BoJo refuses to leave (free and almost tax free) Foreign Office luxury pad that should go to Jeremy Hunt

“Boris Johnson has refused to budge from his £20million taxpayer-funded mansion, as Downing Street admitted he could still be there for “weeks”.

There is growing anger as he remains at the luxury official residence, despite resigning as Foreign Secretary 12 days ago.

The Tory MP was today spotted sheepishly leaving the mansion, with two large suitcases packed in an awaiting car for him.

But wife Marina Wheeler was understood to still be in the home today.

A No10 spokeswoman said: “He’s leaving within the next few weeks.”

Mr Johnson refused to answer questions on his living situation when confronted by the Mirror at the property.

Two taxpayer-funded, unmarked police cars with four staff waited for two hours at One Carlton Gardens in Central London as the MP readied himself.

Mr Johnson was whisked away in a Jaguar, with the suitcases in a 4×4 BMW.

He has raked in thousands from renting out a home just four miles away in Islington, North London, while he lived rent-free in the mansion.

Grenfell Tower survivor Aalya Moses, 57, who spent months cooped up in a hotel room as she awaited a new home after the blaze, hit out at the former Cabinet minister.

She said: “If he’s still living in there I think it’s disgusting, it’s outrageous.

“A man like him will have earned plenty of money and he’s living for free in a second home he shouldn’t really be living in any more. And it’s at the taxpayers’ expense?

“What planet is he on? It’s diabolical.”

Labour MP David Lammy said it was proof of a “serious class problem” here.

Referring to the recent scandal over treatment of Windrush migrants, he added: “Those like Boris Johnson, who are drenched in privilege, feel entitled to claim far beyond what they are owed.

“Meanwhile, many of the poorest in our society often do not get even their most basic rights.

“As Boris luxuriates in Carlton Gardens at the taxpayers’ expense, despite resigning from his role, many from the Windrush generation remain homeless due to Government failures and its hostile environment.”

It also emerged Mr Johnson may have enjoyed the grace-and-favour property without paying tax.

Ministers are usually expected to declare such accommodation as a taxable benefit on the department’s annual report, according to the Treasury.

Mr Johnson, who has lived there since being made Foreign Secretary two years ago, has not.

The Treasury said: “Government ministers occupying official residences by virtue of their jobs meet the statutory conditions for an exemption from a tax charge on the property itself.

“However, tax is charged on associated services, such as heating, lighting, repairs…

“The charge of the benefit limited to 10% of the net earnings from the ministerial salary (not including their parliamentary salary).”

HMRC declined to comment on individual cases.

The Foreign Office failed to respond to the Mirror for comment, and to confirm whether Mr Johnson had vacated Carlton Gardens.

The Foreign Office leases the mansion from the Crown Estate, which looks after the Queen’s properties. Officials paid £482,341 a year in rent on it in 2015.

If this has not gone up since then the Foreign Office is paying £1,321.48 a day for the property.

That means as of yesterday, the taxpayer had paid £14,536 for it since Mr Johnson quit over Brexit on July 9.

The Georgian mansion is considered the most plush of all the ministers’ grace-and-favour pads. …”

“Revealed: Tory donors who paid £7m to socialise with Theresa May”

Owl says: hedge funds expect to make squillions from Brexit.k

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, Brexit backers and wife of Putin minister among benefactor

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, a string of Brexit backers and the wife of a former senior minister to President Putin are among the Conservative donors who have paid more than £7m to socialise with Theresa May since the general election.

Eighty-one party benefactors have paid a total of £7.4m to the Conservative party for access to the prime minister at dinners, post-prime minister’s questions’ lunches and drinks receptions since July 2017, records show.

Party insiders say the large amount raised over just nine months from a single revenue stream is evidence that the Tories are aiming to be “election ready” for the autumn.

At least 10 of the donors, who joined the Leader’s Group for £50,000 a head, are supporters of a hard Brexit.

Dominic Johnson, who attended two of the group’s events in 2017, is the co-founder of Somerset Capital Management – an investment firm set up with Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiter and the chairman of the European Research Group [ERG].

Somerset was recently reported to be warning its clients about “considerable uncertainty” as a result of Brexit, and set up a fund in Ireland, which benefits from EU financial passporting rights.

Sir Michael Hintze, the hedge fund billionaire who gave £100,000 to Vote Leave, is a familiar figure in Conservative circles and attended at least one dinner in 2017 with the prime minister, sources said.

