Two donors who gave Tories £1m between them handed public health jobs

Two businessmen who together donated more than £1m to the Conservative party have been handed prominent public health jobs, igniting a new “cronyism” row.

Aubrey Allegretti 

After the government came under criticism for its awarding of Covid contracts, including a “VIP lane” for suppliers, Labour raised fresh questions about recent appointments to NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

One of those given a senior public health advisory role was chair of a firm that reportedly sued the NHS for hundreds of millions of pounds over a failed IT project.

There is no suggestion that improper recruitment processes were followed. But the health secretary, Sajid Javid, was urged to ensure there would be no conflicts of interest.

In March, Oluwole Kolade was made a non-executive director and deputy chair of NHS England for three years. In just over a decade, Kolade has donated £859,342 to Conservative party headquarters; the party’s London mayoral candidate in 2021, Shaun Bailey; and the party’s branch in Hitchin and Harpenden. About a third of the donations – £300,000 – have been made since Boris Johnson became prime minister.

The government’s public appointments website said the appointing department was Javid’s and added: “Kolade has made a donation to the Conservative party.”

Kolade is a managing partner of Livingbridge, a private equity firm with extensive investments in private healthcare. On its website the company said it “has made a private equity investment in the healthcare and education sector in almost every single year for the past two decades”. Livingbridge’s portfolio includes multiple NHS suppliers, and private dental companies, care providers and fertility firms.

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said the appointment looked like “naked Conservative cronyism” and urged against the NHS being “placed in the hands of the highest bidder”. He called on Javid to “come clean about what guarantees he secured that this position won’t be used to benefit private interests over public health”.

Another prolific donor, Simon Blagden, was made a member of the UKHSA advisory board in April. Since 2005, Blagden and companies he is associated with have donated £376,000 to the Conservatives. These include Pietas Ltd, a firm he was director of from 2000 to 2020, and Avre Partnership Limited, which he has been director of since 2014.

He was also a chairman of Fujitsu UK, which sued the NHS over a failed IT project. A parliamentary committee’s inquiry into the debacle in 2013 cited reports that a sum of £700m was sought from the Department of Health.

Blagden already holds a role in government – as chair of its telecoms supply chain diversification advisory council at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – and in 2016 was awarded a CBE for services to the economy.

Labour said that “yet again, the Tories have appointed one of their own to a crucial public role”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Political activity is not a bar to holding a public appointment. In line with the requirements of the code of governance for public appointments, if someone has been politically active and has made donations, the government declares this when the appointment is announced.

“Wol Kolade was appointed by ministers in 2018 as a non-executive director on the board of NHS Improvement – he declared he had made donations to the Conservative party and the department declared this when he was first appointed and again when he was reappointed this year.”

A UKHSA spokesperson said: “All members of our advisory board have been appointed in line with government protocols and will provide vital impartial oversight and advice to help UKHSA deliver its strategic objectives.”

Kolade and his company Livingbridge were contacted for comment. Blagden was contacted for comment through Larkspur International, where he is a director.

New ‘urban village’ could be built in Exeter

(Site was the former home of The Range and Matalan, down by the quay, which both relocated from the site a long time ago.)

Good to see Exeter finding sites within the city boundaries – Owl

Anita Merritt

A first glimpse of what the regeneration of Exeter’s Haven Banks Retail Park could look like has now been revealed following the announcement of plans to build 440 new homes alongside retail and leisure facilities on the site. Developer Coplan Estates and joint venture partner Welbeck CP have confirmed the homes would be split between split across build-to-rent apartments and co-living studios of various sizes, and the new retail space which comprise of cafés, restaurants and local shops.

The scheme is being called Haven Banks Regeneration and is aiming to drastically change the predominantly redundant land in Water Lane and Haven Road. The city’s only bowling alley Tenpin Exeter is still based there, whereas Matalan and The Range have relocated to other premises in the city.

