The secret life of an MPs assistant [including those like Swire and Parish who employ their wives]

“Former parliamentary assistant Margot was thrilled to get a job in politics a few years ago, when she was in her mid-20s, but soon found herself a personal lackey, often doing private work instead of the constituency casework she was hired for – something that is against parliamentary rules. She spent three days designing a website for her MP’s wife’s company, and was then sent to the couple’s home to show his wife how to use it. At other times, she was told to run an online auction to sell her MP’s livestock collection and find people to write references so he could apply to a private members’ club. “It would have been so hard to say no to whatever I was asked to do,” she tells me. “I assumed it was par for the course, although I recognised it was outside of my duties. Had I wanted to complain, I would have had no idea how.”

Her boss, who is still an MP, shouted and swore at staff and told racist and sexist jokes, she and other members of his team tell me. With four full-time assistants paid from his parliamentary staffing allowance (this is £153,620, or £164,460 for London MPs), who helped with his personal life and political work, the MP spent significant time consulting for private businesses and attending board meetings. More than once, staff opened his office door and found him playing computer games in the middle of the day. “All I could really do was roll my eyes,” Margot says. “Because these people are more powerful, you just have to put up with it.” …”

… It also helps to be related or married to your boss [as Hugo Swire an Neil Parish do]: more than 100 MPs currently employ their relatives with public money, according to parliament’s register of members’ financial interests. Among them is Labour’s Margaret Beckett, whose husband Leo, in his 90s, has worked for her for decades. In a rare instance of intrusion into staffing, last March parliament’s standards authority banned MPs from hiring family members, saying it hindered diversity and transparency, although relatives who were already employed can remain. Archy Kirkwood tells me he “made no secret” of employing his wife, that she worked hard and “would never let me down”, but acknowledges some MPs have been less conscientious. “The only person in the world I would trust to handle constituency business in London in my absence would be my wife,” he says. “But [the system] was abused. It was.” Emma, another former researcher for an MP, says her boss employed his wife on the highest pay band (currently almost £50,000 a year), but it was unclear how much work she did.

Pigs and troughs …. MP outside interests and payments: some snouts much deeper in the trough than others)

They get £75 – £150 for filling out Parliamentary surveys about what they think!!! Each one taking 30-60 minutes!!!

“Posh watches, football tickets and VIP trips – what your MPs get for free
Expensive gifts, football tickets, all-paid trips abroad, second salaries and fat dividends – all the perks and benefits enjoyed by your local MP.

Second jobs, cash for surveys and income from company shares, donors and second homes – these are just some of the ways your local MP makes extra money.

Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall’s political elite – in line with the rest of parliament – routinely lay out in full their financial affairs for all to see to maintain openness and transparency.

Some through their powerful connections, seniority and expertise gain more than others – whether that be a gift from a wealthy client, cash donations from the private sector, wages from another high-flying job or all-paid for trips abroad to promote UK affairs.

Those deep inside the inner Whitehall circle are REALLY pulling in the mega bucks.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson was recently thrown back in the spotlight after it was revealed he’s being paid £22,916.66 a month until July 2019 by the Daily Telegraph – an annual pay packet of £274,999 – to write articles.

Plymouth Live lifts the lid on the latest round of financial declarations, dated October 1, unveiled by Parliament.

Johnny Mercer – Plymouth Moor View [Conservative]

The Tory backbencher declared in parliament’s latest financial log he’s landed a second job earning £85,000 a year – in return for 20 hours work a month.

Ex soldier Johnny has taken up the role of non-executive director for military veterans support company Crucial Academy Ltd.

That’s on top of his paycheck as a member of parliament – £77,379 – taking his total annual earnings to £162,379.

Mr Mercer, who employs his wife Felicity Cornelius-Mercer as his Principal Secretary, has also publicly declared he was paid £300 by the BBC in March this year for a three-hour appearance at the BBC Free Thinking Festival.

He also had accommodation and travel funded by the Bahrain Embassy from April 5 to 9 this year so he could attend the opening of the UK/Bahrain Naval Base, meet with Government Ministers, as well as members of the Federal National Council and senior business figures in order to build on the ‘bilateral relationship’.

