Stop Revolving Door Payouts to Conservative Ministers: £16,876 for Raab

Kerching! One rule for them another one for us. – Owl

The Liberal Democrats have called on sacked and newly reappointed Conservative ministers to forego their redundancy payments, following the reshuffle announced by Rishi Sunak.

By Joseph Kennedy 

Conservative turmoil has led to huge numbers of former ministers being able to claim payouts, with the two reshuffles carried out since July potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Ministers who were sacked just months ago but have now been reappointed are still able to claim thousands of pounds each in redundancy pay, as long as they have been out of a ministerial post for at least three weeks.

For example Dominic Raab, who was sacked by Liz Truss in September but reappointed as Justice Secretary today, would be eligible to receive £16,876 despite only being out of a ministerial job for seven weeks.

Steve Barclay, who was reappointed as Health Secretary after being sacked in September, would also be entitled to the same full redundancy payout.

The Liberal Democrats have called the arrangement a “farce” and said this “revolving door bonus” should be returned to the Treasury to help struggling families with the cost of living.  

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office Spokesperson, Christine Jardine said:

“It beggars belief that while families are struggling to pay their bills, many retiring Conservative ministers are set to receive thousands of pounds, some of them after just a few weeks in the job. 

“The Conservatives have trashed the economy, and now expect the British people to endure even more hardship to clean up their mess.

“What staggering unfairness, for the Ministers who got us into this financial mess to be rewarded with  taxpayers’ cash.

“Perhaps most egregious of all is the revolving door bonus for ministers who got a payout just months ago and have now already been reappointed.

“It is a complete farce.

“These payouts should be stopped, and the money should be spent on helping the many people who are struggling under Conservative misrule.”

So much for Sunak’s promise to restore “integrity” – the Braverman taint

Suella Braverman accused of ‘multiple’ breaches of ministerial code by former Tory chair

Andrew Woodcock

Fresh questions were tonight being asked about Rishi Sunak’s decision to bring Suella Braverman back into government as home secretary, after a former Conservative party chair claimed she had been involved in “multiple” breaches of the ministerial code.

Jake Berry, who was chair when Liz Truss sacked Ms Braverman last week, said that she was responsible for a “really serious breach” relating to confidential government discussions of cybersecurity.

And he challenged Mr Sunak’s claim that the home secretary had confessed to breaking the code, telling Talk TV that “the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence, rather than the other way around”.

Mr Berry’s shock intervention adds to pressure on the new PM, who is already facing accusations of failing to deliver on his promise of “integrity” in government by granting Ms Braverman “impunity” for her misdemeanour.

And it suggests that Mr Sunak may face efforts to destabilise his new regime by members of the Truss administration, like Mr Berry, who he sacked after coming to power this week.

Ms Braverman was reappointed home secretary on Tuesday just six days after Liz Truss sacked her for sending cabinet papers to unauthorised people via her private email – and just hours after Mr Sunak promised that his administration would have “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at every level.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of doing a “grubby deal” with the leading right-winger in return for her support in the Conservative leadership contest, which effectively scuppered Boris Johnson’s hopes of a sensational comeback.

Concern over Ms Braverman’s return is understood to have been raised by the head of the civil service, Simon Case, who initially advised Ms Truss that her actions amounted to a breach of the code.

Neither Mr Sunak nor Downing Street denied that Mr Case had advised against the appointment, though the PM’s official spokesperson said he “did not recognise” reports that the cabinet secretary was “livid” at being overruled.

Announcing her resignation last week, Ms Braverman admitted she made a “mistake”, which she described as a “technical infringement” of the ministerial rules.

But questions remain about why she sent the document to fellow right-wing MP Sir John Hayes and how she accidentally copied in an aide to another MP, who sounded the alarm.

Mr Berry told Talk TV: “From my own knowledge, there were multiple breaches of the ministerial code.