The public consultation is taking place from May 12 to 26 ahead of a planning application being submitted to Exeter City Council. Today, May 6, a website disclosing the plans has been launched.

It states that is proposing to build a new urban village with high-quality homes and ground-floor ‘public realm, local shops/café space, play space and new areas of green space’. The website adds that it is in discussions with Tenpin to identify an alternative site in Exeter.

The aim is to submit the planning application this summer, following the public consultation. It is hoped planning permission will be approved by the end of 2022. Construction work would then begin in the summer of 2023.

The website states: “We will begin by removing the buildings currently on the site before constructing the new blocks and associated landscaping and infrastructure. We are targeting completion of construction during 2025.”

Regarding its visions, it states: “Our ambition is for these regeneration plans to improve not just the site but connect with the riverside environment more widely and the surrounding residential areas.” It adds it is interested in hearing from the community on any ideas for incorporating public art into the development, such as murals or art installations.

Colin McQueston, head of development at Coplan Estates, said: “Our proposals aim to define a new future for the Haven Banks retail park site so that it can contribute positively to the local area. As things stand the site is no longer viable as a retail park so we’re extremely excited about re-energising it and delivering a vibrant new neighbourhood with much-needed housing and a range of new facilities and spaces for the public to enjoy. We’re putting our proposals on display to share our vision and to invite views from the community – we’d encourage anyone interested in the proposals to come along to our drop-in events and submit feedback to the consultation.”

Haven Banks Retail Park, Exeter

Haven Banks Retail Park, Exeter (Image: Google Street View)

People can find out more about the proposals and leave feedback online via a dedicated website or two drop-in public consultation events. The first will take place on Friday, May 13, from noon to 5pm. The second will be the following day on Saturday, May 14, from 10am to 3pm, at Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre in Haven Road.

Regarding the new homes being proposed, some of them will be build-to-rent refers to purpose-built housing designed for rent rather than sale – it provides residents an affordable place to live with a distinct and desirable sense of community and modern facilities geared around community living. Build-to-rent homes are more secure (from a lease perspective) and reliable than privately rented homes, with longer tenancy options, professionally managed by reliable landlords and with lower fees.

Regeneration plans for Exeter’s Haven Banks Retail Park (Image: Coplan Estates and Welbeck CP)

Co-living is a modern form of housing where residents share living space. It offers an opportunity for younger generations in particular to embrace communal living and shared experiences. Each resident will have their own private bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, with communal areas focused around an integrated hub with shared space including flexible work and lounge space. For more details visit the Haven Banks Regeneration website by clicking here.

If Boris Johnson really cared about ‘levelling up’ he’d give more power to local councils

All politics is local. That was the mantra that guided the long career of Tip O’Neill, the late Speaker of the US House of Representatives. It was meant to encapsulate the need for politicians to stay in touch with their voters and never forget that direct link to the electorate.

By Paul Waugh Chief Political Commentator

In the UK, local government and local issues have long been tangled up with national government and national issues. Like parliamentary by-elections, mid-term council elections are often seen as a referendum on whoever is in power, mixing protest votes about Westminster with verdicts on a particular backyard.

The public at least appear to claim that they’re more focused on their particular area. A new poll today by Survation for the Serco Institute found that just 11 per cent of people said Westminster politics was their primary motivation for deciding who to support in local elections. Some 14 per cent said the main driver was local public services and the top answer (21 per cent) was “local issues”.

In a clear bid to distance themselves from Boris Johnson, Partygate and the cost of living crisis, several Tory council candidates today are formally standing as “local Conservatives”. Registering that party name was a wheeze dreamed up by the party HQ in early 2019 at the height of Theresa May’s unpopularity. It didn’t particularly halt her demise.

But an emphasis on the local does matter to Boris Johnson’s chances of success nationally. Three of his key messages at the last election – “taking back control” after Brexit, “levelling up” and reforming social care – all rely on delivering both cash and power to local areas. The problem is that on both money and local decision-making, there is a long, long way to go.

