Recent Articles

Excl: Osborne failed to declare stake in £32m firm

by Martin Williams     November 14, 2012 at 11:14 am

Chancellor George Osborne failed to declare a personal investment in a £32m multinational company, it has emerged.

In an embarrassing mistake for the Conservative minister, Osborne accidentally listed the wrong company on the MPs’ register of interests.

The Conservative chancellor claimed to own shares in his family’s wallpaper business, Osborne & Little Ltd.

But documents from Companies House revealed his shareholding is actually with the firm’s much larger parent company – Osborne & Little Group Ltd – which has a turnover £10m greater.

The chancellor has now had to edit his financial declarations in the most recent version of the register after the error was flagged up to him.

Both firms are part of the family business, but the chancellor’s blunder hid the true nature of his investment and may have misled Parliament.

Tasked with getting the country’s books in order, it seems Osborne can’t even keep his own finances up to scratch.

Neither company managed to make a profit last year, and Osborne has not personally profited from his hidden investment for at least five years. But the parent company saw a turnover of more than £32.7m, according to the 2011 annual accounts.

And the family-owned business, which specialises in upmarket textiles, does not appear confident about Osborne’s economic policies.

Last year, the company blamed its losses on the financial crisis. The accounts warn: “there is little sign of this changing in near future”.

Osborne’s mistakes with his family business is made more worrying because he claims the company taught him lessons about finance. “It’s given me a strong understanding of what’s involved in running a business – the risks, the hard work and the commitment,” he said in 2008.

Osborne & Little was set up by the chancellor’s father, Sir Peter Osborne, in 1968.

He was criticised earlier this year for his expensive spending habits. It was also recently reported that he and wife Lady Felicity, bought a £10m mansion in West London while keeping hold of their previous £15m house.

Martin’s website:

How Scotland Yard monitors prying bloggers and journalists

by Martin Williams     February 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Although the police were happy to turn a blind eye to phone hacking at the News of the World, they’re making a habit of keeping tabs on innocent journalists and bloggers.

When a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is made it is meant to be dealt with “applicant and motive blind”.

But, Scotland Yard have a system in place where requests from journalists are flagged up. The ‘High Profile Request’ list is circulated to all internal departments in the police force, along with the full name of each requester.
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Ten ways to save money on FOI without changing the Act

by Martin Williams     February 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

The Freedom of Information Act is currently being reviewed by the Justice Select Committee, which is likely to suggest changes to the law. One of the main criticisms of the act is that it is a “drain on resources”.

From my experience of using FOI, I don’t think the law needs changing at all. If the government want to spend less on FOI here’s ten ways they can do it without changing the law:
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Politically correct Met police? Not very likely

by Martin Williams     September 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

After the riots in August, Peter Hitchens criticised “the political correctness of the police”. It’s a criticism frequently made by the Daily Mail, which he writes for.

Here, for instance, the Met are described as being “burdened by decades of political correctness,” and “crippled by liberalism”.

It may not be definitive proof of the Daily Mail being wrong about absolutely everything, but here’s an interesting disclosure from the Met Police themselves.
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BBC evading scrutiny over Jeremy Hunt emails

by Martin Williams     September 13, 2011 at 10:10 am

The BBC is knowingly breaking Freedom of Information laws by refusing to release emails sent between the Director-General Mark Thompson and Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The disclosure of communications was requested in June by myself, but the BBC has not responded as it should.

They said: “we need further time in which to consider the public interest in disclosing the information.” But, having already extended their response deadline by 20 days, they have now crossed the final legal deadline for response.

Despite warnings to the BBC stating that it’s intention to delay the disclosures would be a breach of the rules, staff remained defiant. “The BBC is of the view that the delay is justified,” a policy adviser said.

This was not the view of a source at the Information Commissioner’s Office who said he couldn’t see how the behavior did not constitute a breach.

The ICO explain: “Public authorities should respond to a request for information within 20 working days. If they need to consider the public interest this may be extended to 40 working days, providing you have been informed.”

More than a week has passed since the maximum 40-day deadline.

How local democracy is increasingly policed by private security

by Martin Williams     September 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm

In March, local London newspaper Ham & High reported that the Tory-run Barnet Council were paying a private security company to secretly film residents at open meetings.