Luke Pollard – Plymouth Sutton and Devonport [Labour]

Mr Pollard – elected in the 2017 snap General Election – has declared he owns a house in Plymouth worth more than £100,000.

Gary Streeter – South West Devon [Conservative]

Mr Streeter, who employs his wife Janet Streeter as a part-time Junior Parliamentary Researcher, has made extra cash filling out online Government surveys.

The senior Tory politician also declared a £3,500 watch bought for him as a Christmas present from Plymouth millionaires Michael and Diane Hockin.

Mr Streeter’s cash for surveys

9 October 2017, received £150 for completing July and September 2017 parliamentary panel surveys. Hours: approx. 90 mins (45 mins each).

20 November 2017, received £75 for completing October 2017 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: 45 mins.

5 January 2018, received £100 for completing November 2017 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

5 February 2018, received £100 for completing January 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

14 March 2018, received £75 for completing February 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

19 April 2018, received £75 for completing March 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

25 May 2018, received £75 for completing April 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

29 June 2018, received £75 for completing May 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

13 August 2018, received £75 for completing June 2018 parliamentary panel survey. Hours: approx. 45 mins.

Sarah Wollaston – Totnes [Conservative]

Ms Wollaston, Tory chair of the Liaison Committee and the Health Select Committee in the House of Commons, had no financial declarations to declare.

Anne Marie Morris – Newton Abbot – [Conservative]

The former lawyer owns two flats in London and a house in Surrey which generate income.

The Tory MP has a non-paid for position for marketing consultancy firm Manteion Ltd.

She is also a ‘non-practising’ member of the Law Society of England and Wales, the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.

Ms Marie Morris is also an unpaid director of the Small Business Bureau.

From March 2017, she became a non-paid director of the Genesis Initiative; a body that seeks to represent small business interests of European businesses.

Ben Bradshaw – Exeter [Labour] note: it does not say here that Mr Bradshaw donates all recent MP pay rises to charity

The Labour MP has made extra cash each month filling out ‘opinion’ surveys.

Mr Bradshaw is also a member of the Humboldt Advisory Board, at Humboldt University, in Berlin.

He wrote in his financial declaration: “Where possible, I attend annual Advisory Board meetings in Berlin, the costs of which are met by the university.”

Mr Bradshaw’s cash for surveys

Payment from ComRes, Coveham House, Downside Bridge Road, Cobham KT11 3EP, for opinion surveys:

12 June 2017, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

22 August 2017, payment of £50. Hours: 30 mins.

22 September 2017, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

29 September 2017, payment of £150. Hours: 1 hr.

17 November 2017, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

14 March 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins

16 April 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

22 May 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

25 June 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

23 July 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

27 August 2018, payment of £75. Hours: 30 mins.

13 September 2018, payment of £100. Hours: 30 mins.

Geoffrey Cox QC – Torridge and West Devon

Geoffrey Cox has been MP for Torridge and West Devon since 2005 and is said to be the highest earning MP in the House of Commons, thanks to his other role as a barrister.

Mr Cox has declared hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees paid to him by solicitor firms in return for hundreds of hours worth of work over the last year.

He owns a cottage and farmland in West Devon and owns shares in an international law firm and a property company.

Geoffrey Cox’s vast legal fees

Payments from Messrs. Janes, solicitors. Address: 17 Waterloo Place, London SW17 4AR: 8 December 2017, received £24,750 for legal services provided between 1 September 2016 and 1 October 2017. Hours: 40 hrs approx.

31 December 2017, received £3,000 for legal services provided between 4 and 7 November 2017. Hours: 5 hrs approx.

31 January 2018, received £5,000 for legal services provided between 1 December 2017 and 31 January 2018. Hours: 8 hrs approx.

16 May 2018, received £4,500 plus VAT for legal services provided between 1 September 2017 and 31 May 2018. Hours: 9 hrs approx.

13 June 2018, received £5,750 plus VAT for legal services provided between 14 March and 22 May 2018. Hours: 10 hrs approx.

