A tainted and improper appointment by Nicky Morgan

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On the day  of the Hillsborough  disaster verdict Nicky Morgan,  education secretary  with a sideshow job as women and equalities minister, slipped out that she had appointed a new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

On the scale of wrong decision making this probably trumps her plan to force all schools to become academies,describe budget cuts as a consultation exercise and avoiding live TV coverage of her remarks on child sex abuse  at a conference in her Loughborough constituency last year. I will explain why.

The appointment of David Isaac, a millionaire lawyer and equity partner at the global law firm, Pinsent Masons, has been highly controversial.

The two chairs of the Joint Committee of Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee –  Labour’s Harriet Harman and the Conservative’s Maria Miller – were unable to confirm the appointment because of perceived conflict of interest. Both are highly experienced ex  ministers and both took top legal advice before they objected.

The most damning evidence  against this appointment comes from another highly distinguished lawyer, Michael Carpenter, the Speakers Counsel. He was asked by both chairs as to whether the appointment met the strict criteria of what are known as the Nolan  Principles ( named after Lord Nolan, the first chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life). These lay down strict guidelines of selflessness,integrity, objectivity,accountability,openness, honesty and leadership. They were brought in after the aftermath of the corrupt ” cash for questions ” scandal and apply to every public appointment.

Mr Isaac’s appointment fails to meet two of these standards – selflessness and integrity.

As Mr Carpenter highlights Mr Isaac  failed to meet the selflessness standard – because holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. (His emphasis added) . He failed to meet the  integrity standard  because holders of public office must declare and resolve any interests and relationships. (His emphasis added).

Mr Carpenter concluded that because Mr Isaac both remained as an equity partner with responsibility for the development of the law firm which had many government contracts and because he was also a practising lawyer with a duty of confidentiality to his clients – some of which could be investigated by the Commission- that he would not fulfil the Nolan principles. Mr Isaac will be earning ten times his salary as an equity partner with Pinsent Masons  than his salary as commission chair.

He also concluded that a promise of keeping Chinese walls in his legal work by Mr Isaac would not work in this case.

He concluded: “It is difficult to predict where the overlap between these two bodies may result in an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest. With the best will in the world, Mr Isaac may well not be aware of a problem until it is published elsewhere – at that point, a “Chinese Wall” will be ineffective and too late.”

Now in her rush to  appoint Isaac  Nicky Morgan  decided to ignore this advice. Her reasoning is perverse. She actually argues in a letter that having a conflict of interest in public life is a good thing.

She wrote: “What is important is that there is transparency around these interests and that appropriate action is taken to deal with any potential conflicts. Mr Isaac’s CV refers clearly to these interests and, given his openness and assurances to deal with any actual or perceived conflicts of interest, I feel that is to be welcomed rather than a cause for concern. “

How wrong can you get.. You can’t trade off one Nolan Principle against another. It’s illogical and plainly improper.

Frankly her decision could well be the start of slippery slope where people ( not Mr Isaac in this case) with dodgy private connections get access to public jobs.

Mr Isaac has delayed accepting the job until he has further talks with Commission. Very wise.

If  he accepts both he and the Commission will be tainted. And among his  legal peers he will be regarded as the first public appointment that compromised the Nolan Principles.

And if there is ever any breach of any equality or gender law in Pinsent Masons he will find himself at the centre of  a  storm.

Nicky Morgan has been extremely stupid . I hope it comes back to haunt her political career for the rest of her life.

 

” Darth Vader” mandarin’s unstellar performance on crime mustn’t pay

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Mark Sedwill as Darth Vader centre right next to Theresa May

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Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of  criminals.

Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed  what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.

You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.

But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.

Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a  recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.

He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card ( see picture above.)

As he told Civil Service World  ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.

His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.

He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He even started quoting government propaganda that  ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.

So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.

And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”

He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers at a resumed hearing.  We have to hope  this time the  MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.

You can watch the hearing here..

 

 

How the government is allowing the Japanese to profit from captive London and Brummie commuters

 

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Earlier this month the Department of Transport extended its recommended list of bidders to run Britain’s railways to a privatised rail company in Japan.

It shortlisted East Japan Railway as a minority partner with the Dutch state rail company Abellio, in the consortium West Midlands Trains Ltd as one of three groups bidding to take over the West Midlands franchise next October. which provides commuter services into London and Birmingham including my home town of Berkhamsted.

But more significantly it decided that East Japan Railway would qualify as an approved bidder for any other franchise up for grabs until 2020.

The Telegraph presented  the bid as a move by a company at the cutting edge of technology as it provides some of  Japan’s bullet train services.

But anyone thinking those on the crowded commuter routes will be whisked in by a super bullet train service should think again.

The story is in fact the exact opposite once you study the company’s latest annual report.

