Troughs and porkers – 2

Disgraced MPs who cheated on their expenses, a multimillionaire Tory donor, a group of back-room political fixers and an alcohol industry lobbyist have been ennobled by David Cameron, sparking renewed calls for root-and-branch reform of the House of Lords.

The 26 new Tory peers, along with 11 new Liberal Democrats and eight new Labour Lords, will take the membership of the Upper House to more than 800 – making it the second-largest legislative assembly in the world after the National People’s Congress of China.

The new members will cost the taxpayer up to £13,500 a day in expenses when the Lords is sitting. Of the 45 new peers, over 90 per cent were previously MPs, MEPs, councillors, former political staff or party figures.

Among the largest group are ex-MPs – 24 in total – almost half of whom had to repay, between them, some £55,000 in overpaid or unjustified expenses. They include Douglas Hogg who indirectly billed the taxpayer for the cost of cleaning his moat and tuning his piano at his country house. …

… Mr Cameron was also accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he told the Commission in 2012 to appoint no more than two independent crossbench peers a year – while nominating hundreds of political appointees to the chamber himself. In the past five years Mr Cameron has appointed 236 new peers, of which only eight have been non-political Commission appointments. …

… Among the new Tory peers is James Lupton, a businessman who has given the Tories nearly £3m and is facing questions over allegations that he used his influence with ministers to persuade them to support the troubled charity Kids Company against the advice of civil servants.

Mr Lupton has admitted lobbying the Department of Education on behalf of the charity in the run-up to a £3m grant being awarded to it.

There is also an honour for Stuart Polak who has turned the Conservative Friends of Israel into a formidable fundraising machine for the Tories – with donations of millions of pounds from Britain’s Jewish community.

Mr Cameron has also chosen to honour a number of back-room political staff – by appointing some of them peers while giving others lesser honours for “public service”.

Two former Tory Downing Street aides Kate Fall and James O’Shaughnessy will go into the Lords along with Simone Finn, an adviser to the trade minister Francis Maude, and Philippa Stroud an adviser to Iain Duncan Smith.

Another new peer is Kevin Shinkwin – described by the Government as a “voluntary sector professional”. But for the last two years Mr Shinkwin has been working as a lobbyist for the Wine and Spirits Trade Association. Its website describes him as “a seasoned campaigner with a record of securing tangible outcomes”. …

Businesses without broadband not allowed to give evidence to DCC Scrutiny Committee which is chaired by Councillor Andrew Moulding

Remind yourself, when you read this article, that Councillor Moulding said the following about consultation when Axminster Hospital’s beds were threatened:

“At a well attended meeting to discuss progress in the fight to maintain in-patient beds at Axminster hospital, Cllr Andrew Moulding (wearing both his Town and County councillor hats) spoke to concerned residents about his representations to the Devon CC Health and Wellbeing OSC. He made clear his feelings on the matter to the OSC and stated that his only job as a Councillor was to convey the feelings, views, anger and frustration of Axminster people over the shameful way in which the CCG and NDHT had conducted themselves, with misleading figures, loaded and biased consultations and the heavy-handed (and expensive) use of lawyers to force a decision through…

Whereas here, he seems to have totally forgotten what he said:

Business leaders have spoken of their disappointment and “frustration” that the pleas of thousands of local companies to give evidence in a pending broadband inquiry have not yet been acknowledged.

Members of Devon County Council’s scrutiny committee are due to hold a meeting to discuss handling of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) superfast broadband programme next week.

Officials initially decided to invite only those close to the programme to give evidence – which sparked a campaign by residents and businesses to include external witnesses.

Organisations representing 19,500 firms across the two counties issued an open letter to the committee, urging it to reconsider its decision. But the newly published agenda for the meeting reveals arrangements currently remain the same.

Graham Long, chairman of the Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset action group, said the inquiry threatened to become a “whitewash” if only those involved in the roll-out scheme are allowed to speak.

“Rural businesses and residents cannot plan their future with the uncertainty that now exists around their broadband service, and the scrutiny committee should hear from the organisations that have added their names to the open letter,” he said.

“The failure to secure a phase two contract means that Devon and Somerset are now the only English counties without a programme to provide a minimum of 95% superfast coverage.

“This is now an urgent issue and the digital apartheid that exists between the towns and cities where fast broadband is ubiquitous and rural areas where it is almost non-existent cannot be allowed to continue.”

The committee scheduled a “special” meeting for September 3 following the collapse of negotiations between CDS and BT for delivery of phase two of the Government’s superfast scheme.

The only individuals listed to give evidence on the formal agenda are representatives of BDUK, CDS and BT, members of the council, local MPs and the broadband provider Airband.

The open letter, submitted to last week, warns councillors this approach “will not produce a fair examination of the programme” and calls for affected businesses and residents to be heard. Signatories include the Devon and Somerset branches of the Federation of Small Businesses, the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association and the Blackdown Hills Business Association.

Development manager for Devon FSB, Sue Wilkinson, described the situation as “frustrating”. “It’s disappointing for our members and all businesses in Devon and Somerset that chance for us to have a fair hearing and to make our very valid points has been lost,” she said.

The chairman of the committee, Conservative councillor Andrew Moulding was unavailable to comment yesterday. However, vice chairman and Liberal Democrat councillor Gordon Hook said he believed residents should be free to “question and probe” the issue.

A council spokesman said a decision on whether or not to take representations from the public would be made when coun. Moulding was available.

Ex-Minister now has six jobs, two of which started before he left office

But it’s OK – he didn’t declare them because he got paid for them after he left office:

“Mr Simmonds, who earned £89,435 a year as a minister and MP, “met with Invest Africa once while in ministerial office, in order to understand their work”, Acoba disclosed.

He also “had some dealings with First while in ministerial office”, but he was not involved in developing policy, awarding grants or any regulatory work which would have affected either firm, Acoba added.

He denied any conflict of interest and told the Mirror he did not declare the jobs on the Register of Interests because he only started getting paid after leaving the Commons.

“It’s all done quite within the rules and regulations that are set out.

Mr Simmonds hit the headlines last summer when he announced he was quitting at the general election, blaming “intolerable” expenses rules.”

No wonder the government wants to water down the Freedom of Information Act

“On Thursday morning, the Department for Work and Pensions is due to release information on those who have died after claiming employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance. The figures are being released after the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled on 30 April that the DWP should disclose data that would show the number of benefits claimants who had died after being found fit to work.”

Guardian website, today