Payments from Messrs. Travers, Thorp, Alberga, Attorneys. Address: Harbour Place, 2nd Floor, PO Box 472, 103 South Church Street, Grand Cayman KY1 1106: 5 February 2018, received £40,000 for legal services provided between 1 September 2017 and 18 February 2018. Hours: 60 hrs approx.

Payments from Bachubhai Munim & Co Advocates & Solicitors, 312, Tulsiani Chambers, Nariman Point, Mumbai 400 021: 27 November 2017, received £85,387.50 for legal services provided between 14 February 2017 and 12 November 2017. Hours: 170 hrs approx.

31 July 2018, received £12,500 (no VAT) for work undertaken between 1 November 2017 and 30 June 2018. Hours: 25 hrs.

15 November 2017, received £3,333.33 from Registrar of Criminal Appeals, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL, for legal services provided between 1 January 2016 and 15 December 2016. Hours: 10 hrs approx.

Payments from Oracle Solicitors, 182-184 Edgware Road, London W2 2DS: 15 December 2017, received £119,733.33 for legal services provided between 1 July 2016 and 30 November 2017. Hours: 350 hrs approx.

15 May 2018, received £119,733.33 for legal services provided between 1 May 2016 and 30 April 2018 and continuing. Hours: 300 hrs approx.

31 August 2018, received £88,602.67 plus VAT for legal services provided between 1 March and 9 July 2018. Hours: 300 hrs.

Payments from LK Baltica Solicitors, 4th Floor, Kings Buildings, 16 Smith Square, London SW1P 3HQ: 14 March 2018, received £2,500 for legal services provided between 1 and 31 March 2018. Hours: 5 hrs approx.

13 April 2018, received £3,000 for legal services provided between 1 March and 30 April 2018. Hours: 5 hrs approx.

15 May 2018, received £6,737.50 for legal services provided between 1 February and 30 April 2018. Hours: 10 hrs approx.

16 July 2018, received £2,475 plus VAT for work undertaken between 1 April and 30 June 2018. Hours: 5 hrs.

Payments from Messrs Rainer Hughes, Oak House, 46 Crossway, Shenfield, CM15 8QY: 16 July 2018, received £1,000 plus VAT for work undertaken between 21 September and 12 December 2011. Hours: 2 hrs.

Mel Stride – Central Devon

Tory Paymaster General Mel Stride holds a stake of more than 15 per cent in Venture Marketing Group Ltd – described by parliamentary files as a ‘publisher, organiser of exhibitions and conferences.’

Peter Heaton-Jones – North Devon [Conservative]

Tory Mr Heaton-Jones’ only declaration is that he owns a house in Wiltshire worth more than £100,000.

Sir Hugo Swire – East Devon [Conservative]

Sir Hugo has had several ministerial roles, most recently as Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Since 2016, the senior politician has earned thousands every month in prominent positions outside Parliament and holds shares yielding tens of thousands of pounds in a honey firm.

He employs his wife Alexandra (Sasha) Swire, as Senior Researcher/Parliamentary Assistant.

Sir Hugo’s outside appointments and earnings – in his own words

From 9 November 2016 until 1 June 2018, Adviser to KIS France, a manufacturer of photo booths and mini labs. Address: 7 Rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, 38130 Echirolles, France. I was paid £3,000 every month for this role.

Hours: 8 hrs per month. I consulted ACoBA about this appointment.

From 15 November 2016, Deputy Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Address: Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HX. From 1 April 2018 I expect to be paid £2,083 every month until further notice. Hours: 10 hrs per month. I consulted ACoBA about this appointment.

16 November 2017, received £25,000 for acting as adviser to Apiro Real Estate Fund 1 Limited Partnership, 1 Connaught House, Mount Row, London SW1K 3RA. Hours: 10 hrs. I consulted ACoBA about this appointment.

From 18 June 2017 until 4 June 2018, non-executive director of ATG Airports, Newton Road, Lowton St Mary’s, Warrington WA3 2AP. From 5 February 2018, I was paid £2,500 every month for this role. Hours: approx. 4.5 hrs per month. Any additional payments are listed below. I consulted ACoBA about this appointment.

