Dozens of NHS surgeries are owned in off-shore tax havens raising backdoor privatisation fears

Dozens of GP surgeries and medical centres caring for more than a million patients are in the hands of off-shore companies, it can be revealed, amid concerns NHS cash is disappearing into tax havens.

By Dean Kirby, Cahal Milmo inews.co.uk

Analysis by i of more than 90,000 properties owned by overseas companies – from car parks to luxury homes – shows that the titles on nearly 100 primary care buildings in England are held by private firms registered in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The property title of one surgery in Kent is even registered to a firm 4,000 miles away in the British Virgin Islands.

The discovery has prompted fears of NHS privatisation “by the back door” and questions about whether health bosses could be paying millions of pounds in rent each year to firms with little or no return in tax that could be ploughed back into patient services.

Documents show one firm based in Guernsey was making £40m profit from its rent roll in 2017 – almost all of it from payments by the NHS and Irish doctors.

Labour MP Margaret Greenwood, a former founder member of campaign group Defend Our NHS, said: “It’s a matter of real concern that so many GP surgeries and high street medical centres are owned by off-shore companies.

“Clearly, decisions about privatisation of such centres will be based on the profit motive, rather than a commitment to public services and the values of the NHS.”

Dr Nick Mann, a GP and a member of Keep Our NHS Public, said private sector acquisitions of the NHS’s capital assets form part of a “broader agenda of privatisation” of health service assets and services.

He said: “Whole hospitals and GP practices have been built or taken over by private sector organisations under PFI and other ‘leaseback’ arrangements.”

Earlier this month, a landmark judicial review took place into the decision to approve a takeover of GP practices in London by US health insurance giant Centene Corporation after groups including Doctors in Unite raised tens of thousands of pounds to fund the case from public donations amid claims of “privatisation by stealth”.

One firm registered in Jersey has 20 GP surgeries and medical centres in their portfolio of property titles, according to the Land Registry database seen by i, in areas as diverse as Sheffield, Littlehampton, Maidstone, Knottingley and Oldham. The title on at least five surgeries are held by a firm registered in St Peter Port, Guernsey. Another 11, including two in Doncaster and Hartlepool, are held by a firm registered in an office near the waterfront in Jersey’s St Helier.

The Department for Health and Social Care says most GP practices are not owned by the NHS but are independent partnerships and while contracts to provide services may differ, there is no difference in eligibility criteria between companies registered in the UK and those registered overseas.

Dr Dean Eggitt, the BMA England GP committee’s executive lead for premises, said the cost, bureaucracy and risk associated with practice premises are reasons that discourage new family doctors from becoming partners.

He said it is vital that private landlords are held to the same standards as GPs who own their own buildings and who are expected to deliver value for money.

“If businesses who own practice buildings are based in overseas territories where they pay no tax, the Treasury is missing out on vital income that should be used to support our public services – including funding for the NHS at a time of crisis and to improve GP premises that have been continually starved of much-needed investment.”

South Hams grant scheme to help locals get on housing ladder

A scheme to help people get on the housing ladder is being launched in Devon.

www.bbc.co.uk

Dartmouth

The council had previously said it knew people were being “priced out” of the district, including in Dartmouth

Up to £5,000 will be given to anyone in the South Hams who is currently renting a social housing property, to help them purchase a shared ownership home.

South Hams District Council said the grant scheme would help more people step on the housing ladder and free up more homes to rent.

The Step On scheme will launch on 1 April.

The council said it “looked beyond traditional solutions to pull the district out of the current housing crisis”.

The authority declared a housing crisis in September as house prices “rocketed” and the number of rental properties hit “rock bottom”, it said.

‘People are struggling’

The authority said it believed the grant scheme was the first of its kind in the UK.

The maximum £5,000 funding makes 100% of the deposit required to purchase up to 30% of a shared ownership home.

The council said: “There are currently over 170 new shared ownership homes of various sizes in the pipeline for communities across the South Hams.”

Councillor Judy Pearce, leader of the authority, said: “We all know that steep house prices and a shortage of homes for rent means many local people are struggling to find a home.

“By providing up to £5,000, which will not need to be paid back, we can give local residents a helping hand to step on the housing ladder.

“This in turn, would allow their homes to become available for relet to a household on the housing register, helping us to help even more people.”

To be eligible for a shared ownership property, the annual household income can be no more than £80,000.

