When losing your job can be a money-spinner!

“A higher education boss was handed more than £500,000 in a “golden goodbye” pay package after the government scrapped her organisation.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, ex-chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), secured a 96% increase on her annual pay deal in the body’s final 12 months, accounts published this week show.

The HEFCE was wound up by the Department for Education and replaced by the Office for Students and Research England in April.

Atkins, who was appointed to HEFCE for a five-year term in 2014, had a final remuneration package worth £554,648 once bonuses, pension payments and other benefits were counted. Salary accounted for £528,891 of the total.

Her previous year’s total remuneration was £282,354, of which salary comprised £263,865.

Atkins begins a new role as president of Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, in October. …”


Privatisation – more evidence of the downside – Housing sale and leaseback

“A “disastrous” Ministry of Defence property deal could get worse when rental rates are reviewed in 2021, MPs have said.

The MoD’s sale and leaseback arrangement in 1996 with Annington Property Limited had left the department between £2.2bn and £4.2bn worse off over the first 21 years of the contract.

The Public Accounts Committee said the deal has been “disastrous for taxpayers” but could cost them even more when rent is reviewed from 2021.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “Taxpayers have lost billions as a result of this appalling deal and there could be worse to come if the MoD fares poorly in rent negotiations.

“The uncertainty over those negotiations is a further slap in the face for those forces families who, for far too long, have endured poor standards of subsidised accommodation.”

Under the deal, agreed during John Major’s time as prime minister, 55,000 houses were sold by the MoD to Annington before being rented back on 200-year leases.

A report by the National Audit Office in January found that rising housing prices since the deal was agreed had left the government between £2.2bn and £4.2bn worse off than it would have been if it had kept the properties.

The rents Annington charges the MoD for the houses – subject to a 58% downwards adjustment to date – are expected to increase significantly when the current agreement ends in 2021.

In its report, which was published on Friday, the PAC said that the average annual cost to rent, manage and maintain each property is £7,807 and recommended the MoD develop a plan to reduce the number of empty properties.

The committee said that the number of empty properties currently stands at more than 10,000 – roughly the same as 21 years ago – despite a 30% fall in the total number of properties rented back from Annington over that period.

It said it was “scandalous that the department still holds so many empty properties at a time of a national housing shortage, and has made almost no progress in 20 years in reducing the number.”


Sleazy DUP MP banned from Parliament for 30 days

Wonder how many days Swire has spent in the Maldives on government or Conservatives Middle East Ccouncil business?

“Ian Paisley Junior been suspended from the House of Commons for seven weeks after breaking Westminster rules over luxury trips worth up to £100,000.

The “severe” punishment has been imposed on the senior Democratic Unionist Party MP after he took his family on all-expenses-paid holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

Mr Paisley failed to register the trips before writing to David Cameron in support of the Sri Lankan government “about a proposed United Nations resolution”.

“In view of the seriousness of this matter, we recommend that Mr Paisley be suspended from the service of the House for a period of 30 sitting days starting on 4 September 2018,” said the Commons standards committee.

His actions amounted to “paid advocacy” and “bring the House of Commons into disrepute”, a damning report concluded.

“The 30-day suspension, if confirmed by a Commons vote, is thought to be the longest period any MP has been barred from the Commons for 15 years.

It also exposes Mr Paisley to the danger of being “recalled” by his constituents, under legislation passed in 2015, which would trigger a by-election.

If a recall petition is opened, it must be signed by at least 10 per cent of the electorate in his North Antrim seat for a by-election to take place.

The lengthy suspension, to begin on 4 September, also reduces Theresa May’s effective working majority by one – ahead of potentially more crucial Brexit votes in the autumn. …”

The case against privatisation of public services – evidence

“Research conducted in 2015 by the New Economics Foundation for the Trades Union Congress found that outsourced staff at private companies earned less, worked longer hours and were more insecure in their jobs than their counterparts in the public sector. The differences can be stark: a senior care worker for a private contractor will be paid almost half the hourly rate of a colleague in the public sector.

None of this is coincidence. It’s widely accepted that when a low-paid service job, such as cleaning or portering, is contracted out to a company it drives up profits at the expense of workers.

“Through outsourcing, university managers routinely allow low-paid workers to be treated disgustingly, in ways they would never tolerate for their own staff,” says Jason Moyer-Lee , general secretary of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), a trade union leading some of the key fights for the rights of college facilities staff. “Yet when we raise these issues, the standard college answer is: ‘This is nothing to do with us; take it up with the contractor’.”

It took 11 years of campaigning by the Unison trade union and students for Soas University of London to agree to bring cleaners in-house, starting this autumn. Last summer, the London School of Economics agreed to do the same. Yet the IWGB is still battling Senate House, the administrative hub of the University of London, for better rights for facilities staff. …”


“Dark money lurks at the heart of our political crisis”

“Democracy is threatened by organisations such the Institute of Economic Affairs that refuse to reveal who funds them.

