Category Archives: politics

UK Foreign Office racks up mother of all bank charge for late bill payment – just £124,970.08!

You might have got a charge for late payment of your credit card, but it’s probably nothing compared to the £124,970.08 charge that the British foreign office appears to have racked up.

The official response to a freedom of information request has outlined a series of so-called ‘fruitless’ payments made by the British government’s foreign and commonwealth office.

They include a £124,970.08 late bill settlement charge relating to expense and procurement cards supplied through a contract with the Royal Bank of Scotland. This is what the text of the FOI response says:

‘Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) charges incurred between 10th March 2015 and 4th March 2016 for late payment of expense and procurement card statements.

‘The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a contract with Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to supply expense and procurement cards. Late settlement of the bill in full led to an interest charge allowable under the terms of the contract. However, the FCO receives regular rebates from RBS under the contract which have saved the taxpayer a sum very many times the value of this charge over the last five years.’

Action taken by foreign office

It goes on: ‘The payment was deemed fruitless because the FCO made payment that brought no benefit to the FCO. We can confirm that an independent investigation took place and that appropriate action was taken.

‘To prevent a reoccurrence of this issue, immediate action was taken – the FCO now has payment by Direct Debit for all its RBS expense and procurement cards, and our card payments control has been further strengthened by implementing two new additional monthly checks..

You can read about other ‘fruitless’ payments made by the foreign office here.

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How Theresa May hailed the ‘special relationship, but not the one you’re thinking of – click here to read the story

Three women aged 80+ serving prison sentences in England & Wales

There were 223 men aged 80 or over serving sentences, as at 30 September 2016, according to official figures.

The information was released by the government in response to written question laid in the House of Lords by Labour peer Keith Bradley.

The answer also warned that the figures had been drawn from administrative IT systems, which as with any large scale recording system were subject to possible errors with data entry and processing.

Thousands of over-60s are the fastest growing prisoner age group behind bars, according to recent Guardian article.

MPs should get vote on moving UK parliament outside London to ‘reboot’ politics

It would be wrong to ‘stitch-up’ any move while the Houses of Parliament in London are renovated, according to MP Jonathan Edwards.

MPs and peers are due to vote on the option selected by a cross-party committee looking at how to repair the crumbling buildings in Westminster when they return from their summer break amid reports that politicians will move to the Department of Health in Whitehall. The bill could be around £3.9 billion during six years of work under a total move out.

But Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has called for MPs to get a vote on moving Parliament outside London. Birmingham has been suggested as one potential option by myself, at least during the duration of the renovation work.

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Move Parliament to Birmingham

Mr Edwards says there are multiple ‘convincing’ arguments supporting relocation:

  • Cost – capital costs on new building and revenue costs of sustaining Parliamentary activity in London
  • Helping decentralise the British State by moving political power from London
  • Move public investment from London
  • Modernise Parliament –suitable Chamber – seats for every elected Member, electronic voting, and suitable offices for MPs and staff
  • Reboot UK politics following a rolling programme of scandals which has corrupted the Westminster body politic
  • Reduce the cost of government – reduced financial pressures on MPs and staff which can be translated into lower public expenditure, for instance, reduced need for housing allowances and London-weighted salaries.

Mr Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: ‘The Westminster Parliamentary Estate is an incredible building and it is a privilege to get the opportunity to work within those hallowed walls.

‘Work on the New Palace began in 1840 and it had a good innings by any stretch of the imagination. However the Estate has fallen into a state of disrepair and the price tag involved in the necessary restoration and renewal work is eye watering.

‘A select committee of MPs and peers is currently considering options for the work needed to restore the Houses of Parliament with the price tag varying between around £4-7bn.’

He added: ‘These are eye watering sums. To put it in context the Welsh Government is spending around £6bn on health services for the whole population of Wales this year.

‘I recall only too well the cries of outrage from the Conservative party in Wales when £60m was allocated for the new Senedd building which houses the National Assembly for Wales.

‘Yet there is a conspiracy of silence by the Westminster establishment over spending a 100 times more on the Westminster Parliament.

‘The Senedd building was built at a time of increased public spending. We are now in the sixth year of a vicious policy of fiscal austerity initiated by the UK Government that has seen public investment cut back drastically. It’s an act of political debauchery for politicians to spend these sort of sums on their own facilities when the people we serve have seen their services, incomes and wellbeing cut to the bone.

‘The New Palace was built when the British State was the most powerful imperial power on earth with control of a fifth of the globes landmass and a quarter of the world’s peoples. It’s no longer in that position. The decision to leave the European Union will create greater economic challenges with a substantial fall in tax revenues expected over the coming years. With this in mind, politicians have to justify every penny of expenditure.’

He added: ‘There are also other very persuasive arguments in my view why relocation should be considered. One of the great failings of the British State is that it has concentrated economic and political power in London and the South East of England.

‘Addressing the individual and geographical wealth inequalities of the UK should be the most important challenge of our times – not least because addressing those injustices would in itself be an economic driver.

‘It would be a bold statement of intent for the British political class to make by favouring relocation that they are serious about equalising wealth and sharing the cake more evenly.

‘The Westminster Parliamentary estate was not built to service the vast infrastructure needed to support modern politics in terms of offices for MPs, their staff and the media. A more modern structure would allow for a coordinated approach to Office space, meeting rooms and a debating chamber itself where elected members are able to have a seat each as opposed to being packed in like sardines in order to deliberately encourage a destructive tribal hostile political culture. Who knows a new Chamber might even bring in a more efficient voting procedure instead of spending seven minutes per vote walking through lobbies.’