“It was sent from a private email address to another member of parliament. She then sought to copy in that individual’s wife and accidentally sent it to a staffer in parliament.

“To me that seems a really serious breach, especially when it was documents relating to cybersecurity, as I believe. The cabinet secretary had his say at the time. I doubt he’s changed his mind in the last six days, but that’s that’s a matter for the new prime minister.”

Asked if Ms Braverman had “put her hands up” to the breach, Mr Berry replied: “I wasn’t in that meeting, but as I understand it, the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence, rather than the other way around.” The FDA union, representing top Whitehall mandarins, said any civil servant would expect to face “the harshest of penalties” for such a breach of security, including losing their security clearance.

“Standards matter, and the clear signal from her appointment is that ministers can act with impunity if it suits the prime minister,” said the union’s general secretary Dave Penman.

“This sends the country and the civil service a worrying message about how the new government will approach standards and national security.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street signalled that Mr Sunak had ditched a Truss plan to allow overall immigration to rise in the hope of stimulating economic growth by filling vacancies in shortage occupations.

A spokesperson said the new PM will stick to the pledge in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto that overall numbers will come down over the course of the parliament.

The change – which will make it more difficult for chancellor Jeremy Hunt to convince the Office for Budget Responsibility he can fill a £40bn hole in the national finances – sparked speculation that it was part of a deal with Ms Braverman in return for her support in the leadership contest.

Ms Braverman had clashed with Ms Truss over migration, after declaring a personal ambition to get net numbers down below 100,000 a year, in contradiction to the then PM’s plans.

But Mr Sunak’s press secretary denied the pair discussed the home secretary’s job when they spoke ahead of Ms Braverman’s dramatic declaration in his favour on Sunday, insisting the issue had only come up when he was allocating cabinet roles on Tuesday.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Sir Keir told MPs: “We can all see what’s happened here – he’s so weak, he’s done a grubby deal trading national security because he was scared to lose another leadership election.

James Cleverly defends Rishi Sunak’s appointment of Suella Braverman

“There’s a new Tory at the top, but as always with them, party first, country second.”

And the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused Mr Sunak of doing a “sleazy backroom deal” with Ms Braverman to help “shore up” right-wing support in his battle with Boris Johnson.

Mr Sunak retorted that he was “delighted” to have Ms Braverman in his cabinet.

“The home secretary made an error of judgement but she recognised that,” the new prime minister told the Commons. “She raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.”

Ms Braverman was later accused of “running away” from scrutiny after she left the Commons chamber rather than respond to an urgent question from Labour about the leak.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has written to Mr Case demanding an investigation “into the extent of this and other possible security breaches”.

And she told MPs that Ms Braverman had “breached core professional standards and has now run away from accountability in this house”.

But Home Office minister Jeremy Quin, who stood in to answer the question on the home secretary’s behalf, insisted it would not be “proper” for Mr Sunak to order an investigation into actions which took place under Ms Truss.

Mr Quin told MPs that it was the PM’s intention to appoint a new independent ethics adviser, after two resigned under Mr Johnson.

But asked whether they would then investigate Ms Braverman, he replied: “Events in the last administration would not properly be part of the remit of a new independent adviser.

“That was a matter that was dealt with by the previous administration. We have a new administration and the home secretary has been appointed to her post.”

Even in the absence of an ethics adviser, it is within Mr Sunak’s power to instruct the government’s ethics and propriety team to look into alleged misbehaviour by a minister. However, the Cabinet Office confirmed that no such request has been made.

The general secretary of the PCS union, which represents many Home Office staff, said: “It beggars belief that a minister who lost her job just days ago for breaching ministerial rules can be welcomed back into government as if nothing happened.”

And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey branded Ms Braverman “leaky Sue” and said her return to a highly sensitive post after such a breach was “inexcusable”.

“She’s responsible for MI5, she sits on the National Security Council, she sees some of the most highly confidential issues, both relating to crime and to our defence,” Sir Ed told the News Agents podcast.