A mere two millennia after Roman politicians paid mobs to riot on their behalf, we are beginning to understand the role of dark money in politics, and its perennial threat to democracy. Dark money is cash whose source is not made public, and which is spent to change political outcomes. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, unearthed by Carole Cadwalladr, and the mysterious funds channelled through Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to the leave campaign in England and Scotland have helped to bring the concept to public attention. But these examples hint at a much wider problem. Dark money can be seen as the underlying corruption from which our immediate crises emerge: the collapse of public trust in politics, the rise of a demagogic anti-politics, and assaults on the living world, public health and civic society. Democracy is meaningless without transparency.

The techniques now being used to throw elections and referendums were developed by the tobacco industry, and refined by biotechnology, fossil fuel and junk food companies. Some of us have spent years exposing the fake grassroots campaigns they established, the false identities and bogus scientific controversies they created, and the way in which media outlets have been played by them. Our warnings went unheeded, while the ultra-rich learned how to buy the political system.

The problem is exemplified, in my view, by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). In the latest reshuffle, two ministers with close links to the institute, Dominic Raab and Matthew Hancock, have been promoted to the frontbench, responsible for issues that obsess the IEA: Brexit and the NHS. Raab credits the IEA with supporting him “in waging the war of ideas”. Hancock, in his former role as cabinet office minister, notoriously ruled that charities receiving public funds should not be allowed to lobby the government. His department credited the IEA with the research that prompted the policy. This rule, in effect, granted a monopoly on lobbying to groups such as the IEA, which receive their money only from private sources. Hancock has received a total of £32,000 in political donations from the IEA’s chairman, Neil Record.

The IEA has lobbied consistently for a hard Brexit. A report it published on Monday as an alternative to Theresa May’s white paper calls for Brexit to be used to tear down the rules protecting agency workers, to deregulate finance, annul the rules on hazardous chemicals and weaken food labelling laws. Darren Grimes, who was fined by the Electoral Commission on Tuesday for spending offences during the leave campaign, now works as the IEA’s digital manager.

So what is this organisation, and on whose behalf does it speak? If only we knew. It is rated by the accountability group Transparify as “highly opaque”. All that distinguishes organisations such as the IEA from public relations companies such as Burson-Marsteller is that we don’t know who it is working for. The only hard information we have is that, for many years, it has been funded by British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris International. When this funding was exposed, the IEA claimed that its campaigns against tobacco regulation were unrelated to the money it had received. Recently, it has been repeatedly dissing the NHS, which it wants to privatise; campaigning against controls on junk food; attacking trade unions; and defending zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships and tax havens. Its staff appear on the BBC promoting these positions, often several times a week. But never do interviewers ask the basic democratic questions: who funds you, and do they have a financial interest in these topics? …

While dark money has been used to influence elections, the role of groups such as the IEA is to reach much deeper into political life. As its current director, Mark Littlewood, explains, “We want to totally reframe the debate about the proper role of the state and civil society in our country … Our true mission is to change the climate of opinion.”

Astonishingly, the IEA is registered as an educational charity, with the official purpose of helping “the general public/mankind”. As a result it is exempted from the kind of taxes about which it complains so bitterly. Charity Commission rules state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. How much more political can you get? In what sense is ripping down public protections and attacking the rights of workers charitable? Surely no organisation should be registered as a charity unless any funds it receives above a certain threshold (say £1,000) are declared.

The Charity Commission announced last week that it has decided to examine the role of the IEA, to see whether it has broken its rules. I don’t hold out much hope. In response to a complaint by Andrew Purkis, a former member of the Charity Commission’s board, its head of regulatory compliance, Anthony Blake, claimed that the IEA provides a “relatively uncontroversial perspective accepted by informed opinion”. If he sees hard Brexit, privatising the NHS and defending tax havens as uncontroversial, it makes you wonder what circles he moves in.

I see such organisations as insidious and corrupting. I see them as the means by which money comes to dominate public life without having to declare its hand. I see them as representing everything that has gone wrong with our politics.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist”


Dept of Work and Pensions: Heartless, hopeless, indifferent and arrogant

“A cross-party group of MPs has criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ “culture of indifference” after it took six years to correct a major error which left chronically-ill and disabled benefit claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket.

An estimated 70,000 claimants were underpaid by between £5,000 and £20,000 between 2011 and 2016 because the DWP failed to ensure they received the correct amounts when moving them from incapacity benefit on to the employment and support allowance (ESA).

The cost of fixing the error, which a public accounts committee’s (PAC) report said stemmed from a string of avoidable management failures, will cost the DWP at least £340m in back payments to claimants and £14m in administrative costs.

Up to 75,000 benefit claimants were underpaid for years.

As well as losing out on thousands of pounds through underpayments, the DWP’s failure to check claimants’ entitlements meant some were also denied their rights to help with dentistry costs, as well as free school meals and free medical prescriptions.

The report criticised the DWP for rushing into the transfer without taking legal advice or making basic checks, brushing aside evidence that people were being underpaid, and ignoring warnings from its own policy advisors that it should pause and fix the process before proceeding.

Even after it became formally aware of its error in 2014, the department failed to act, initially attempting to pass the mistake off as being the fault of claimants. After years of “inertia” it began to put in place a repayment plan in 2017, and then only after receiving advice that it had a legal responsibility to act.

The report concluded the DWP’s lack of urgency in taking six years to start to address the error indicated “a culture of indifference” towards people being underpaid. …”