Hardy McLain, a retired US hedge fund manager living in London, attended events in 2017 and 2018. He previously donated £20,000 to the Vote Leave campaign.

It is the first time since July 2017 that any details of dinner guests of May’s Leader’s Group have emerged. Their identities have been quietly released by the Conservatives this week.

Receiving campaign donations is a routine activity for politicians. But each gift carries with it a potential conflict of interest if the prime minister’s policies appear to benefit those who made the donations.

Edmund Truell, who attended dinners in 2017 and 2018, owns a Swiss-listed private equity business called Disruptive Capital, whose mission statement is to “exploit market uncertainty” to generate returns.

Only two women are among the Leader’s Group donors disclosed in the documents.

Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband, Vladimir, was the deputy finance minister of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was given access to the prime minister between last July and September. She has given £626,500 to the Tories since 2012, including £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and £30,000 to dine with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Alisa Swidler, a US philanthropist and friend of Bill Clinton who has given £336,686 to the party, also attended an event with May.

The party’s chief executive, the mining tycoon Sir Mick Davis, told a meeting of donors in September that the party needed to raise an additional £6m through the parliamentary cycle if it was to win the next general election.

The party spent £18.5m on last year’s election, when the Conservatives lost their working majority, compared with £11m by Labour. Sources told the Guardian the Tories are aiming for a 40% annual increase in the party’s budget – money that will be spent on up to 100 local campaign co-ordinators.

Records show that Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party treasurer who gave millions to the party under William Hague’s leadership but stopped donating during Cameron’s premiership, appears to be back in the fold and is a member of May’s leader’s Group. He was joined by the former government adviser and investor in payday loans, Adrian Beecroft.

May appears to bring cabinet members to each event. She was joined by Amber Rudd and the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, at events between the election and the end of September; the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, accompanied her to Leader’s Group meetings in the autumn; between January and April this year, May was joined by Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and four other cabinet ministers.

The Conservatives had not updated details of donors who attended events since July 2017. Cameron pledged to release donors’ data following an outcry over the Leader’s Group dinners and whether they were allowing the rich and powerful to buy access to the cabinet.

The documents were spotted this week by campaigners for a second referendum on membership of the EU. Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “People will rightly be angry to see the government listen to Brexit donors in return for donations to the Tory party while denying the British public a vote on their deal.”

Privatisation: today Barnet … tomorrow …? The end of “easy councils”

Owl gathers that the company Barnet outsourced most of its services to is known in the borough as C(r)apita!

“London Borough of Barnet is considering proposals to bring 11 services back in-house — including finance and accounting — in a move that could spell an end to its “easy council” approach.

The council achieved notoriety in 2012 when it decided to outsource up to 70% of its services through a separate joint venture company established with Capita.

But a report to the council’s cabinet this week recommended a rethink of the policy in response to the outsourcing giant’s financial problems and continuing austerity.

The council report said: “Capita’s focus in future will be delivering technology-enabled services, at scale, where the company believes it can add the most value to service delivery.”

Capita’s change of strategic direction — including a sale of treasury adviser Capita Asset Services — occurred last year after issuing a series of profit warnings.

The council added: “The rapidly changing external environment has accentuated the need for the council to increase the level of direct control it exercises over the levers that affect its strategic direction”.

In response, the council says it prefers the option of bringing some services back in-house, rather than a wholesale insourcing, or continuing with the existing arrangements.

Finance and accounting — apart from transactional services provided from a shared service centre in Darlington — are among the services earmarked for a return to direct council provision.

Others include estates, strategic human resources, some social care services, regeneration commissioning, highways, economic skills and development, cemeteries and strategic planning.

Another 17 services, among them printing, payroll, pensions administration, customer services, development control, trading standards and licensing, would continue to be outsourced to Capita.

Officers at the authority will now work on defining the best way forward and drawing up a business plan for changes.

Richard Cornelius, Barnet’s council leader, said: “Many things are working well, and it’s right that we build on them. Where this is not the case, changes are needed.”

Cornelius said that changes would only be recommended if they offered a good deal for the Barnet taxpayer.

Jonathan Prew, managing director of Local Public Services at Capita, said: “The proposed review is an opportunity to respond to changing circumstances and needs that have evolved over the last five years to ensure that a future partnership is focused on providing services that will deliver best value for residents and all stakeholders.

“Our partnership has achieved significant financial benefits, and we continue to be focused on strengthening our performance where we need to and delivering quality services across the borough.”

