Liz Truss received £425,000 in personal donations during her Tory leadership bid

Follow the money – Owl

A register of MPs’ financial interests revealed Truss’ rival Rishi Sunak received around £450,000 and Boris Johnson received a £23,000 donation to pay for his wedding

Liam Geraghty www.bigissue.com 

Liz Truss was handed £425,000 in personal donations to boost her Conservative leadership bid, official documents have revealed.

Published just minutes before the new prime minister laid out her new plan to freeze energy bills to support British households facing the cost of living crisis, the MP’s register of interests showed Truss had been backed by 22 personal donations to the tune of £424,349.

Among the most notable backers was billionaire property developer Tony Gallagher – 140th on the Sunday Times Rich List and worth an estimated £1.25bn – who pledged £5,500.

Peer Lord Michael Spencer, who sits three places above Gallagher on the Times’ list at £1.262bn, offered up £25,000. Fitriani Hay – the wife of Scottish millionaire businessman Jim Hay – offered £100,000 to Truss’s bid.

One £10,000 donor was listed as Smoked Salmon and is believed to be former Brexit Party MEP Lance Forman.

Truss’ opponent Rishi Sunak received £458,570 in donations, including two £50,000 donations from rock star Chris Rea.

The register of interests also revealed former prime minister Boris Johnson received £23,853 in donations from Tory donors Anthony and Lady Carole Bamford to cover the hire of a marquee and portaloos as well as paying for flowers, waiting staff, an ice cream van and a smoke and braii food truck.

‘Improvement notice’ for Devon’s special education

Devon’s underperforming services for children with special educational needs (SEND) are to be closely monitored by the government following a damning report earlier this year.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

Four areas of “significant concern” were identified by an inspector in December 2018 following a joint visit by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, but a revisit this May found “progress has not been made” in fixing any of them.

Communication remains poor and staff do not sufficiently understand strategy, the report said. As well as that, improvements need to be made in supporting children with autism as well as to education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – legal documents that outline a young person’s special educational needs.

Devon County Council and NHS Devon, which works in partnership to run SEND services in the county, both apologised, while the council chief responsible admitted it had “let down the children of Devon over the past four years.”

Following a subsequent meeting with representatives from the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England in July, the council has now agreed to an improvement notice suggested by the minister for school standards, Will Quince.

In his letter, Mr Quince says the issues raised in the revisit report are “serious” and that “the pace of change in Devon over the past three years has been too slow and is significantly affecting the lives of children and young people and their families.”

Mr Quince added: “In taking the swift and decisive action required to address the areas for improvement identified by Ofsted and CQC, it will be vital that the local area accepts collective responsibility and accountability for delivering the agreed actions.

“This will require a relentless focus on improvement across all service providers so that children, young people and families are able to access the support that they need.”

As part of the notice an improvement plan will be overseen by an improvement board, which will meet monthly to monitor progress and report in writing to the DfE and NHS England every two months.

In an update provided to the council’s children’s scrutiny committee this week, Jackie Ross, interim deputy and SEND strategic director, said there have so far been two informal meetings to discuss the development of the plan to improve the service.

This includes reducing bureaucracy and simplifying paperwork, increasing recruitment, more training for staff and schools, and to develop clear performance monitoring and targets.

Ms Ross’ report concluded: “Whilst no council wants to be subject to intervention, this is an opportunity for the council to support the leadership team in every way possible to ensure that all children, young people, and families in Devon receive the best possible service from a council that cares and truly wants very child to reach their full potential and live fulfilled lives.”

Last month the county council’s leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury) admitted the government will “run out of patience” with the authority if improvements aren’t made over the next year.

A separate report, published in July, also revealed progress remains ‘slow’ in improving the council’s children’s services department, which was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in January 2020.

“I’m very sorry for the children that have been failed by the Devon system,” Cllr Hart said. “I do think we are reshaping, reorganising, redoing things, and we’ve got to improve the service.”

Opposition leader Councillor Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said in July that possible government intervention was a “sad reflection on Devon County Council.”

He acknowledged that the new leadership team, appointed last year, should be given time, but said the problem was “nothing new.”

“It’s been going on for over 10 years. We failed to address the problems, we’ve allowed drift and I think that’s a terrible state of affairs.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Devon on Wednesday [7 September], cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside and Topsham) said: “We are doing everything in our power to sort this issue out and I’m confident that we will.”

Revealed: Truss adviser worked at energy lobbying firm

Liz Truss’s new director of strategy helped run a firm that lobbied for one of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers, openDemocracy can reveal.