What it shows is that the bedrock of the company’s regular income is its commuter services around Tokyo not its bullet trains. And the prospect for making any more money out of them is a tad bleak.

It reveals that the company is currently facing a downturn in its commuter services serving Tokyo partly caused by a declining population and is looking to expand abroad. It currently provides no services outside Asia – where it is helping develop a mass transit rail system for Bangkok and improve train services in Indonesia.

The annual report says: “Generally, Japan’s declining population is seen as unfavourable for the transportation industry. However, our performance in fiscal 2015 proved that, even in an era of population decline, we can grow revenues by steadily implementing various measures.”

These include developing stations and encouraging more retired people to use local trains as the number of commuters decline.

With lower fares in Japan than the UK, the move could give the operator access to the lucrative London commuter market and it could also offer its services to maintain and build new trains for the British market.

So in other words commuters using London Midland trains to get into Birmingham and London Euston will be contributing to  profits which can be repatriated to Tokyo to offset the declining  Japanese market.

Which makes an investment in London Midland a one way bet for the Japanese since the current Tory government will ensure fares rise every year and the growing population in the UK will all help boost profits.

I would not be surprised to see government ministers in the transport department helping themselves to directorships and consultancies with the company a couple of years after they have stepped down from their posts. After all they have done them a great favour.

I have written about this in Tribune. The three consortia bidding are:a consortium run by London and West Midlands Railway Ltd, a subsidiary of Govia Ltd (a joint venture between Keolis and Go-Ahead Group)’ West Midlands Trains Ltd, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group Ltd with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Ltd as minority partners; and MTR Corporation (West Midlands) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd which runs the Hong Kong rail system.

The new London Midland operator will take over in October this year.

Seven Guys in a Boat: The Caen Hill challenge

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The challenge: Caen Hill Locks

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Some of my ultra fit lobby journalist colleagues and nephews run marathons. Some of my friends do mad things like cycling from London to Paris in 24 hours. But  for some of us at our time of life the challenge has to be a little more measured.

So seven of us  decided to  take on the challenge of Britain’s longest flight of locks on the Kennet and Avon canal as part of a four day trip from Bradford on Avon to Horton. Given our average age is 69 and some were novices on a narrowboat it was still a serious challenge.

Particularly when your hearing is not so good, your balance is not quite perfect and your muscles not as agile as a 20 year old and one of us, my wife Margaret, excused lock duty, is recovering from a stroke.

But in 24 hours -punctuated by an overnight stay next to a canal side pub at Horton- we negotiated no fewer than 58 locks to get up and back down again without a mishap.

The locks known as Caen Hill (pronounced Kane) rise 237 feet over two miles – with 16 of them virtually back to back.Each trip up and down takes five hours. They were restored in the 1970s and 1980s after they fallen into serious decay.

For a group of ” golden oldies ” – our cumulative age total is over 480  – this meant working each lock and involved opening a closing a double set of locks  as a relay team. Amazingly none of us fell in, only one of us fell over and this had nothing to do with a lock, and we found ( at least my surprise) that we still had the energy to do it. So much due to that free orange juice and cod liver oil we got growing up under the Attlee government.

On the way up we were able to double up with another boat – relying on the brawn and brains of youth to aid the elderly. On the way down we had the flight to ourselves – passing only one boat on the way up.

The Canal and River Trust – successor to the nationalised British Waterways- has  people around to help if you get into difficulty. But apart from several pleasant conversations they had no need to intervene.

Indeed the main obstacle was two pairs of nesting swans – right next to the locks . But once we had mastered the gentle art of throwing grass into the water to distract the male from following the boat into the lock where it would be crushed when the water drained out, it was literally plain sailing.

We also were lucky with the weather. we had a downpour when we arrived and a downpour when with left – with mainly brilliant sunshine – and warm enough for a few hours  for T shirt weather – in between.

My one complaint was the building work on the canal – which closed one road and diverted the towpath elsewhere. Foolishly relying on the workman and locals I was told I could still cross a bridge on foot to reach the pub and ended up crossing the canal a mile up tramping through three muddy fields and breaking and entering the building site – a pensioner vandal -in desperation to get to the bar.

The real thanks should be to my shipmates, my co-author Francis Beckett – skilled navigator and his (newly wed )wife, Linda Cohen, who organised and booked the trip.  Chris Kaufman, singer and accomplished crewman; Mike Brereton,.a great cook who kept us well fed from dawn to dusk, and his wife, Pearl, who mastered  nautical skills faster than me. Margaret, who had a bit of trepidation, about the trip, had great guts in mastering her river legs in a confined space.

I should recommend four pubs. Pride of place should go to the  refurbished Barge Inn, Bradford on Avon, which had an imaginative menu, and served London Pride, Ringwood brewery ale and surprisingly draft beer from New Zealand.