“For her to apparently be so light and easy with copying to people who don’t have that level of clearance, I think is genuinely shocking.”

Exeter Uni lead £8.7m project to understand coastal water health risks

A new £8.7 million project seeks to understand the health risks posed by coastal waters due to climate change. The impact of climate change on health risks due to pathogens in the environment, specifically in our coastal waters, will be investigated by a new £8.7 million (€10 million) Horizon Europe project developed by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health and led by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3).

Lewis Clarke 

The BlueAdapt project involves 12 institutes from across 10 countries in Europe, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of researchers including microbiologists, epidemiologists, economists, climate scientists and policy specialists. The project will focus on a wide range of pathogens including antimicrobial resistant bacterial pathogens which are becoming increasingly hard to treat with antimicrobial drugs commonly known as antibiotics.

The Covid-19 pandemic illustrated that there is need for a much better understanding of environmental pathogens. The project will help future pandemic preparedness by identifying when and where pathogens may evolve and what the risk factors for environmental transmission to humans are.

Dr Tim Taylor, senior lecturer in environmental and public health economics at the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health who coordinated the bid said: “Our coastal waters are important to our society in terms of providing space for recreation, food to our tables and supporting a range of industries. It is important we understand how bacteria and viruses will respond to changes in our climate and society – so we can better plan for the future. Through a series of case studies, BlueAdapt will focus in on change in different areas of Europe and look at different options for responding to these emerging threats.”

Professor Will Gaze who leads the environmental demission of antimicrobial resistance research unit at the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human health said: “Antimicrobial drug resistant infections are predicted to be the leading cause of death by 2050 and the role of the natural environment in the evolution and transmission of antimicrobial resistant pathogens is increasingly being recognised. With partners including those at Bangor University in Wales and the University of Galway in Ireland we will use a combination of experimental evolution and sophisticated modelling approaches to better understand the effects of climate change on risks posed by pathogens and antimicrobial resistance in the environment”.

Prof Marc Neumann, research professor at BC3 and BlueAdapt’s principal investigator explains: “BlueAdapt presents a unique opportunity for us to investigate emerging disease risks in our coastal waters. We hope to be able to improve the understanding on how bacteria and viruses in coastal zones will respond to changes in our climate and how this in turn may impact the health of the European population. We will investigate policy responses, including early warning systems, and estimate expected benefits of adaptation actions.”

BlueAdapt is a partnership between the Basque Centre for Climate Change, University of Exeter, Charles University, University of Warsaw, University of Galway, Deltares, CMCC, EuroHealthNet, Bangor University, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, University of the Basque Country and ThenTryThis.

BlueAdapt is funded under European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 101057764 and by UKRI/HM Government.

Charity founded by Jeremy Hunt paid 66% of income to chief executive

A charity founded by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, paid more than £110,000 – two-thirds of its income – to his former political adviser Adam Smith, who lost his job over a lobbying scandal.

Nice work if you can get it! – Owl

Rowena Mason 

Patient Safety Watch, which was set up to research preventable harm in healthcare, paid Smith as its sole employee and chief executive about 66% of its income in the year ending January 2022.

Hunt part funds the charity but it also solicits donations from the public on its website.

It was established in 2019 to conduct research, but appears to have produced no papers since then. A message on its website says: “We have an ambitious research programme looking into a wide variety of patient safety issues. We will publish details of our forthcoming research on these pages.”

However, the page for reports says: “Our reports will be published here – please check back soon for our first piece of research.”

Its main output appears to be a blog and publishing newsletters from Hunt in his capacity as founder and trustee of the charity. The annual accounts explain that the charity chose not to publish its research – some of which has been completed – while the NHS remained under significant Covid-related pressure and it would do so “when the climate is right”.