The chief executive and leader of the council have resigned from the board of the joint venture, Regional Enterprise, to avoid conflicts of interest during the review period.”

“New MP’s EXPENSES SCANDAL: MP’s fiddling the books will be allowed anonymity”

“MPs who are accused of cheating on their expenses will be able to remain anonymous under rules it has emerged, just after a record ban was handed to Ian Paisley after he went holidays funded by Sri Lankan Government.

The Government has been accused of trying to push through the change under the radar.

It would hide the names of all MPs under investigation and the Government has been accused of “protecting the sensitiveness of politicians”.

Since the expenses scandal in 2008, all MPs under inquiry are automatically published on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The new system would mean the process would be anonymous.

Further, the commissioner would not be required anymore to automatically publish the verdicts.

However, the Commissioner could decide to make decisions and complaints public if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

Ian Paisley was handed a record 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph he went on two family holidays funded by the Sri Lankan government.

If the new change was already implemented the public may not have found out about the case of Mr Paisley.

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, published the results as she is also head of a cross-party group set up last year after the sexual harassment scandal.

The Committee on Standards, that analyses complaints made against MPs, has said it does not agree with the decision and opposes it.

It aims to table an amendment to block the changes before a vote by members.

The Committee said: “Any decision to step back from this will be perceived as conducting investigations in secret and a radical departure from a commitment to openness and transparency.

“It is important to publish at least a summary of each case she has concluded so that it can be shown that justice has been done and that MPs are accountable.”

Kevin Barron, the chair of the Standards Committee, said: “It would be a huge step backwards in terms of transparency to block the publication of all disciplinary cases, including cases outside of the new code for things, such as incorrect use of stationery or abuse of their expenses.”

The commissioner’s inquiries this year have included Jeremy Hunt and Craig Mackinlay.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it would “seriously undermine our democratic system”.

London borough pulls out of housing development joint venture

Haringey pulls out in favour of building council houses on its own land rather than (supposed) 40% affordables with developer partner. The pre-build costs are shocking. Meanwhile EDDC plans to goe ahead with its version …

“Haringey Council has voted to bury the controversial development scheme aiming to join forces with the private sector to build more housing.

The decision taken at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday means the council will now have to repay £500,000 to the company that it went into business with in the divisive regeneration project.

Cabinet documents revealed that the council’s budgeted spend since work on the Haringey Development Vehicle had begun in 2014 has been roughly £2.5m.

Following local elections in May, the council selected a new administration that promised to cancel the HDV.

Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, said: “The preference of this administration, as stated in our manifesto, is to build council homes on our own land. We firmly believe that what is currently public land should remain in public ownership.

“Building on commitments we made during the recent elections, we have now taken decisive action to set a new direction for the council, with this final decision that the HDV will not now go ahead.”

The £2bn programme was expected to provide 6,400 new homes in the borough, but opponents of the scheme had accused the council of social cleansing because only 40% of them would be affordable properties.

The council has already spent £250,000 in legal costs to fight a judicial review brought by campaigners against the plans, and there are fears that there could be further legal action – this time from the council’s private partner Lendlease.

Ejiofor said: “We are obviously concerned at the threat of protracted legal action by Lendlease, however the people of Haringey elected us to govern their borough, and to take decisions that are in the best interest of all Haringey’s residents.”

Ahead of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday night, Lendlease wrote a letter to the council expressing its concern.

It read: “If the council decides to reverse our appointment as the successful bidder, we will have no choice but to seek to protect Lendlease’s interest given our very significant investment over the last two and a half years.”

Lendlease has been contacted for comment. …”

“Rise of dealmaker CEOs puts governance skills ‘at risk’ “

“The rise of the commercially-minded “dealmaker” as a local authority chief executive requires a “reappraisal” of council governance skills, according to CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman.

Whiteman spoke to Room151 at the 2018 CIPFA conference in Bournemouth, explaining the need for his organisation’s new financial resilience index.

Whiteman said that it made sense for many councils to appoint chief executives with commercial skills, but added that traditional oversight skills are in danger of being lost.

“Councils are now understandably appointing dealmakers, and that is good in terms of developing their commercial and their development opportunities.

“But there is a risk to that. For want of a better word, the town clerk element of being a chief executive is under pressure.

“This is the element which insists on good governance; that insists on options being looked at; that gives advice on there being a fit and proper relationship between officers and members, where officers can speak truth unto power and can give an opinion even if that opinion is unwelcome.”