Zelenskiy invokes Churchill as he calls on UK to do more to help Ukraine

The president of Ukraine echoed Winston Churchill and invoked the fight against Nazism as he made a direct plea to Britain to do more to help his country repel the Russian invasion.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

In an unprecedented and emotional speech broadcast live to the House of Commons, Volodymyr Zelenskiy channelled Churchill when he told a packed chamber: “We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, the fields, the shores and in the streets.”

Ukraine “will not lose” to Russia, he vowed. Zelenskiy, who received long ovations from MPs before and after his speech, also cited Shakespeare to describe the plight of his country under Russian invasion.

“The question for us now is to be or not to be,” he said, according to a translation of his speech, which was delivered in Ukrainian and broadcast live from Kyiv. “Oh no, this Shakespearean question. For 13 days this question could have been asked but now I can give you a definitive answer. It’s definitely yes, to be.

“And I would like to remind you the words that the United Kingdom has already heard, which are important again. We will not give up and we will not lose.”

Zelenskiy, unshaven and dressed in a dark T-shirt, delivered his speech sitting next to a Ukrainian flag. His echoes of Churchill, the second world war leader about whom Boris Johnson has written a book, will be seen as a direct appeal to the UK prime minister and his party.

Zelenskiy told MPs that after nearly two weeks of war, during which time hundreds of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, resolve remained strong. “Just the same way you once didn’t want to lose your country when the Nazis started to fight your country and you had to fight for Britain. Thirteen days of this struggle … at four o’clock in the morning we were attacked by cruise missiles.”

The speech came immediately after the UK announced it was phasing out the import of Russian oil and oil products by the end of the year. Zelenskiy reiterated calls for more UK support, including repeating a plea for a no-fly zone, which Nato countries have declined to impose over fears it could trigger another world war.

“We are thankful for this help and I am grateful to you Boris,” he said, addressing the prime minister by name. “Please increase the pressure of sanctions against this country [Russia] and please recognise this country as a terrorist country. Please make sure that our Ukrainian skies are safe. Please make sure that you do what needs to be done and what is stipulated by the greatness of your country.”

The speech was heard in silence, beyond two screens playing Zelenskiy’s speech and the muffled background soundtrack of a simultaneous English translation on headsets given to MPs for the occasion.

A number of MPs tweeted photos of the packed chamber, a practice – like applause – that is not normally permitted.

The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had felt “privileged” to listen, saying: “In history the right things don’t happen automatically – brave people must fight for them.”

Responding to Zelenskiy, Johnson hailed a leader “standing firm for democracy and freedom – in his righteous defiance I believe he has moved the hearts of everybody in this house”.

“In a great European capital now within range of Russian guns, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is standing firm for democracy and for freedom,” the prime minister said.

Saying he would “employ every method” to squeeze Russia with sanctions, Johnson said the UK would continue to supply weapons to Ukraine.

“At this moment, ordinary Ukrainians are defending their homes and their families against a brutal assault, and they are by their actions inspiring millions with their courage and their devotion,” he said.

Because of Commons procedures, the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, halted the formal business of the day for Zelenskiy’s speech, and Johnson and other party leaders responded with points of order.

Responding for Labour, Keir Starmer said the Ukrainian leader “has prompted a world into action, where too often we have let Putin have his way”, adding: “He has inspired the Ukrainian nation to resist and frustrated the Russian war machine. He has shown his strength and we must show him – and the Ukrainian people – our commitment and support.”

Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill: Parish and Jupp vote against all amendments

“Corruption threatens our national security, economic prosperity and international reputation. It is often the root cause of international instability and conflict.” So ran the opening lines to the 2014 Government’s “UK Anti-Corruption Plan”.

Since then various promises have been made that legislation would be introduced by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, but they have been put on the back burner (we can all speculate why this might be).

Worse, on January 26 the Guardian revealed that Boris Johnson intended to kill off the bill, as revealed by Lord Agnew’s resignation:

“The government was forced to deny claims that it had scrapped a crucial economic crime bill on Wednesday, as MPs from across the house rounded on ministers for failing to tackle the UK capital’s “Londongrad” reputation as a money-laundering hub used by Russian oligarchs, criminals and kleptocrats.

The scathing comments in the House of Commons follow the shock resignation of junior minster Lord Agnew on Monday, who revealed in his departing letter that the government had only last week made a “foolish” decision to kill off the bill during the next parliamentary year.”

It must be to the everlasting shame of the Conservative Party that it has taken this unbearably tragic invasion of Ukraine to get them to finally acknowledge that “Corruption threatens our national security, economic prosperity and international reputation. It is often the root cause of international instability and conflict.”