24 November 2017, received £10,086.72. Hours: 15 hrs.

From 19 March 2018 until further notice, Non-Executive Chairman of the British Honey Company, Unit 3 Vista Place, Coy Pond Business Park, Ingworth Road, Poole, Dorset, BH12 1JY. I will receive shares with a value of £50,000, in lieu of two years’ payment. Hours: expected to be about 5 hrs a month. I consulted ACoBA about this appointment.

Neil Parish – Tiverton and Honiton [Conservative]

Mr Parish declared he’d had all his expenses covered by the Conservative Friends of Israel to go on a ‘fact finding political delegation’ to Israel from April 8 to April 13 this year.

He wrote: “Estimate of the probable value (or amount of any donation): (1) Air travel, accommodation and hospitality for myself with a value of £2,500, plus airport transfer and hospitality for my spouse with a value of £600, total £3,100 (2) For my spouse and myself, bus travel and airport VIP service with a total value of £1,300.”

Mr Parish owns a family farm in Somerset and employs his wife Susan Parish, as Junior Secretary.

Sheryll Murray – South East Cornwall [Conservative]

Mrs Murray revealed she’d secured a Tory party donation from Looe Conservative Ladies Luncheon Club amounting to £2,776.91 in 2017.

Torpoint and District Unionist Club also pledged £3,000 that year.

Mrs Murray also declared she went on an all-paid expenses trip to Armenia from 21 September to 24 September last year to attend a ‘Progressivism and Conservatism conference’.

“Airfare and accommodation for me and member of staff with a value of £2,800,” she wrote.

All costs were covered by the Prosperous Armenia Party.

Scott Mann – North Cornwall [Conservative]

Scott Mann attended the Progressivism and Conservatism conference in Armenia in September last year, expenses to the tune of £2,800 covered by Prosperous Armenia Party.

George Eustice – Camborne and Redruth [Conservative]

Mr Eustice declared that he owns a one-bed flat in London.

Sarah Newton – Truro & Falmouth [Conservative]

Sarah Newton had no financial affairs to declare.

Steve Double – St Austell and Newquay [Conservative]

In January, Winchester-based tyre firm Micheldever Tyre Service gave Mr Double two tickets to a football match and threw in hospitality and hotel accommodation in a package worth £600.

The MP is also getting paid £18,990 to act as a policy advisor for Good Faith Partnership LLP in a nine-month contract finishing in December this year.

He also joined Tories on a ‘fact-finding political delegation’ to Israel in April this year – with all his expenses being covered by Conservative Friends of Israel and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Double’s affairs – in his words

Land and property portfolio: (i) value over £100,000 and/or (ii) giving rental income of over £10,000 a year

From 10 May 2018, a flat in St Austell, co-owned with my wife and inhabited by a family member

Shareholdings: over 15% of issued share capital

Bay Direct Media; a direct marketing company

Bay Mailing Services Ltd; a mailing house

Phoenix Corporate Gifts Ltd; a company selling branded merchandise

Family members employed and paid from parliamentary expenses

I employ my wife, Anne Double, as Principal Secretary.

Derek Thomas – St Ives [Conservative]

In 2017, the ex-property developer secured a £3,000 Tory party donation from Tresco island owner Robert Dorrien Smith.

Mr Thomas also secured £16,221 in sponsorship from Aventis Pharma Ltd for healthcare consultancy firm Incisive Health, to drive forward its Diabetes Think Tank initiative.

Since October last year, the MP has also jointly owned land, a house and a shop in West Cornwall with his wife.

Mr Thomas declared that since December 2015, he holds an interest ‘below registrable value’ in Mustard Seed Property Ltd, a community benefit society which provides housing in Cornwall for vulnerable people.”

“The Tories Have Accidentally Revealed The Personal Mobile Numbers Of Hundreds Of MPs And Journalists On Their Conference App”

These are the people charged with our Brexit it negotiations and keeping the UK safe!!!

