Nicholas Paget-Brown, former leader of Kensington Council, has set up NPB Consulting [Image: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Stock Photo].
Let’s get this straight: The Tory politician who tried to hold a council meeting about the fire at Grenfell Tower in secret – and had to resign because of the ensuing row – is now advising businesses on how to work with councils?
The man who, as leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, allowed firms to get away with putting dangerous flammable material all over a housing block is now offering advice to firms on how to get what they want?
Does anybody else think it would be a bad idea to associate with him at all?
Still, it does show one thing:
Tories have no shame.
Nicholas Paget-Brown, the former leader of Kensington Council, has set up a consultancy service for organisations who wish to work with local authorities.
Paget-Brown, who was forced to resign last month in the wake of the council’s response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, has set up NPB Consulting.
According to his LinkedIn page, the company offers “policy analysis, seminars, briefings and drafting assistance”.
This cartoon by David Simonds, from The Guardian, illustrates the problem – fat-cat businesses back Cameron while the working-class poor can only watch while they starve.
Looking at the headline, one might thing that is a bold claim – but it is what David Cameron’s party supported with their votes yesterday.
The Tories fended off a Labour Opposition Day motion for Parliament to ban MPs from having directorships or consultancies with private business interests with a vote of 287 against the motion, compared with 219 for – a majority of 68.
Shadow Commons Leader Angela Eagle said the public deserved to be “safe in the knowledge” that every MP was working and acting in their interests – and not for somebody paying them.
But her Tory counterpart, William Hague, pretended that unions were a far greater influence on MPs.
In that case, perhaps he should have explained the amount of influence that unions have held over the Coalition Government during the last five years, relative to big business – to illustrate his point.
No such demonstration was forthcoming – because unions have no influence on Tories while businesses dictate the Conservative Party’s every move.
This is what the last five years of Conservative-led Coalition Government have been about, you see – changing the system to make it easier for big business to make a profit – and to pass some of it on to the Tories in donations to party funds.
You won’t see any change in that while Tories are in office.
Labour has already changed its rules to ensure none of its MPs can hold business consultancies or directorships after this year’s general election.
That sends out a clear message about who voters can trust to make the right decisions.
David Cameron, meanwhile, just can’t get anything right.
Triumph: Ed Miliband had David Cameron on the ropes in Prime Minister’s Questions.
That’ll be another win for Ed Miliband this week, then.
Obviously, the topic of the leader exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions (or Wednesday Shouty Time, for political realists) was always going to be MPs’ second jobs and ‘cash for access’.
Both Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Labour MP Jack Straw were implicated in a ‘hidden camera’ operation to show they were selling their services as MPs for money.
Ed Miliband acted immediately with a plan to stop MPs taking high-paying consultancies and directorships, saying they cannot serve two masters. David Cameron, on the other hand, did nothing – putting him in a weak position before today’s battle began.
It started in civilised fashion: Ed Miliband said the reputation of all members of the House had been “damaged” by the recent revelations, and Cameron responded by saying they were “extremely serious” and it is right they are investigated.
Cameron went on to explain that he is not ruling out further changes on second jobs – but the existing rules should be “properly applied”. Meaning they’re not already? Whose responsibility is that?
Having built up a slight head of steam, Cameron then ruined it by suggesting the government has tightened up the rules on lobbying and introduced a right of recall. We all know that both of these measures pay lip-services to their stated aim, while in fact protecting lobbyists’ access to ministers and helping MPs keep their seats.
Miliband capitalised on this by pointing out that Cameron said – in a 2009 speech before he became Prime Minister – that he would end the practice of “double-jobbing” as he called it then. We all know nothing happened about it after he took office so this was clearly yet another pre-2010 election lie.
Cameron tried to parry by saying Labour’s proposals to ban outside directorships are “not thought through”, repeating a claim made earlier this week that they would allow someone to be a trade union official but not run a family business or shop.
He worsened his position by adding that he believes Parliament is “stronger” if MPs have outside interests. So he’s in favour of the kind of corruption exhibited by Rifkind and Straw?