As ever, Johnson’s emphasis has been on presenting his government as a new government, not a continuation of Tory rule since 2010. Rishi Sunak’s spending review last year did indeed deliver the largest increase in council spending power for more than a decade.

Yet as the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out, the UK’s population growth means that an apparent 2.4 per cent increase in real terms spending power since 2015/6 is actually a 1.8 per cent fall when calculated per person. Since 2010, council spending per person has plunged by a massive 25 per cent.

Most of the cuts of George Osborne’s austerity years were conducted by stealth, precisely because they were done locally by piecemeal. A slow puncture gets much less attention than a sudden blowout, especially with fewer local newspapers to report the damage. Planning, economic development, leisure services, libraries, all saw sweeping cuts.

When Boris Johnson did his whirlwind tour of local radio stations this week, those cuts were raised repeatedly. On BBC Radio Solent, he was told “we can’t look for money down the back of the sofa anymore because we sold the sofa”. On BBC Radio Wiltshire, he was told the local Swindon council had seen real cuts in cash from his government. “That’s all the more reason to have councillors who spend money wisely,” was the PM’s reply.

Just before Johnson went on air, the radio station played the Queen song “I Want To Break Free”. That felt like a subliminal message for those who argue that the best way the PM could really deliver change in a post-Brexit Britain is to free councils from Whitehall’s control.

When he was London Mayor, Johnson was an arch devolutionist, arguing for more cash and powers from George Osborne. He floated the idea of new council tax bands and for the capital to set its own tourist tax, income tax and stamp duty land tax. It was a metropolitan declaration of independence: taxation and representation go hand in hand.

Although councils are judged on the council taxes they set, their funding is really at the mercy of the Chancellor. The less cash they get from central government, the more town halls have to rely on council taxes. In 2010, council tax made up 45 per cent of core spending, but by 2020 it made up 60 per cent. And unlike the Treasury, local councils have a legal duty to set a balanced budget.

There has at least been some progress under Johnson and Sunak for those areas that get less from council tax because they are more deprived. The most deprived tenth of councils are projected to see their core spending power rise by 8.4 per cent, compared to 6.9 per cent for the least deprived tenth of councils.

And council tax has also been used as a backdoor vehicle for the Government to raise money for social care. However, councils are here under the squeeze too. In one of Sunak’s least noticed stealth cuts in last year’s Budget, he cut from three per cent to one per cent the amount a council could increase council tax by in order to fund social care. The prospect of people already hit by Sunak’s National Insurance rise then getting even more taxes locally may have been a factor.

Many poorer towns in England voted for Johnson and for Brexit alike, often because they had seen years of neglect and out of a sense that local pride needed to be restored. Yet some of those same areas are complaining that on things like structural funds, they’re getting less money than they did under the EU (the Cornish Times’ headline last month was ‘”Give Us Our Money, Boris”).

Those “Red Wall” areas are also losing out because of the continued drive towards creating pots of money for which all councils then have to compete against each other. The “Levelling Up Fund”, “Towns Fund”, “Community Ownership Fund”, even the “Bus Back Better” scheme, are all forms of beauty parade with winners and losers.

Instead of giving councils the money they need on a sustainable basis, and allowing them autonomy over how to spend it, we have a system that turns town halls into the equivalent of cities or countries bidding to host the Olympics or the World Cup. And the losers notice. In PMQs recently Neil Hudson, the MP for Penrith and the Borders, told Johnson of “my disappointment… when Cumbria was allocated no funding from the latest tranche of bus funding”. That MP is a Conservative.

Local successes have fired a Tory revival in the north and midlands too. Many “Red Wall” MPs tell me part of the reason for their success in 2019 wasn’t just the PM’s campaigning magic, it was often local resentment at a dire Labour council that had been in power for a decades.

Don’t forget that last year, many voters in the Hartlepool by-election blamed that council for closing their local hospital, whereas Tory Teesside Mayor Ben Houchen was credited with bringing jobs to the area. Similarly, Labour’s failure to tackle potholes and crime in Batley came close to costing Kim Leadbeater the seat. This year, Sunderland, Hull and Croydon are all causing jitters among Keir Starmer supporters.