Smith resigned as an adviser to Hunt in 2012, when Hunt was culture secretary, after the Leveson inquiry, over a scandal in which he had exchanged messages with a lobbyist for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The company was seeking permission for a takeover of BSkyB (now Sky) at the time, with Hunt in a quasi-judicial role.

When Smith stepped down, he said he acted without the authority of his boss and that he had allowed an impression to form of an over-close relationship between News Corp and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Smith is now employed by Hunt as a parliamentary aide, having returned to work for him in 2020.

Smith’s £110,000-£120,000 salary, first reported by the Civil Society publication, represents more than two-thirds of the charity’s annual income of £164,400 for the financial year ending January 2022. Its annual accounts report that £106,000 of its income came from donations and legacies, and a further £58,400 from other trading activities.

The accounts show that its only employee received remuneration of £47,232 in 2020, and that this more than doubled to £113,600 in 2021. Its 2022 accounts refer to a salary band of £110,000-£120,000.

The three trustees of Patient Safety Watch do not receive remuneration. The trustees are Hunt, a charity worker James Titcombe, and a chartered accountant David Grunberg.

Hunt and Patient Safety Watch did not respond to a request for comment.

Jupp apologises for turmoil in Westminster not for crashing the economy

In his weekly column Simon Jupp apologises for the turmoil in Westminster but not for the economic damage his government has inflicted on us by sheer incompetence.  A few weeks ago Liz Truss announced unfunded tax cuts, especially for the wealthy with disastrous consequences.

Now the new Chancellor is planning an austerity budget of tax rises and spending cuts, austerity 2.0.

We have consumer price inflation over 10%, food cost inflation at 17%, increases in mortgages, fuel bills that many cannot afford (fuel inflation 30%, gas temporarily capped at 100%, electricity capped at 54%) and we are facing a recession.

Pensioners and benefit claimants once more face cruel uncertainty over whether or not they will be paid in debased currency.

He also returns to his theme of trying to distract attention by criticising the non-Tory Council. This time for “not listening”.

But Simon, who were you listening to when you voted in the fracking lobby?

New Prime Minister will unite and deliver

Simon Jupp MP’s Weekly column for the local press:

Politicians don’t often apologise.

In political circles, it can be seen as weakness. Frankly, I really could not care less what politicos in Westminster think about me. I’m here to serve you.

I’ll be honest, I am annoyed by recent events. As your MP, I want to apologise for the turmoil in Westminster.

Although I campaigned for Rishi Sunak in the summer, I accepted a position in Liz Truss’ government because I wanted it to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t. At the time of writing, the markets and pound have responded positively to Rishi Sunak’s decisive victory in the leadership contest.

We have a mandate from a landslide election win for the Conservative Party in 2019. My party must quickly unite under Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, get a grip, and govern.

It’s the message I heard loud and clear on Saturday as I knocked on doors with Paul Carter, the Conservative candidate in the upcoming Newton Poppleford and Harpford by-election next month. I’m typically out most weekends taking part in coffee mornings, community events, or speaking to people on the doorstep.

Westminster can be quite an isolating place, which is why it is important to come back to my home in Sidmouth. I’m often stopped in the street or in the shops. I hope you’ll always feel that I’m accessible as your MP.

On a final note this week, you may have noticed that I have been “bleating” about the reluctance of Liberal Democrat party member Cllr Paul Arnott to get his councillors to come out from behind their keyboards, return to physical meetings, and reopen East Devon District Council’s offices in Exmouth and Honiton. Thankfully, the Conservative Group, working cross-party with Labour and councillors in Cranbrook, defeated the current administration. Councillors will return to physical meetings soon.

Cllr Arnott should listen to local public concern and reopen Exmouth Town Hall and Blackdown House to the general public. I’m hoping that much like the totally unnecessary debacle with traders on Exmouth’s Strand, the council’s current administration will see sense.

Owl’s view on virtual council meetings can be found here.

[Fact check: Cllr Arnott leader, abstained in the vote, as did Cllr Ian Thomas, the Chair – can’t get fairer than that!] 