Clearly, Cameron thought his line on “paid trade union officials” would hammer Miliband down – but the Labour leader batted it away without batting an eyelid. He said he was prepared to add trade union officials to the list of extra jobs that should be banned, in Labour’s motion on the subject to be debated later.
This left Cameron with nowhere to go. He tried to raise the outside earnings of current and former Labour ministers like Tristram Hunt and David Miliband, but the Labour leader said Cameron “talked big” while in opposition and should now “vote for one job – not two”.
Cameron’s final claim, that Labour is “owned lock stock and barrel” by the unions, fell flat following Miliband’s concession on union jobs, while Mr Miliband scored a final hit by pointing out that the Conservatives are controlled by wealthy hedge funds.
Now Cameron is in a corner.
He won’t want to let Labour score a victory by conceding this afternoon’s vote on consultancies and directorships (and now, it seems, trade union officialdom) because it would allow Labour to say it has again changed government policy – and also the rules of Parliament.
But if he opposes the move, then the electorate will see a Conservative Party that works for big business rather than the electorate, and supports corruption.
Cameron’s attitude to Parliamentary corruption: When he brought in the Lobbying Act, it ensured that rich corporations had unfettered access to MPs and the Prime Minister himself.
The Labour Party is banning its MPs from holding paid directorships and consultancies, to ensure that their only interest is their duty to their constituents.
Labour MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates have been put on notice that, from the coming General Election, the party’s standing orders will be changed to prevent them holding such second jobs.
The measure, which Ed Miliband has confirmed will be included in the party’s manifesto, would ensure no Labour MP holds a paid directorship or consultancy.
Labour is also consulting on legislative measures including placing a strict cap – similar to one that exists for members of the US Congress – on any additional money they can earn beyond their salary as representatives of the people.
Mr Miliband’s actions follow a series of allegations over recent years, about how MPs from both sides of the House of Commons have risked a conflict of interest by seeking or taking paid work from outside organisations.
Most recently, former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw (Labour) and Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) were secretly filmed apparently offering their services to a private company for cash.
It is claimed Mr Straw – a major figure in New Labour – said he had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who is chairman of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, is reported to have told reporters posing as representatives of a fake Chinese firm that he could arrange “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.
Mr Miliband has written to Tory leader David Cameron, challenging him to impose on Conservative MPs the same restrictions as are being placed on Labour’s.
The letter states: “I write … not just as leader of the Labour Party but as someone who believes that we all need to act to improve the reputation of our Parliament in the eyes of the British people.
“The British people need to know that when they vote they are electing someone who will represent them directly, and not be swayed by what they may owe to the interests of others.”
He added that Labour “is also consulting on legislation to make this a statutory ban, as well as imposing a strict cap on all outside earnings by MPs”.
Vox Political applauds this move by Mr Miliband and Labour.
Long-term readers may remember this site’s e-petition, on the government’s website, to ban MPs from speaking or voting in debates on matters which could lead to them, companies connected with them or donors to their political party, gaining money.
Labour’s move goes further than that, by banning MPs from having any financial connection with commercial operations and interests.
It seems unlikely that Mr Cameron will do the honourable thing, though.
He has removed the party whip from Rifkind, but said he has no control over the chairmanship of the Intelligence committee. Rifkind has stated that he will not willingly step down from it.
Cameron said he approves of MPs having second jobs.
He said Labour would allow someone to be a trade union official but not “to run the family shop” or something similar, which is a gross misinterpretation of the issue.
This is not about running family shops; it is about taking money from huge corporations, to impose commercial priorities on the nation to the detriment of the general public. But Cameron will never admit that, or speak out against it.
Corporate ‘partners’: These are just some of the companies that ‘work with’ your representatives in Parliament. Wouldn’t it be better if the relationship was kept at arms-length and your MP wasn’t their employee?
This is an important step on the way towards winning a personal crusade of Vox Political – to clear corruption out of the House of Commons.
The Labour Party will change the law to ban MPs from having second jobs including corporate directorships, employment or consultancy work.
Think about it; this means MPs will no longer be allowed to have dangerous conflicts of interest between their positions as representatives of the electorate and any responsibilities to other employers.