In other words to wake up and look at who they are sharing their beds with.

On Monday the bill was voted through the Commons in a single day.

Amongst other things the bill allows persons of interest a six month “grace period” to register ownership of luxury properties in the UK. The original, hastily prepared bill, proposed an 18 month period.

Because this reduction to six months is now already an amendment to the tabled bill, no further amendment to slash this further was allowed by the speaker. Many think 28 days is more than sufficient for registering legitimate ownership. Leave it too long and all the property will likely have been sold and the proceeds sent to a tax haven. What Keir Starmer has described as a “get out of jail free card”.

Despite that, our two local MPs, along with most, but not all, of their Tory chums voted against three other amendments, aimed at toughening up the bill and ensuring enforcement agencies are adequately funded. 

Owl singles out the first and third of these amendments because they are reasonably self explanatory.

So here is what Neil Parish and Simon Jupp voted against:

New Clause 2 – Report on funding of enforcement agencies (Dame Margaret Hodge)

“Within 28 days of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report on the funding of enforcement agencies in connection with the provisions of Part 2 of this Act.”—(Dame Margaret Hodge.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament a report on the funding of enforcement agencies in connection with the reforms to unexplained wealth orders, as provided for in Part 2 of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill. Voted no (division #206; result was 230 aye, 303 no)

New Clause 29 – Asset freezing in respect of individuals considered for sanctions (Mr David Davis)

“(1) Not later than 28 days from when Part 1 of this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State must publish draft legislation for the purpose of making further reforms to Companies House, including to support the effective functioning of the register of overseas entities.

(2) The draft legislation must include—

(a) new powers for the registrar to aid the verification of foreign entities applying for registration as set out in section 4 of this Act;

(b) new powers for the registrar to better share data with enforcement agencies; and

(c) reforms that will improve the quality and veracity of the information on the register.”—(Jonathan Reynolds.)

This new clause would compel the Secretary of State to publish draft legislation on reforms to Companies House, including reforms that would support the operation of the Act.

Brought up.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

“(1) The Secretary of State may by notice publish the name of a person being considered as a subject for sanctions.

(2) A person in respect of whom a notice has been published under subsection (1) is immediately subject to the provisions of this section.

(3) A person in respect of whom a notice has been published under subsection (1) is prohibited from—

(a) selling any assets they own or have an interest in,

(b) moving any assets they own or have an interest in out of the United Kingdom, or

(c) moving any of their funds out of the United Kingdom.

(4) ‘Assets’ in subsection (3)(a) or (b) includes (but is not limited to)—

(a) land;

(b) houses, flats or other private accommodation;

(c) commercial, industrial, agricultural and other buildings, premises or property;

(d) businesses;

(e) personal possessions, works of art, jewellery or collectibles with an individual value of more than £500;

(f) motor vehicles;

(g) yachts or boats; and

(h) aircraft.

(5) ‘Funds’ in subsection (3)(c) means financial assets and economic benefits of any kind, including (but not limited to)—

(a) gold, cash, cheques, claims on money, drafts, money orders and other payment instruments;

(b) deposits with relevant institutions or other persons, balances on accounts, debts and debt obligations;

(c) publicly and privately traded securities and debt instruments, including stocks and shares, certificates representing securities, bonds, notes, warrants, debentures and derivative products;

(d) interest, dividends or other income on or value accruing from or generated by assets;

(e) credit, rights of set-off, guarantees, performance bonds or other financial commitments;

(f) (letters of credit, bills of lading, bills of sale; and

(g) documents providing evidence of an interest in funds or financial resources.

(6) A person who breaches any prohibition under this section commits an offence.

(7) A person who engages in an activity knowing or intending that it will enable or facilitate the commission by another person of an offence under paragraph (6) commits an offence.

(8) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (6) is liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine or to both;

(b) on summary conviction—

(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months; or

(ii) to a fine which in Scotland or Northern Ireland may not exceed the statutory maximum,

or to both.

(9) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (7) is liable on summary conviction—

(a) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months; or

(b) to a fine which in Scotland or Northern Ireland may not exceed level 5 on the standard scale,

or to both.”—(Mr David Davis.)

This new clause would prevent individuals whom the Secretary of State has named as being considered as a subject for sanctions from selling their assets or moving funds or assets out of the UK.

Brought up.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

The Committee proceeded to a Division. Voted no (division #208; result was 234 aye, 297 no)