service alone growing by 77,000 over the last four years. The TPA points out that’s nearly the size of the entire British Army…

In fact, the entire headcount of Tesco – Britain’s largest supermarket chain with revenues of around £57 billion – sits at around 345,000. In other words, the taxpayer has coughed up for the salaries of a workforce bigger than a multi-billion pound company in just four years. Civil service employment grew at a rate four times faster than the private sector between September 2021 and September 2022. 

Guido’s old enough to remember when the government planned to cut the civil service headcount by 91,000. Look how that’s turned out. And for what benefit? The DVLA’s workforce increased by 140 between March 2020 and September 2022. Good luck renewing your driving licence, though…

mdi-timer 15 December 2022 @ 08:22 15 Dec 2022 @ 08:22 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Senedd Goes Woke with Wasteful Tampons

The Senedd is getting down to delivering on the key priorities of Welsh citizens, and top of the agenda: making sure the men of the Senedd are well-supplied in sanitary products. Men using the Senedd’s bathrooms in recent days have been greeted with the sight of free feminine hygiene products. The move was organised by the Senedd Commission Trade Union Side, with the products “provided free of charge for all those that need them”. Somehow Guido doubts they’ll be flying off the shelf…

Co-conspirators could be forgiven for thinking this is more likely to be a simple mistake than an example of woke excesses. Nope. They’re being dished out in bathrooms across the Senedd…

mdi-timer 5 December 2022 @ 17:15 5 Dec 2022 @ 17:15 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
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