Martin Williams www.opendemocracy.net 

Iain Carter took unpaid leave as a partner at Hanbury Strategy to join her leadership campaign over the summer and has now been installed at the heart of Number 10.

But during his time at Hanbury Strategy, the public relations agency was paid to lobby senior political figures on behalf of the now-infamous Bulb Energy.

With 1.5 million customers, Bulb was considered too big to fail – until it collapsed amid spiralling energy prices and went into administration in November 2021. It was bailed out by the government in a move that could cost taxpayers £4bn by next spring.

Downing Street refused to provide a statement on Carter’s appointment, but a spokesperson today claimed the Number 10 chief had not personally lobbied for Bulb Energy during his time as a partner at Hanbury.

In his biography on Hanbury’s official website, however, Carter states that he is “involved in the wider leadership of the agency” and “oversee[s] the work we do for a significant portfolio of clients”.

Official documents show the firm began work to sign up Bulb Energy as a client in 2017, promising to boost its public profile and provide “strategic communications advice”. This involved engaging with ministers or senior government officials at various points between 2018 and summer 2021.

Carter joined the lobbying firm in April last year as a director, at a time when the Bulb lobbying was ongoing. Following his promotion to partner in November, he was praised for having “help[ed] investors navigate an increasingly tricky political backdrop”.

Links to government

Carter’s move from Hanbury Strategy to Number 10 is the latest chapter in the company’s cosy relationship with the Conservative Party. Before joining the lobbying agency, Carter himself had previously worked as the Tories’ director of research.

Hanbury was founded in 2016 by Ameet Gill, who spent years in Downing Street as David Cameron’s director of strategy. When Cameron quit, following the Brexit referendum, he awarded Gill with an OBE.

But Gill received a slap on the wrist for setting up Hanbury Strategy just months after leaving Number 10 without the permission of the government’s sleaze watchdog. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments said there was “concern” that private clients had already been announced before the watchdog “had the opportunity to offer its advice”.

Another director at Hanbury, Paul Stephenson, served as director of communications for the Vote Leave campaign and also worked as an adviser to Conservative ministers.

The lobbying firm is the subject of ongoing legal action by the Good Law Project, after it was awarded £580,000 worth of COVID contracts without a competitive tender.

In total, records now show that Hanbury has won at least £1.2m of government contracts for work, including opinion polling surrounding the pandemic.

It has previously defended the work, which was agreed upon at “extremely short notice”, saying it “contributed to what was a hugely successful public health communications campaign which undoubtedly prevented many deaths”.

The firm also has close ties to the Labour Party, with several staffers who have worked for both. They include Chris Ward, who served as Keir Starmer’s former deputy chief of staff and is now a director at Hanbury. Meanwhile, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, recently hired one of Hanbury’s associate directors.

After Bulb Energy was bailed out by taxpayers, the government agreed to pay millions of pounds in bonuses to staff at the energy supplier.

Before Carter joined Hanbury, Bulb had already come under fire for breaching consumer rules. In 2020, it agreed to pay out £1.76m (some of it classed as ‘goodwill’ payments) after regulators found it had overcharged some customers.

The “wrong type of shale”.  Why fracking in UK will not fix fuel bills 

“UK fracking will only be a ‘cottage industry’ and North Sea ‘even more doubtful’ “ Citigroup.

“Fracking in the UK is a very high commercial risk, as the geology is wrong, and almost all of the oil or gas has leaked away millions of years ago. Analyses of the shales recovered while drilling for fracking in Lancashire showed the wrong type of shale and no oil or gas present.”

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

Fracking will not ease the UK’s energy crisis or bring down heating bills, but will imperil climate targets, scientists and economists have said, after the prime minister, Liz Truss, made lifting the ban on fracking one of the central planks of her energy strategy.

The technology used for hydraulic fracturing of shale rocks, and the difficulty of extracting gas from the UK’s shale deposits, have not changed markedly in the decade since fracking was first tried in the UK, according to scientists.

While the soaring price of gas might make fracking seem a more attractive proposition, in fact the difficulty of tearing up the UK’s countryside in pursuit of relatively small and hard-to-reach deposits means it remains very doubtful it could ever be profitable.

Jim Watson, professor of energy policy at University College London, said: “There is huge uncertainty about the economic viability of fracking, and it may take a long time to produce relatively small amounts of gas.”

Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Fracking in the UK is a very high commercial risk, as the geology is wrong, and almost all of the oil or gas has leaked away millions of years ago. Analyses of the shales recovered while drilling for fracking in Lancashire showed the wrong type of shale and no oil or gas present.”

Even if shale gas could be produced here at the scale needed, it would not make a dent in fuel bills. That is because the gas price is set by international markets, so any gas produced would be sold to the highest bidder and vast amounts would be needed to make any change to the gas price.

Kwasi Kwarteng, now chancellor of the exchequer, acknowledged this in the early stages of the Ukraine crisis, when he was business secretary. He tweeted in late February: “Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”

One company, Ineos, the chemical business founded by the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who recently expressed an interest in bidding for Manchester United football club, responded eagerly to Truss’s announcement, however. Tom Crotty, director of Ineos, said: “We are renewing our offer to the government to drill a shale gas test well in the UK. We believe we can prove we can do it safely and without harm to the environment.”

He said: “Shale has helped transform the energy landscape and local communities in the US. The US is well protected against the energy crisis as it is making the most of its natural resources. It can do the same here in the UK. We have promised to invest the first 6% of the value of the gas back into local communities.”

The complex engineering needed to drill horizontal wells through which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals can be blasted against dense shale rock to release microscopic bubbles of methane, which can then be captured in pipes, was perfected in the US about two decades ago. Since then, fracking has brought about a revolution in US oil and gas production, used across vast tracts of land from Texas to Pennsylvania.

But US geology has been more favourable to fracking than the deposits likely to be found in the UK, and it is a less densely populated country with far fewer, or poorly enforced, environmental protections in some states.

Early estimates suggested there could be sizable shale deposits in the UK, but most are likely to be inaccessible and reaching the shale requires constantly expanding drilling infrastructure. Richard Davies, petroleum geologist at Newcastle University, said: “Wells drilled in the US produce modest volumes of gas. Therefore you need hundreds drilled each year to make a dent on our reliance on imported gas.”

Expectations of a shale gas boom in the UK flared up briefly in the early 2010s, when the startup Cuadrilla began operations at a site in Lancashire, but they had largely subsided even before the government announced a moratorium on drilling in 2019, after a series of seismic shocks and health and safety concerns. All the problems that stymied shale gas fracking in the early 2010s are still there.

Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at UCL, said: “There was huge hype about fracking a decade ago, but over the subsequent decade it delivered almost nothing across Europe. It’s one thing to lift a ban on fracking, and quite another to get industry to invest at scale, particularly in a resource which is likely to be slow, contentious and limited.”

Mourning period will not delay energy bill freeze, says No 10

What a mess we are in as a result of the Conservatives effectively suspending government for six crucial weeks. This is  during an economic and energy crisis made worse by the £20 a week cut in universal credit last October, and because benefits have risen only 3% while inflation is pushing up bills by more than 10%. (Gordon Brown).

Conservatives need to start putting the National Interest before their own parochial ones.

As 1st October approaches, Owl hopes you find these words comforting: 

“We’re working urgently now on the wider aspects of the policy to ensure it can be delivered.”

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Liz Truss’s plans to legislate for a £100bn package of help with energy bills will not be affected by 10 days of national mourning for the Queen, despite parliament being cancelled for the next week, Downing Street has said.

The government is postponing most business until after the Queen’s funeral, but Truss’s team needs to implement the package before the energy price rise that is due to come into force on 1 October.

Parliament is unlikely to return until after the Queen’s funeral, with the earliest possible dates being 19 or 20 September. However, it is due to break up again on 22 September for its party conference recess, and Truss is supposed to be in New York for the UN general assembly for part of that week.

On Friday, Downing Street said plans would be put in place to ensure the support package was made available in time, and suggested that legislation would not be needed for the £2,500 cap on average bills to be put in place.

“The public should be reassured that the energy price guarantee will be in place for households from 1 October, as planned,” Truss’s official spokesperson said.

“We’re implementing that guarantee initially through private contracts with suppliers rather than through legislation, so this mourning period doesn’t impact that introduction.

“We’re working urgently now on the wider aspects of the policy to ensure it can be delivered. As it stands, we do not believe the mourning period would impact on delivery of the policy, neither do we think it requires any sort of legislative moments during the mourning period.

“We will be working with the Speaker to introduce any legislation that is required for as soon as possible after the mourning period concludes.”

With ministers holding back from outlining further details during the mourning period, energy suppliers are expected to contact customers before 1 October to explain how the announcement affects them.