‘After a series of damaging scandals which has corrupted politics, democracy itself needs a reboot. The worrying rise of populist post truth politics can only be countered if there is a radical change in political culture. I cannot foresee the rotten political culture of the UK changing if its epicentre remains at Westminster.

‘The Westminster Palace is an iconic building but I cannot consciously support expenditure of that amount on any building. There are also a number of other reasons why relocation of the British Parliament would be more appropriate. With that in mind MPs should be given the opportunity to support a relocation option when the time comes to vote before the end of the year. It would be a grave political mistake for the Westminster establishment to attempt to stitch up this decision by presenting a fait accompli.’

 

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British PM Theresa May hails ‘special relationship’ & no, it’s not the one with the US

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‘Brightest and best’ civil servants WILL staff Brexit ministry at 9 Downing St – including from Boris Johnson’s foreign office

Photo credit: Mark Carney (Bank of England), Sean Connery (By Mieremet, Rob / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.05 Bestanddeelnummer 927-7001, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44312571)

British PM Theresa May hails ‘special relationship’ & no, it’s not the one with the US

In fact, it’s with a group of islands nearer to France than the US – and with a history that stretches back nearly 1,000 years. 

The Channel Islands are made up of the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, and British Crown Dependencies but are not part of Great Britain. They were part of the Duchy of Normandy, and become linked to the English crown when William the Conqueror arrived at Hastings in 1066.

The self-governing bailiwicks each have their own elected assemblies, and don’t return MPs to the British parliament. In some aspects, the islands have acted more and more as states would – although they retain key links to the UK. The crown dependencies also include the Isle of Man.

They also didn’t have a vote in the recent Brexit referendum in the UK, although a chunk of islanders may have eligibility to vote depending on if they ever lived in the UK and how long ago that was.

But the fallout from Brexit is an issue for the Channel Islands, which have developed as financial services centres alongside tourism and other sectors. Access to markets, as with any economy, is important. So, leaders of the Channel Islands – such as Gavin St Pier and Jonathan Le Tocq – have been working hard to ensure their voice is heard in Westminster and in Brussels.

Letter from the PM

That work has resulted in a letter to the Crown Dependencies from new British prime minister Theresa May. She has given assurances that Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man (which is also a Crown Dependency) will be engaged in the process of the UK’s negotiations in relation to its exit and ongoing trade with the EU.

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Special relationship

The historic and special relationship between the UK and the Channel Islands is also highlighted by Mrs May in her letter to Gavin St Pier, the chief minister of Guernsey.

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The case for Ruth Davidson to be at the top Brexit negotiating table

 

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The Pea Stacks, Jerbourg, Guernsey 

(Main image: google maps)

 

‘Brightest and best’ civil servants WILL staff Brexit ministry at 9 Downing St – including from Boris Johnson’s foreign office

Comments by new Brexit Secretary David David could fuel claims of a turf war for staff with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

At the heart of government

Sure some of it could be hyperbole by a new cabinet minister, but Mr Davis’s written response to a parliamentary question about the staffing of his new Brexit department may reflect a battle with other Whitehall departments for the best civil servants.

‘The new Department will sit at the heart of government and be staffed by the best and brightest from across the civil service and will draw on external expertise if required,’ said the Brexit secretary in response to a question from Labour MP Andy Slaughter.

‘The unit will bring together officials and policy expertise from across the Cabinet Office, Treasury, Foreign Office, Business Department and the wider civil service. The department’s Ministers are based in 9 Downing Street,’ added Mr Davis.

The Brexit department will be led at permanent secretary level by Oliver Robbins, he also confirmed.

Mr Davis’s written response comes after The Times reported on 19th July that the Foreign Office was ‘fighting a turf war’ to stop Mr Davis from poaching its best officials.

Can the real foreign secretary please stand up?

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Has May boxed in Boris as Foreign Secretary by appointing David Davis and Liam Fox to the Cabinet – click here to read?

Meanwhile, the claims about the best officials working on Brexit could spark concerns that that talent is being taken off other important schemes and programmes. And that could suggest that Theresa May’s government may have a challenge when it comes to its other priorities alongside delivering on ‘Brexit meaning Brexit’.

 

Theresa May could prove she governs for the whole UK by moving parliament to Birmingham

Moving national politics to the Midlands would be hugely symbolic, economic and practical move by new prime minister Theresa May.

Symbolic because she has spoken about the need to unite the country and make it work for everyone. During the EU referendum campaign and result, much was spoken about the divisions between London and other parts of England – between the remainers and Brexiteers.

Moving the Houses of Parliament to Birmingham would show Mrs May is serious about trying to unite the country in a way never tried before. In fact, it would reflect her cabinet which has been as much as trying to unify as stamping her own mark on government.

It would also be a massive economic move, giving the Midlands another boost and showing that it’s not just London that matters – even if that’s clearly not the case. It could help move away from what some see as the lop-sided development of the UK, where London is dominant. Supporting the rest of the country is just as important.

It’s also extremely practical because the Houses of Parliament are in need of major renovation work. A rolling programme of work could cost around £5.7 billion, while a full move out would mean the work could be done more quickly and avoid disruption to parliamentary business. The cost for this option has been put at £3.9 billion with the work completed within six years.

Of course, accommodation could be found in Birmingham (or even another location outside of London) to house MPs, peers and their support staff for this period. Shifting Whitehall departments might also be required.

* Of course, it wouldn’t just be up to Mrs May, the parliamentary authorities and parliamentarians would also have to have a say – but wouldn’t it be an incredible statement to make the move permanent and turn the old London parliament buildings into a museum?

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