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Private health and fuel firms throw cash at Tory ministers

Troublemaker looks at the week's news including Tory donors getting what they pay for, while we pay for Boris Johnson
Issue 2840
Paul Scully MP

Cricket fan Paul Scully MP

Private health firms have donated more than £800,000 to the Conservative Party over the past ten years. This includes companies run by wealthy tycoons who have wined and dined former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May and other senior ministers.

The finding comes as the ­government hands out more NHS contracts to the private sector. The British Medical Association has warned that relying on the private sector threatens the “sustainability of the NHS”, which has suffered from “a decade of underinvestment”. An investigation by openDemocracy reveals how the Tories received £800,000 from more than 35 private health and social care businesses. The true figure could be even higher because donors do not have to declare their field of work. And this is on top of huge personal donations from some of the bosses behind these companies. The majority of Tory donations from the private health sector have come since the pandemic began in 2020.

One such donor, Doctor Care Anywhere Group PLC, has given the party more than £37,000 in the past two years— and reportedly spent £1,000 on a ticket for government minister Paul Scully to watch a cricket match at Lord’s. The company, which charges up to £60 for a single telephone call with a GP, raked in £25 million revenue in the 2021 financial year.

The Conservatives also accepted £28,000 worth of donations from Advinia Health Care Limited, which operates a network of 36 care homes across the UK. The company has taken huge amounts of public money and boasted almost £96 million in turnover in its latest financial accounts. From this, Advinia took more than £1.8 million of pre-tax profits.

Meanwhile the Tory climate minister who recently stated not all fossil fuels were the “spawn of the devil” received campaign donations from one of the largest fuel distributors in the UK as well as an aviation consultant and recruiter.

Rishi Sunak appointed Graham Stuart as climate minister in September. He has responsibility for net zero strategy and low-carbon generation. Stuart has already said that a fresh round of oil and gas projects are “good for the environment”.

In 2019 Stuart received a £10,000 donation towards his re-election campaign from JR Rix & Sons, a business primarily involved in the distribution and sale of fuel, including heating oil, diesel and petrol. Among JR Rix & Sons’ group of companies is Rix Petroleum, and Rix Shipping, which operates a fleet of oil tankers. Stuart also received a £2,000 donation from Bostonair, a Hull-based aviation consultant.

Brutal treatment of children in homes

Children in care were punched, locked out naked and had vinegar poured on cuts, according to reports that were filed over three years before the homes were finally shut. A BBC investigation has learned more than 100 concerns were logged at the Doncaster children’s homes, which retained a “good” Ofsted rating.

Leaked documents also show Ofsted was alerted 40 times about incidents. The regulator has now apologised, as has Hesley Group, which ran the homes.

More than 100 of Britain’s most vulnerable children in care are feared to have been harmed. The homes, which included two residential special schools, charged local authorities £250,000 a year to care for each young person. The homes continued to be rated as “good” by Ofsted, but in March 2021 the regulator finally stepped in and they were closed shortly afterwards. South Yorkshire Police—currently investigating some Hesley staff for alleged abuse—was warned by support workers three years before the  closures.

The Hesley Group, owned by private  equity firm Antin Infrastructure which is better known for investing in gas pipelines, continues to run a school and placements for adults with learning disabilities. Hesley’s accounts recorded a 16 percent profit of £12 million for all the sites it runs—almost the same margin (17 percent) regarded as “excessive” by a government watchdog.

It’s been a record-breaking year for bonuses in the City financial hub. The TUC union federation estimates the latest annual bonus total for those in the finance and insurance sector is £18.7 billion. Almost all of this goes to higher paid people. The government lifted the cap on bankers’ bonuses in September, allowing bankers to “help themselves” to unlimited payouts. City pay including bonuses has risen more than three times faster than the pay of nurses, midwives and ambulance workers.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has so far donated just 3 percent of the fee he was paid for appearing on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! to charity. Hancock received £320,000 for his stint on the reality show, of which £10,000 was donated to charity, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests.

Government fines for training doctors

The government has told universities to limit the number of medical school places this year or risk fines—just as the NHS is struggling with shortages. Ministers have told medical schools to cut training offers to ensure that there is “no risk” of them accepting more would-be doctors than permitted by a government cap.  It means universities are likely to offer fewer places than normal to sixth-formers.

Ministers are holding firm to a 7,500 cap on new medical students in England while admitting that a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses means long delays for NHS treatment. Robert Halfon, the universities minister, wrote to vice-chancellors last week telling them to limit their offers. Universities face fines of £100,000 per student for “persistent over-recruitment”. Universities say last summer, they rejected students for administrative reasons such as submitting vaccine certificates late to stay within permitted numbers.

Boris Johnson still costing us a fortune   

Boris Johnson is grabbing huge amounts of money to cover up his partying during the pandemic lockdown. The cost of helping the former prime minister defend himself over claims he misled parliament about law-breaking parties during Covid “could potentially exceed” the current £222,000 budget, a senior civil servant admitted.

Alex Chisholm, the permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, suggested that while he hoped the figure would be a “maximum”, the government could step in to foot another rise. Slower than anticipated progress means the contract with law firm Peters and Peters has already been extended once, until 28 February, with the £129,000 initially set aside rising to £222,000.

Meanwhile security for Boris Johnson’s recent surprise visit to Ukraine was funded by public funds. No 10 said Rishi Sunak was “supportive” of Johnson’s trip.  Johnson met the Ukrainian president during his fourth trip to Ukraine.

Things they say

‘I’m not going to talk about my personal tax affairs’

Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt won’t talk about paying tax fines when asked

‘I don’t think people at home are remotely interested in personal tax affairs’

Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt won’t talk about paying tax fines when asked a second time

‘I am chancellor, so for the record, I haven’t paid an HMRC fine’

Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt will, it turns out, talk about paying tax fines when asked a third time

‘I don’t think Nadhim should resign as an MP, absolutely not’

Michael Gove, Levelling Up secretary

‘Boris Johnson has all the right attributes for new party chairman’

Jacob Rees-Mogg, former cabinet minister

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