“The Conservative party has accidentally allowed the personal mobile phone numbers of hundreds of MPs, journalists, and party members to be revealed to the public on its conference app.

A security flaw allowed anyone who downloaded the app to log in as any attendee to the party conference, which begins in Birmingham tomorrow, using only their email address. No password was required to view any attendee’s personal details, including their mobile phone number.

BuzzFeed News was able to access the personal mobile phone numbers of cabinet ministers, MPs, journalists, and Tory party members within seconds.

Users of the app are also able to change the privacy settings of other attendees using only their email address, allowing anyone else using the app to search their name and then view their mobile number.

An MP who had their personal phone number tweeted out told BuzzFeed News: “CCHQ genuinely can’t be trusted to do anything. This is a serious security breach and no laughing matter. Whoever is responsible needs to go.”

Labour MP Jon Trickett said: “How can we trust this Tory Government with our country’s security when they can’t even build a conference app that keeps the data of their members, MPs and others attending safe and secure?”

Journalist Dawn Foster reported being able to log in as Boris Johnson and then view his personal mobile number.”

Farmer Neil Parish might want to slap Michael Gove’s wrist!

“It’s beginning to dawn on many UK farmers that the British government might not be quite so clued up as they had been led to believe. Not only do they now doubt that the current levels of subsidies they receive will continue post-Brexit, they also worry that their needs for seasonal workers to pick vegetables and soft fruit have not been fully understood.

The latest cause for alarm has been a video produced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to promote its vision for post-Brexit agriculture.

It’s all very nostalgically rustic, with fields of barley rippling in the wind and glorious sunsets. A vision of mellow fruitfulness. Except for one thing. Some sections of it were filmed overseas.

As the magazine Farmers’ Weekly has observed, the scene in which Defra promise that farmers can expect less red tape was actually footage of an inspector visiting a Slovenian cattle shed, while the section on British farmers being rewarded for improving air and water quality was filmed on a German farm. To complete the hat-trick of errors, the part where Defra promise kick-backs for farmers who try to prevent climate change was accompanied by a framer planting a Bonsai tree.

We pay these people.”

Benefits help Claire Wright style!

Compare and contrast the way EDDC (previous post) and Claire Wright approach people with benefits problems. And the way Hugo Swire and Neil Parish do – nothing.

“Two officers from the Citizens Advice Bureau were able to help the majority of people with their challenges at the benefits drop-in meeting I held last month, at the Institute in Ottery St Mary.

Hilary Nelson, chief executive of East Devon Citizen’s Advice Bureau was on hand to support people, with her colleague, Sheran at the meeting, which took place on Tuesday 21 August.

Around a dozen people attended and listened to each other’s stories, which centred around difficulties with claiming a range of benefits, resulting in a great deal of stress.

Residents came from the Ottery area and beyond. Difficulties reported included with working tax credit overpayments and the impact of being financially penalised so as to be unable to pay bills and rent. Others reported being told they were fit to work, even though a doctor had submitted a report to state otherwise. Others wanted more information about the carers allowance.

Also at the meeting was student, Molly Dack, who is working with a benefits advocacy project to provide free legal advice free in Bristol. Molly is interested in supporting East Devon Citizen’s Advice Bureau in providing a similar project in Devon.

This sounded like a brilliant idea and received a warm welcome from Hilary Nelson. We had a discussion after the meeting and I advised on sources of funding that might help with setting up such a valuable service.

All the residents who came along were offered appointments with CAB officers, who said they would work to try and obtain the benefits they are entitled to, or assist with the appeals process.
Citizens Advice Bureau officers sit with clients, listen to their stories and represent them with government bodies. It is an invaluable service, more needed now than ever before, due to massive funding cuts by government.

Having represented local people on these issues, I can testify what a massively complicated bureaucratic system is in place. And because of austerity budget cuts there does not appear to enough staff in the call centre to cope with the level of demand.

Many of the problems reported at the meeting also related to process being inefficient and poor, such as a complaints manager not diverting her phone while on holiday, and people having to submit their details many times, or staff being irritable or repeatedly getting the information wrong.