Raw party politics aside, there is also a sound philosophical reason for Conservatives to back more localism. Their central belief is that politicians need to trust the people more (with how they spend their own money, with how they run their businesses). The flipside of distrust in a remote, centralised state may logically be trust in local people to determine their own fate.

On levelling up, on letting local people “take back control”, and on social care, Johnson really could get his government back on track if he gave more money and powers to local authorities. Without either, the title “local Conservatives” may look like a contradiction in terms.

Today’s local elections may well repeat the pattern of previous polling days for years, delivering a bloody nose to a national government, only for that government to win the following general election. It happened under Thatcher, Blair and Cameron, after all.

Still, some Conservatives think Johnson is missing a trick in not devolving more power locally. If he doesn’t, maybe local Tories will agree with today’s verdict from Nick Boles, an ex-Tory minister and the PM’s former chief of staff in his early days at City Hall: “He does not care about anything, other than power and glory for himself.”

‘Neil Parish let us down’

Neil Parish let himself and us all down badly and it is right that he has gone.

Martin Shaw, Chair of the East Devon Alliance, Martin Shaw, writes for the Herald.

I have no desire to dance on his political grave but it is timely to assess his contribution, in order to weigh up whether we need to replace him with yet another Conservative or whether we need someone radically different as the MP for the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, which includes the Seaton and Axminster areas of East Devon.

Neil was by no means the worst Tory MP. After all, he eventually did the decent thing and left, while Boris Johnson, who broke the law and lied to Parliament on multiple occasions, and Matt Hancock, who with Johnson consigned tens of thousands of care home residents to avoidable deaths, are still brazening it out.

Neil sees himself as having been a good constituency MP. His last (Zoom) meeting before he was found out was, apparently, with EDDC leaders to discuss a ‘levelling up’ fund bid including Seaton’s seafront.

He didn’t always follow through, however.

When the New Devon Clinical Commissioning Group proposed to close the beds in Seaton and Honiton hospitals in 2017, he promised to ‘hold their feet to the fire’. But when his Tory colleagues on the county council voted down the referral which could have kept the beds open, Neil was nowhere to be seen.

I found it was the same on other issues that came my way as Seaton & Colyton’s County Councillor.

I sat with Neil in meetings with residents in Wilmington and Colyford to discuss crossings which would alleviate their road problems. Neil made constructive noises, as you expect your MP to do, but when the going got tough, he was no longer around.

Neil was pretty much the ultimate Tory loyalist, with all that implies.

As a farmer, he knew that Brexit was a bad idea for the country and for Devon, and he supported Remain in 2016.

But aware that most local Tories backed Brexit, he made himself pretty much invisible during the campaign.

Afterwards, he jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, slavishly following the twists and turns of first Theresa May’s and then Boris Johnson’s policies.

Only recently, as it became evident that Brexit is indeed a disaster for farming, fishing and small businesses, did Neil start to criticise it again.

Neil’s rare rebellions against the party line were often reactionary, like his opposition to same-sex marriage and rewilding.

He would vote for the government every time when it proposed to take away people’s rights, recently backing its restrictions on the right to protest and voting rights and its cruel scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Whatever his good points, Neil was a parliamentary yes-man. In next month’s by-election, Tiverton and Honiton needs to get itself a no-woman, someone who will stand up against the travesty of a government which now rules over us, and stand up for all the people in this area who are suffering from the mess it is making of living standards and the NHS.

It’s a shame that the excellent Claire Wright has ruled herself out, but Tiverton and Honiton’s new MP needs to be independent-minded, even if they’re not an Independent.

The by-election is the area’s opportunity to get its first non-Conservative after literally a century of Tory yes-men.

By-elections are great levellers, and that 24,000 Tory majority could vanish if people who want change unite around a single candidate.