Truss also announced an immediate lifting of the fracking ban in England this week, despite the Conservative manifesto promising not to do so unless it was scientifically proven to be safe amid concerns over earthquakes.

However, a British Geological Survey review into the safety of extracting shale gas was postponed from its scheduled publication on Thursday. Downing Street said this would now not be published until after the mourning period. A No 10 spokesperson said it would come “as soon as that period has concluded”.

The party conference season has already been affected by the national mourning, as the Trades Union Congress conference due to take place in Brighton next week has been postponed.

The Liberal Democrats conference is also hanging in the balance as that is scheduled for the week afterwards, potentially clashing with the Queen’s funeral, which is likely to be on Sunday 18 or Monday 19 September. Party sources suggested it was unlikely to be delayed until another time but could be curtailed or cancelled.

The Labour conference, which is due to start on Sunday 25 September in Liverpool, is thought to be very likely to go ahead.

One Tory source put the chances of the Conservative party conference going ahead in Birmingham from Sunday 2 October at 85-90%, with a decision “in the next few days”.

Conversations between the whips of the parties have taken place on the possibility of cancellation of the entire season, with one source saying the Tories seemed keenest on the idea of postponement, but that there had been no agreement and ultimately the main two parties were expected to proceed.

East Devon District Council delays John Humphreys decision

East Devon District Council (EDDC) have further postponed making a decision about the need for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to them to award an honour to a former Conservative councillor who was later sent to prison.

“I am sure this type of thing will happen again. Maybe a district council, maybe a parish council, or maybe a town council,”….“So that’s where you should be focusing your attention, in my opinion. ….that’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.” The CEO now advises against a separate independent investigation.

Not just an open case but a festering sore in the local Conservative party. It’s in no one’s long term interests to sweep this under the carpet. – Owl

Exmouth Journal Staff www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

He was a prominent councillor at a time when the Conservatives controlled East Devon.

Whilst the court case ended over a year ago, this is still an open case in the council. In April EDDC councillors accepted a proposal for chief executive Mark Williams to provide a report to the council about whether it should commission an independent investigation into how, despite his 2016 arrest, Humphreys continued to serve as a councillor until May 2019. He also retained his position as lead member for Exmouth and was even bestowed the honour of alderman in December 2019.

His arrest was not made public until he appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court in October 2020.

In the cabinet meeting on Wednesday (7 September), members heard from the chief executive, who changed his recommendations within an hour of the start of the meeting.

The report outlined the reasons Mr Williams advised against a separate independent investigation but in the meeting, he requested an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) and that “the CEO bring to that meeting an updated report incorporating the recently received correspondence from the Conservative Party, the proposed motion from Cllr Bailey and others and any other relevant update.”

This correspondence from the Conservatives was said to be the first meaningful exchange of communication from the party since Humphreys was sentenced in August 2021, and arrived just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a fact that the leader of the council, Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley), described as “morally completely unacceptable”.

Mr Williams said: “I am sure this type of thing will happen again. Maybe a district council, maybe a parish council, or maybe a town council,”

“So that’s where you should be focusing your attention, in my opinion. But you’re the council, you can decide otherwise. But that’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.” He concluded.

Councillor Jess Bailey (independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare) has previously said she believes an investigation is necessary told the meeting that Mr Williams was being dismissive of an important issue.

“We spend an awful lot of money on an awful lot of things that are actually considerably less important than this,” she said.

“And I would actually disagree [with Mr Williams]. How many councillors, how many councils in the country have had a councillor convicted and sentenced for sexual abuse and sent to prison for 21 years? I would think there’s very few. It’s exceptionally serious.”

In December 2021 the leader of the council alleged East Devon’s Conservative knew Humphreys was under investigation by the police for sex crimes at the time he was given an honorary title.

Cllr Eileen Wragg, a Liberal Democrat, has previously told the council she “certainly knew” of the allegations.

In other meetings councillors have expressed concerns that, as a governor of a school in Exmouth, Mr Humphreys would probably have gone through enhanced criminal record checks and yet was still appointed to senior positions.

The headteacher of the primary school gave evidence on Mr Humphreys’ behalf at his trial and told the jury he had never had concerns about his behaviour.

East Devon’s cabinet backed Mr Williams’ recommendation for an extraordinary general meeting. It is expected to take place on the week of 19  September.

[Need to keep looking at the EDDC meetings calendar which is in a state of hiatus at the moment, but could be the meeting scheduled for 28 September]