Some cases had been going on for months without resolution. It’s exhausting, dispiriting and stressful when this happens. Even I found it stressful when I couldn’t get through for hour after hour and it wasn’t me who couldn’t pay my rent or bills!
Ms Nelson then updated everyone on the introduction of Universal Credit, which came into force in East Devon in July for new claimants. It merges six benefits into one and has resulted in a cut in Working Tax Credit. It has received a lot of very negative national press coverage, with the National Audit Office (NAO) essentially condemning it.

A report published by the NAO in June stated: “We think the larger claims for universal credit, such as boosted employment, are unlikely to be demonstrable at any point in future. Nor for that matter will value for money.”

The NAO report painted a damning picture of a system that despite more than £1bn in investment, eight years in development and a much hyped digital-only approach to transforming welfare, is still in many respects unwieldy, inefficient and reliant on basic, manual processes.

The very controversial six week delay for the first payment can now be resolved by claimants asking for an advance. Although this is treated as a loan and must be paid back.

Since the meeting’s publicity in the local press, I have been contacted by Lee Tozer, Devon and Cornwall Area Manager for Job Centre Plus.

He has been very helpful and I have since met with him and talked through some of the key issues. I also visited Honiton’s Job Centre (the only centre left in East Devon now as every other office has been closed due to austerity cuts) where I was greeted by its manager, Sadie Steadman. I chatted to her and with her staff about their roles and how they are trying to get more people back into work, as per the government’s directive.

I also spoke with an East Devon District Council officer, who is stationed at Honiton Job Centre five days a week to help claimants with housing benefit and Universal Credit issues.

I found the staff to be enthusiastic and compassionate. I sat in on an interview with someone who was as keen as mustard to get a job and was over the moon to have been offered one. That was nice.

I very definitely have reservations about the sanctions process. There is a difference between someone playing the system and not bothering to turn up for appointments and someone who genuinely is having problems or genuinely cannot work or arrive for an appointment, although staff assured me that they made every effort to contact someone before sanctioning them.

But there is bound to be a gap here in some cases, between the views of people who don’t believe they are fit for work (such as those people with a terminal illness or with cancer) and assessors who have assessed them as fit for work. From talking to the local staff they seemed to be running a tight and fair ship. However, the stuff coming out of the national press on the suffering caused by benefit sanctions is truly appalling.

As well as the fantastic support from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Job Centre Plus also provides a dedicated helpline for people who are having difficulties.

Please contact me direct if you need access to this number. Otherwise you can contact Job Centre direct or simply drop by. No prior appointment needed.
I will keep a close eye on this issue….”

Neil Parish and Brexit – here’s how you can find out his view on farming post-Brexit – and his take on the Irish border!

While local non-Tory oiks are not allowed into Parish’s talk about Brexit next week (see post below – even non-member spouses will be thrown out of the meeting) we CAN find out what he thinks about post-Brexit farming, thanks to the fact that he WILL talk to lawyers about it! Presumably, all lawyers are paid-up party members!

And he DOES have a view on the thorny question of the Irish border problem:

“The Irish border is important because pigs and lambs go either way. The border issue needs to be right, if it is difficult as neither side will want to be blamed but this might ultimately help us get a deal.”

Neil Parish will only talk to party members about Brexit – not even non-member spouses allowed! And questions in advance only

“Date Thursday, 13th September 2018
Time 1900

(by kind permission of the Persey family)

ROGER PERSEY, past President of Tiverton & Honiton Conservative Association, to host and moderate the evening.

Please take this opportunity to make your voice heard via our MP.

Timetable & format

7:00pm Arrival and take your seats

7:15pm Questions from members – submitted in advance to arrive by email or post by 5:30pm on 11th September

8:15pm Final questions and finish followed by cheese & wine provided by Neil Parish M.P.

8:45pm Close

This event is only open to current Conservative Party members of the Tiverton & Honiton Conservative Association. This means that spouses, partners or others arriving with a member must themselves be current members – otherwise with regret they will be refused admittance.

RSVP,with details of any companions, by 5:30pm on 11th of September”