What is democracy supposed to be?

EDDC has taken, what in Owl’s opinion is a retrograde step, by agreeing to a motion inspired by the Tory group to return to physical meetings immediately.

The issue is not entirely straightforward as was reflected in the subsequent vote.

By not amending fifty-year-old legislation the virtual meetings held during lockdown are not considered “legal”. They are deemed to be only “consultative”, resulting in councillors not making “decisions” but only “recommendations” for officers to act upon. These temporary arrangements have had to be extended, then extended again, though in practice they worked very well especially in increasing public engagement.

So, our Tory friends (seeking a distraction maybe), argued virtual council meetings couldn’t be properly “democratic”. Council Officers are working to introduce a hybrid system, and will make proposals in December, but the Tories can’t wait.

Yes, physical meetings for certain purposes and occasions are important and will be occasionally necessary but virtual meetings have overwhelming advantages in terms of transparency and public engagement. They also make being a councillor accessible to a much wider section of the community eg those with family commitments or those with mobility problems.

How are you meant to get to Blackdown House by public transport these days?

To stop all virtual meetings before hearing about what hybrid meetings might offer is to throw out the baby with the bath water.

At heart, this decision is discriminatory. Hopefully, more sensible decisions will be made when the subject is revisited.

Making more use of virtual meetings in all walks of life is essential if we are to increase productivity and economic growth, whilst cutting our carbon footprint. Why are Tories so set against the idea?

Here is what Green Cllr Olly Davey, Exmouth, has written in the Exmouth Journal:

WHILE I would have thought that our MP. Simon Jupp, might have had other things on his mind than attacking EDDC over its decision to continue with virtual meetings, I suppose we must expect such attacks to continue as we approach Council elections next May.

A week after his column was printed, a virtual meeting of Full Council rejected advice from the Monitoring Officer to continue with virtual meetings for a few more months until a reliable hybrid system could be adopted, and voted instead to resume in-person meetings for all committees with statutory powers, so that delegation of decisions to relevant officers would no longer be required. This was done on the basis that delegation was “undemocratic”, and it was even suggested that councillors were not doing the job they were elected to do, which even a casual glance at any of the recorded meetings will show is not the case. The Council has continued to function in almost exactly the same way

Had the Government amended the 1972 Local Government Act, as it had the opportunity to do when the emergency legislation enabling virtual meetings came to an end in May 2021, delegation to officers would not have been necessary. A law drafted 50 years ago, not surprisingly, did not anticipate the advances in technology that we now benefit from. This was despite lobbying by the Local Government Association and many councils who could see the savings in carbon emissions, officer and councillor time, increased public access, and greater transparency of decision making. We might not all have wanted to continue with virtual meetings, but it would have been good to have had the choice.

So now that “democracy” has been restored, what does this mean? Well, firstly, if you enjoyed watching Council and committee meetings being live streamed on YouTube, you now will only be able to see certain committees, while the heavy hitters like Planning and Cabinet will no longer be available, except in audio (possibly). If you want to attend meetings to protest about or support certain proposals or just to observe, you will have to come to Blackdown House. That doesn’t sound much like “democracy” to me.

For a number of the committees of which I am a member, I shall have a 35 mile round trip each time I attend. As I did before. I shall attempt to carshare with other Exmouth members, but as a Green Councillor who tries to minimise his car usage, it’s not a good outcome. If I want to drop into a Cabinet meeting because there’s an item of interest to me, I shall have to travel to Blackdown House.

I am coming round to a view that democracy is about choice – who to be governed by, what sort of society I want to live in, how I wish to live. The inability to hold legally valid virtual Council meetings may not seem very important, but it’s yet another way in which my freedom, that of the Council on which I serve, and of the general public to be able to scrutinise how we operate, has been eroded. Perhaps I can count on the support of our MP to amend the 1972 Act to enable virtual meetings but I’m not holding my breath.