Also good on the trip were the Three Magpies at Seend which served a proper beef and ale pie as well as Wadsworth bitter; The Bridge at Horton, which served a  wider selection of Wadsworth ales and the Barge Inn, Seend.

maraget hencke on the canal

Margaret on the prow of the narrowboat enjoying the sun

I have added a Youtube video from my young work colleague Alex Varley Winter  of a trip they made down the Caen  Hill flight . Much younger, fitter and faster than us as you will see  here.

 

Should £1 bn of unclaimed pensions, shares and insurance policies be used to alleviate austerity?

Rob Wilson

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Just before Christmas the government  that promised a ” bonfire of the quangos”set up a new one.

It is called the Dormant Assets Commission and it is unusual in that every member of the quango is a wealthy business person.

Not surprisingly there was little coverage of this body. But the government itself provided a lot of information about what it would do and who was sitting on it. I have written about it in last week’s Tribune magazine.

It has been given a year to scour the financial markets to find unclaimed stocks and shares, pensions, bonds and insurance policies which have not been claimed for more than 15 years.

The quango, set up by the Cabinet Office, follows on the work of identifying dormant bank accounts which led to £850m being distributed to good causes by the Big Lottery Fund since it was set up by the last Labour government in 2008.

The decision on who will get the new money however will depend on Cabinet Office ministers who are making it clear that it is likely to go to charities which are replacing services provided by local government and the state.

Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson said:

“More than a billion pounds of assets, that might otherwise sit gathering dust, will go into funding for charities that make a real difference to people’s lives across the country.

“To build an even more caring and compassionate country we need to transform dormant resources and give the funds to those who need it.”

The commission is entirely staffed by business people – many global players – under the chairmanship of Nick O’Donohoe, chief executive officer of Big Society Capital until the end of last year and a former head of global research for bankers J P Morgan.

The business people aiding him are Richard Collier-Keywood, PwC Global vice-chairman; Kirsty Cooper, group general counsel and company secretary, Aviva plc;Gurpreet Dehal, former chief operating officer Global Prime Services, Credit Suisse;Rachel Hanger, partner, KPMG; Jackie Hunt, non-executive director, CityUK and member of the Financial Conduct Authority Practitioner Panel; Mark Makepeace, group director of information services, London Stock Exchange Group and chief executive of FTSE Group; Susan Sternglass Noble, senior advisor to the Investor Forum; and Martin Turner, group business risk director, Lloyds Banking Group.

Richard Collier-Keywood was the head international tax expert for PriceWaterhouseCoopers advising international companies on global taxation.

Rachel Hanger from KPMG is also another international tax adviser for hedge funds providing what her biography describes as “pro tax advice” to fund managers.

Mark Makepeace is the man who co-ordinated the “big bang” deregulation at the London Stock Exchange and runs his own global index business. He is the only one of the new appointments who declares any interest in charities, having been a long-standing supporter of Unicef.

To my mind the present Conservative government is pursuing a pretty nasty policy of cutting services. But should it make up the shortfall by grabbing other people’s assets and employ wealthy people skilled in tax avoidance to find them.

And how will ministers spend other people’s money. Will  the ” sofa style ” government of Tony Blair be replaced by the ” dinner party ” style of government by David Cameron and George Osborne distributing other people’s assets to their mates favourite charities or services in Tory marginal seats.?I am deeply suspicious of this venture and we are entitled to know more about it.

Top lawyer faces storm over ” perceived conflict of interest” in government job

David Isaac Pinsent Masons

David Isaac: Controversy over his planned appointment to chair the Equality and Human rights Commission

Nicky Morgan education secretary Wikipedia

Nicky Morgan : education Secretary who recommended his appointment as preferred candidate

 

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A row will break out when Parliament returns over the government’s choice for the new chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee have delayed approving the government preferred candidate, David Isaac, a lawyer earning over £500,000 a year because of a “ perceived conflict of interest “ between his new job and his  firm’s financial interests.

The chairs of both committee, both experienced ex ministers, Harriet Harman and Maria Miller, have decided to summon Nicky Morgan, the education secretary who has responsibility for equalities; Sir David Normington, Commissioner for Public Appointments and Sue Gray,Director-General, Propriety and Ethics Team at the Cabinet Office, to a hearing as soon as possible after Parliament returns. I have written about this in Tribune magazine..

The row followed the disclosure during a pre- appointment scrutiny hearing  before Easter that Mr Isaac, a partner in lawyers Pinsent Masons, would keep a equity share holding in the firm while being the new chair. The British law firm has global ambitions.

Pinsent Masons has substantial government contracts  in fields covered by the commission and Mr Isaac would stand to get a share of the profits from these contracts. He earns £500,000 a year as an equity partner compared £50,000 as part time chair of the commission.