The farcical “MetPro Rapid Response Ltd.”, which described itself as an “alternative to 999″, were paid almost £1m over two-and-a-quarter years before they went bust this year.
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Revealed: Emails detail how cuts led to care homes scandal

by Martin Williams     August 30, 2011 at 10:01 am

After the Winterbourne View Care Home scandal, exposed by Panorama earlier this year, questions were raised about the resources and funding of the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Now, a series of emails and documents have revealed how the government forced the CQC to cut nearly £1 million.

Less than a week after George Osborne’s “emergency budget” in May 2010, the Department of Health made it clear to the CQC that they would not escape funding cuts.

An email to the CQC explained:

Although as a protected department DH will not see a reduction in its 2010-11 budget, we are not and should not be exempt from the need to make savings.

The CQC told the Department of Health they would need a capital budget of £17.5 million in 2010-11. But by July, they had been informed that they would be receiving nearly £1 million less – just £16.4 million. The CQC’s Director of Finance told staff: “This should be sufficient although there are some emerging issues”.

The previous year, the CQC had to write a desperate five-page letter to the Department of Health asking asking that they be considered for some additional funding. It boasts “we have delivered recurring savings of £44m”, but warned: “There are further ‘one off costs’ that will be necessary in 2010/11 in order for us to satisfy our obligations before CQC reaches ‘steady state’.

Savings in the CQC have been accompanied by a dramatic fall in the number of inspections that are undertaken. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that there were only 5,331 inspections this year, compared to more than 48,000 inspections six years ago. In May, the CQC were criticised for failing to act on reports of abuse in Winterbourne View care home.

David Brindle had this to say in The Guardian:

On resources, critics have seized on the fact that the CQC’s annual budget of £164m is 30% less than the combined funding of the organisations it succeeded in 2009, even though it is being expected to do more. As well as NHS trusts, care homes, care agencies and dental practices, the body is due next year to start regulating GP practices.

According to Williams [Dame Jo Williams, CQC chair], each of the full quota of 900 inspectors – and until recently there have been up to 130 frozen vacancies – handles a mixed portfolio of some 50 different provider units and makes judgment calls, based on evidence of relative risk, about when and how often to visit (almost always unannounced, contrary to widespread belief).

Earlier this year, Pat Healy of the National Pensioners’ Convention said:

The quality of inspection of care homes is unsatisfactory, mainly because the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, is expected to do more for less money and does not have enough inspectors to do the job properly.

The CQC doesn’t seem to keep an online FOI disclosure log, so here is a selection of the more interesting documents…

Email from DH
Email from John Lappin
Email from Cynthia Bower
Email from DH 2
CQC Budget Notification (Doc 11 20101222 ) (Excel)
Revised Budget for 2010 and 11
Letter from DoH re CQC 2011 and 12 Indicative Budget
DoH ALB Planning Guidance
DoH ALB Planning Guidance – supporting docs
Letter from DoH re CQC 2010 and 11 Final Budget
Letter from DoH re CQC 2011 and 12 Initial Budget

Revealed: Student debt to rise to nearly £200bn; more than predicted

by Martin Williams     August 25, 2011 at 10:05 am

New figures released by the government have revealed that the rise to university tuition fees will cause a £124bn increase in personal debt.

Total student debt will continue to rise until 2047, when it will peak at an estimated £191bn.

This compares to official predictions made before the fees hike, which showed that debt would peak in 2027 at just £67bn.

A forecast of student debt levels was sent to Liberal Conspiracy following a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

The figures also show that, by the year 2032, an average graduate can expect to have £31,000 of debt after leaving university.

The department explained the forecast saying:

Average fee loans are assumed to be just over £7,500 in 2012/13 and both maintenance and fee loans are assumed to increase in line with inflation every year between then and 2050-51.

However, more than a third of English universities are set to charge the maximum of £9,000 and figures from the Office of Fair Access estimate the average fee to be £8,393 – not £7,500. This could mean that the peak total debt could end up being considerably more than even the official estimates suggest.

The National Union of Students told Liberal Conspiracy

It comes as no surprise that the changes in the higher education funding system will plunge a generation into debt. No matter how the repayment system is constructed or how much some might claim that concern about debt and an incredibly complex system are not a deterrent from university, there is still a very real danger that many young people will be put off.

The headline debt figures are hugely worrying and they are coupled with the fact that the amount of financial support going directly into students’ pocket will actually decrease by 2015. The Government are presiding over a mess of their own creation and it is students that are paying the price.

LC exclusive: Student Debt Forecast

Some figures from this story were released to the Independent on Sunday earlier. Here, we publish the full details from the FOI request.

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