It would go a long way towards meeting the terms of the Vox Political e-petition from last year, which called on Parliament to ban MPs from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.
It would not help when MPs have shares in particular companies – but those should be declared in the register of members’ interests in any case, and neglect to mention such interests should lead to strict penalties.
I know. The Maria Miller case (to quote a recent example) isn’t going to fill anybody with hope, is it?
A Daily Mail report has stated that the move will infuriate many MPs on both sides of the House, and some Facebook commenters have already trotted out the now-tired line that they’ll believe it when they see it, or Labour won’t be able to push the measure through as MPs would oppose it.
That’s a mistake – a whipped vote in a House of Commons with a Labour majority means an automatic victory – in exactly the same way the Coalition government has continually won controversial votes in the current Parliament (against ardent Labour opposition that has subsequently gone unnoticed by the public – or at least, by many commenters on this site).
The Mail‘s article affected shock at Labour’s temerity in wanting to force this measure on members of other political parties, claiming it is likely to fuel claims that the party is anti-business.
This is, of course, poppycock. How is it anti-business to make sure serving members of Parliament concentrate on their jobs as public representatives, rather than trying to serve two masters at once? It seems more likely that business will revive without their over-rated expertise.
After all, look how well they’ve managed the nation’s finances!
The Mail also quoted some goon who said it meant the electorate would be lumbered with more career politicians who have worked as researchers and special advisors, when there need to be MPs in every party who have had “real world” professional experience.
This too is poppycock. There is no reason a person in any career cannot stand for election and, if returned to Parliament, take a sabbatical from their day job until they are voted out again or choose to return to their vocation.
Ah. I’ve just looked up the name of the goon who made this claim: Tory MP Andrew Bridgen. Need I say more?
Finally, the Mail turned to the Institute of Directors for support. It’s as if the paper really wanted to hammer home how corrupt the system has become, and will remain, if left as it is. Of course, the director general, Simon Walker, said MPs could better serve the public if they have “active links” with the business community.
Well, of course!
How could he influence Parliamentary decisions without a few directors in the Cabinet?
This is a policy that we should all support to the hilt.
I strongly advise you to contact your MP and seek their support for it.
Vox Political supports any move to keep MPs out of the pockets of big business
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Many of you may be aware that I live in a large county called Powys, that has a small population. This means that the amount of money the local authority receives from central government and local taxation is always stretched very thin, in order to provide the services required across – what is it? – 6,000 square miles.
Given that context, it should come as no surprise at all that some of the information I have been receiving about the way that money is being spent has raised concern.
It seems the county council has employed a consultancy to carry out a survey of housing stock – to pinpoint where repairs are required and carry them out. This consultancy has taken £1.5 million from the council’s budget and not one repair has yet been carried out.
In addition, it seems most of the council’s own employees at its benefits section have quit, to be replaced by staff from an agency. This organisation charges £20 per hour for each worker’s services, I’m told.
Is this value for money? I don’t think so.
I think it is a local symptom of a national malaise: the disastrous affair public authorities have been having with the private sector. It is an affair that has already led to the humiliation of the government in the G4S Olympic security debacle; an affair that has its roots in the Private Finance Initiative that was launched by the Conservatives in the 1990s and continued into the current century (to my shame) by my own political party, Labour.
I have recently become quite a fan of ‘lefty’ columnist Owen Jones. This may come as a surprise to some readers as not only has he enjoyed greater success than me at the same career (journalism), but he is 16 years my junior. Talented, young and successful – I should be green with envy rather than cheering him on, right?
In fact I’m simply glad that someone is around to say what I would have said, in his position.
You may have heard this gentleman speaking on the BBC’s Any Questions (Radio 4, last Friday and Saturday), on the very subject of private involvement in public services. If you did not, allow me to enlighten you.