Whiteman said that hand-in-hand with improved commercial know-how, councils must have “a reappraisal of governance skills because we are placing the taxpayer and public at more risk unless we strengthen the safeguards and assurances that we have”.

He added: “If we are going to have more dealmakers we have to have better governance and better assurance.”

Whiteman said CIPFA’s new index is a necessary response to the decision earlier this year by Northamptonshire County Council to issue a section 114 notice bringing a halt to all but essential spending.

“There is a strong feeling that, as the body that regulates professional conduct and the quality of financial management support in local government, we need to take steps to acknowledge that Northamptonshire was a failure of sector-led improvement.”

Northamptonshire’s section 114 notice was issued in February, five months after a financial peer review commissioned by the Local Government Association raised a number of issues with the authority’s financial management.

“The advice from Max Caller, the independent inspector of Northamptonshire, is that a section 114 notice should have been served earlier and, if it had been, it may have stopped the authority getting to a position which, to the lay person, was one of insolvency,” Whiteman said.

He went onto say that in some authorities, a lack of effective communication between finance officers and top level council decision makers can hinder efforts to avoid financial problems.

He said: “I speak to finance officers who think they are not being listened to by the corporate management team or by members or by the chief executive. On the other hand, I could speak to corporate managers, or members or chief executives, who think finance officers are not listening to them.

“What we cannot allow, as a sector, is the position that people might be heading for financial failure and they don’t know it.”

The proposed resilience index is also intended to help prevent a culture of denial leading to overlooked financial problems , Whiteman said.

“The reason that CIPFA is looking at the index is to make sure we have an alternative to speculation that can be dismissed or discounted.”

He said the index was driven by a need to ensure council finances were heading in the right direction.

“That is not only good for those councils but it is good for the sector,” he said.

Whiteman said that CIPFA would produce the index using its in-house team of 30 analysts, would not take sponsorship to fund it and would not charge councils for it.

“It is important that an independent body such as CIPFA produces a way of warning where failure could occur in a few years’ time,” he said.

“If CIPFA doesn’t do it, who else would do it? And, if nobody does it, could we have other Northamptonshire style failures?”

“Companies got just £21million relief from business rates this year as councils are urged to do more to help ailing high streets”

Owl says: You want to see a conflict of interest in action? Here’s one. Should a council agree to business rate reductions to save their high streets and see their own revenue fall – or should they let the shops die to preserve their income? (Empty shops usually get 3 months free of business rates then have to recommence them even if the shop remains empty).

“Councils are failing to use their powers to cut business rates and help struggling local shops survive.

Local authorities can reduce rates if it is felt necessary to rejuvenate town centres, using rules under the 2011 Localism Act.

But analysis by the Altus Group consultancy reveals that this almost never happens. There were only £21million of reductions in this financial year – or 0.08 per cent of the predicted total £24.8billlion rates bill in England.

Although business rates are set by an independent government body, half the tax raised goes to councils.

Critics warned that their short-term focus on raking in money could end up destroying town centres weighed down by huge tax burdens.

The 50 per cent of rates that councils keep is meant to come with a more responsible attitude to businesses, with authorities cutting taxes where necessary to help firms.

But instead of going down, rates are constantly ratcheted up. Department stores have been hit with an average increase of nearly £151,000, or 27 per cent, in the past two years, while small shops have seen average rates climb 9 per cent to £9,623.

Sam Dumitriu, of the Adam Smith Institute, a think-tank, said: ‘Councils would rather prioritise their chief executives’ salaries over lessening the burden on businesses. There needs to be quite radical reform of rates to support businesses.’

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘Local authorities must get to grips with the dire situation currently sweeping the high street and start backing hard-working retailers being hit hard by crippling rates bills.’

Robert Hayton, head of business rates at Altus, said: ‘Despite the ongoing crisis engulfing our high streets, this year councils in England are planning just £21million in additional help.

‘Given the stream of collapses across the retail and hospitality sectors since the turn of the year – and with many others teetering on the brink – councils could take decisive action now.’

The Daily Mail’s Save Our High Streets campaign is calling for business rates to be reformed, car parking charges to be slashed and huge foreign technology companies such as Amazon to be fairly taxed.

Around 50,000 retail staff have lost their jobs this year and almost 61,000 stores closed between 2012 and 2017 as internet retailers ruthlessly out-compete traditional bricks and mortar companies.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said: ‘Councils do what they can to help small businesses and local economies.

‘This is increasingly difficult, with local government in England facing an overall funding gap that will reach almost £8billion by 2025 and growing demand for services.’ “