The committees were promised that there would be “Chinese Walls” created to ensure Mr Isaac would have no say over any new contracts but were not satisfied and asked to see documentation to ensure that this was the case.

The committees then consulted their panel adviser on the matter and got nowhere.

As the letter  from the committee chairs to Nicky Morgan says: “The Committees sought information from the panel assessor who will have considered in detail potential conflicts of interest as part of the process that determined Mr Isaac is an ‘appointable candidate’.

“ However, we were told that under the terms of the Liaison Committee and Cabinet Office guidance such documents could not be released to the Select Committees either in part or in full. As a result, the committees were unable to undertake one of their purposes as set out by the Liaison Committee terms of reference: “scrutiny of the quality of ministerial decision-making”.

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “David Isaac has an impressive track record and brings a range of experience both from his work on LGBT issues and human rights and as an experienced lawyer. We believe that as chair of the EHRC he will be a strong and effective advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.

“We are confident there are no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. All possible conflicts were explored during the recruitment process, which was overseen by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments. In addition, as is usual with significant appointments such as these, there will be a clear framework in place to avoid any potential perceived conflicts.”

His biography on Pinsent Masons says :

“David is a partner and head of the Advanced Manufacturing & Technology sector. He specialises in providing clients with strategic advice on major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects.

Independently recognised for his wealth of knowledge and experience, David leads teams of lawyers on major projects for amongst others DWP, the Home Office,  Transport for London and BP plc. He lectures and writes extensively on IT and legal matters. He is Chair of Modern Art Oxford, a Director of the Big Lottery Fund and a Trustee of both the Human Dignity Trust and 14-18 Now.  He was Chair of Stonewall from 2003 to 2012 and a Trustee of The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund from 2005 until it spent out in 2013.”

Is Lowell Goddard moving towards a ” Show Trial ” over the Westminster Paedophile Ring?

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Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC

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Last month I  highlighted Ben Emmerson’s opening address to the Goddard Inquiry in which the leading counsel raised the argument of examining false accusations of child sex abuse and finding  against those who made them – effectively putting ” survivors on trial “.

I wrote: “this threat …must be very real for survivors who may want to give evidence in highly contentious cases. If  it does – sometime down the route – look at the Westminster paedophile ring – will ” Nick ” be expected to testify and face questions from lawyers for Harvey Proctor  who is alleged to be his abuser ( and vociferously denies it)- at the risk that a ” court” will decide he could be publicly condemned for going to the police in the first place.”

Now Lowell Goddard has confirmed this in an otherwise finely balanced statement issued surprisingly on All Fools Day ( but then she is a New Zealander and may not have known).

In it she says:

“. I am committed to ensuring that we hear all relevant testimony, including from victims and survivors as well as from those affected by false allegations of abuse. As I announced in November last year, the Inquiry intends to explore the balance which must be struck between encouraging the reporting of child sexual abuse and protecting the rights of the accused.  

I am determined to get the process of the Inquiry right.

I will ensure that all relevant evidence is considered. As is standard practice in public inquiries, questions to witnesses will normally be asked by Counsel to the Inquiry whose role will include, where necessary, the exploration of witness credibility. Affected parties will not ordinarily be permitted to ask questions of witnesses directly, but as I said in my Opening Statement in July 2015, affected parties are entitled to make an application to ask direct questions and I will grant those applications if fairness requires it. “

Yes there is a point here but the press seem to have immediately interpreted this to mean that  Harvey Proctor will have his day in court so he can condemn ” Nick” and ” Nick’s ” credibility will be judged by Lady Goddard and Ben Emmerson.

I am not going to comment further on Proctor’s case  but  draw attention  to another scenario.

Dame Janet Smith’s conclusion on the Jimmy  Savile scandal at the BBC concluded that  paedophiles were both very clever and manipulative ( Harvey Proctor’s lawyers please note this is not a reference to him).

Now just imagine if Bishop Peter Ball had appeared before Goddard after he had been first cleared but well before his recent conviction as a sex offender in a fresh police investigation.

Justice Goddard and Ben Emmerson would have heard what a decent and well respected chap he was from George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, Tory Mp, Tim Rathbone, Lord Justice Lloyd and ex Tory minister Sir Tim Renton. What chance would any  survivor have against such a phalanx of the great and good to be ” credible” let alone ” credible and true”. I can just imagine the line of questioning from Ben Emmerson and he wouldn’t be hauling the former Archbishop of Canterbury over the coals.

And how utterly stupid Lowell Goddard and Ben Emmerson would have looked when a subsequent police inquiry found the Bishop guilty.

The pitfalls of handling the Westminster paedophile allegations in such a way should be clear to see and the inquiry better think very carefully about how they are going to do it. And survivors again the  Latin words ” Caveat Emptor” – buyer beware – should be utmost in their minds  before taking part in such an inquiry.