“What’s happened with G4S has exposed the dogma of the last 30 years, that the private sector is good and efficient, and the public sector is wasteful. What happened when G4S failed? The state had to go in and fill the vacuum – and it’s not just there we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it with A4E, this welfare to work programe, this company that basically took taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of those who were running it; we saw it with PFI – started by the Tory government, continued under New Labour, that’s like paying for public services on a credit card, getting these private companies to do what the state should have done, apparently it costs up to £25 billion more, of our money. It’s the same with the London Underground; it’s the same with rail privatisation – we’re now paying up to four times more on subsidies for private rail companies than we did in the time of British Rail. And we’ve seen it recently with water. We just recently had a drought when rain was absolutely hammering the southeast. That’s because a water company sold off 25 reservoirs in the last 20 years.
“Public services should be run by the public sector, accountable to us, democratically-run, instead of taxpayers’ money lining the pockets of private companies who do not have our interests at heart; they just want to make profit out of our services.”
In support of that, let’s have a few facts and figures. Those I have at hand come from a book entitled ‘You Are Here’ by satirical luminaries Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune, with Geoff Atkinson. It was published in 2005 so the information – accurate at the time – may be out of date by now and I would be happy to read any updates on what follows.
In 2005, this was the situation:
When the railways were privatised (by the Conservatives) it was decided that one company would own and run the tracks, one group of companies would operate the trains and another group of companies would own them. There are three rolling stock leasing companies – roscos – that lease their trains to the operating companies. These trains cost just over £2 million to build and are leased out for £500,000 per year. Their lifetime is anything up to 40 years – which is a huge profit margin.
But don’t worry – they don’t receive a penny of taxpayers’ money. No – the subsidy for the South Central franchise was set to increase by £342 million between 2005-2010. Of this, 80 per cent went to the roscos for new rolling stock – around £273,600,000. But it wasn’t taxpayers’ money by then. It was taxpayers’ money when it was part of the operating company’s subsidy, but when it was passed between that company and the rosco it was a simple business transaction.
That’s how they get away with it. You and I both know that the cash came out of our pockets, but because it went through a middle-man, these companies can call it their own.
You might be interested to know that the three leasing companies are (or were, in 2005) all owned by banks.
According to ‘You Are Here’, “The Future of Transport White Paper says: ‘The privatisation of the rail industry in the early 1990s assumed that private sector discipline and innovation would drive down the railway’s subsidy requirement and drive up the quality of service. In part this has been borne out.
“Rail users might well ask: In which part? The same document shows 80 per cent of trains arriving on time in 2004, compared to 90 per cent in 1998. The latest National Rail Trends shows total government support to the rail industry in 1995-96 of £431 million. For 2002-03 it was £2,588 million.”
Private Finance Initiatives were intended to bring private sector cash in to fund public services – which may seem like a good idea on the face of it. As ‘You Are Here’ states: The deal is simple. Money for the new service is raised privately in the money markets and thus kept off the country’s balance sheet… but like any free offer, it does come with small print.
“The long-term value of PFI contracts may go down as well as up. Your public services are at risk if you do not keep up the repayments. The return for consortiums running PFI projects” – on the other hand – “may go up and up and up. Standard terms include: cost-cutting, short-term employment contracts, high management costs, huge legal costs. Every element must be a profit centre. After expiry of contract (typically 35 years) the consortium is under no obligation to renew the terms of the lease and can renegotiate at more favourable rates or move out of the public service sector and turn the property into a hotel or office block.
“PFI often means that an organisation which previously worked to a single goal is now in competition with itself, as different parts of the same system strive to outbid each other, the primary goal being to enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.” To enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.
In February last year (2011), David Cameron promised to deliver a ‘revolution’ in public services, in which he envisaged everything but the security services and the judiciary being privatised. You can read about it here. Private prisons; private police; private health services – we’ve seen these rear their ugly heads already, and I’m sure more is to come.
Considering the disastrous profit-driven performance of the private sector in public services, as detailed above, I cannot think of anything worse than letting private companies continue with what they’ve got, let alone adding anything new to their portfolio of travesties!
With this in mind, I have to ask why Powys County Council thinks employing a private firm to survey its housing stock, or workers for a private agency to administer its benefits, is an economical use of my taxpayer money.
It’s time the madness stopped, and if Westminster is too sick to do it, then perhaps local government should lead the way back to sanity.
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