We will need to vote tactically to give the best-placed opposition candidate a real chance. Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and East Devon Alliance supporters should be prepared to abandon tribalism and back the best candidate to win. In the coming days we will find out who the likely candidates are.

Meanwhile, make sure you’ll be able to vote – google Register to Vote no

More questions about John Humphreys whilst under police investigation

Questions have been raised about photographs that show convicted sex offender and former councillor John Humphreys around children while he was under a police investigation.

See also MP stayed at property owned by disgraced councillor

Questions but do we have satisfactory answers? – Owl.

Questions around sex offender’s access to schools

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter 

John Humphreys attended meetings in schools whilst under investigation

Mr Humphreys, 60, who was also mayor of Exmouth at one stage, is serving a 21-year sentence after being convicted in August last year of sexually assaulting two teenage boys between the early 1990s and early 2000s.

The photograph, taken at the selection meeting for the Conservative candidate for East Devon for the 2019 election, almost a year before Mr Humphreys first appeared in court, is on the East Devon Conservative website. The meeting was held at Exmouth Community College on a day the school was closed.

At an East Devon District Council (EDDC) cabinet meeting on Wednesday [4 May] leader Cllr Paul Arnott (Independent East Devon Alliance and Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) asked the chair of the Conservative group in East Devon, Cllr Bruce De Saram (Exmouth Littleham) to explain the image.

A number of senior East Devon Conservatives are in the photograph, including police and crime commissioner Allison Hernadez, the candidates standing for selection, including the eventual winner Simon Jupp, and former councillor Mr Humphreys, who is in the audience.

Cllr De Saram said he had no comments on the matter.

Cllr Arnott said: “In essence, it looks as if for the purposes of a selection meeting a man who had been arrested at least 18 months before….was taken to an educational facility for a meeting chaired by the police and crime commissioner at which the new MP candidate was selected.”

Simon Jupp, who became MP the month after the selection meeting, and Conservative councillors in East Devon categorically deny any knowledge of Mr Humphreys’ crimes whilst he was in office or when he was subsequently given his honorary title of alderman by the council in December that year. The title was removed by the council in 2021.

Separately,  in March 2019, whilst under investigation, John Humphreys was pictured with children from Littletown Academy at the opening of East Devon council’s new offices, Blackdown House.

Asked why Humphreys was allowed to attend these events at the time he being investigated on suspicion of sexually assaulting teenage boys, a spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “A long and thorough police investigation resulted in John Humphreys being convicted and jailed for a total of 21 years at Exeter Crown Court in August 2021. 

“The circumstances of this case and Humphreys’ offences were heard in public by the court during the trial which was widely reported at the time.  

“No further suspects were identified within the police investigation. 

“The conviction was only possible thanks to the tenacity, patience and strength of the victims who put their trust in our officers investigating these matters.

“In 2019, the case was progressing with the police and CPS to bring the case to court. It would not be appropriate to comment on further speculation.”

Mr Humphreys was first questioned in 2005 but police did not find sufficient evidence for a prosecution. 

Following a complaint by a second victim, Cllr Humphreys was arrested in 2016 before being released whislt police continued their investigation.

At the time, neither incident was made public and Mr Humphreys continued to be a councillor until May 2019. He first appeared in court in August 2020. In the intervening period, East Devon District Council (EDDC) awarded him the honorary title of alderman, which was removed in 2021.

East Devon Conservatives have denied having any knowledge of the police investigation until it came to court.

In a statement following the cabinet meeting last week, Simon Jupp revealed that he had stayed at a property owned by John Humphreys.

Mr Jupp said: “First and foremost, my thoughts are with the victims of John Humphreys’ horrendous crimes.

“For less than two months in 2019, I lived at a flat owned by Mr Humphreys but was completely unaware of his abhorrent crimes for which he was jailed in August 2021.

“I deplore his actions. Had I known anything about his crimes, I would not have lived at the property and would have immediately reported my concerns to the police.”