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Tory donors get what they pay for in jobs and contracts

Troublemaker looks at the week's news including Tory donations and attacks on whistleblowers
Issue 2874
Tory Donor Frank Hester Picture: Fortune Global Tech creative commons via Flikr

Tory donor Frank Hester (Picture: Fortune Global Tech creative commons via Flikr)

One of the Conservatives’ ­biggest ever donors has profited from £135 million of contracts with the Department of Health and Social Care in under four years. Frank Hester, a healthcare tech ­entrepreneur whose company supplies computer systems to the NHS, gave Rishi Sunak’s party £5 million this summer, the joint biggest donation to the Tories in decades.

His company, the Phoenix Partnership (TPP), paid out more than £20 million in dividends between 2019 and 2022, with Hester the only shareholder. The group supplies software to about 2,700 GP surgeries in England as well as support services to allow them to hold medical records for patients electronically. Its main operating company, the Phoenix Partnership (Leeds), recorded profit before tax of £47 million in the year to March 2022.

Meanwhile a  Tory donor whose company was awarded £160 million worth of PPE contracts has been appointed to a top government trade role.

David Meller—a former chair of the scandal-hit Presidents Club—has given almost £70,000 to the Conservative Party and politicians since 2009. He is one of 13 people appointed last week to the new-look Board of Trade by business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch. Meller quit as joint chair of the Presidents Club charity in 2018 after guests at one of its dinners were claimed to have sexually harassed waiting staff. He also resigned from his post as a non-executive director of the Department for Education. The club closed down in the aftermath.

The business chief owned Meller Designs, a supplier of beauty products and accessories, until January 2021. Less than a month after the first ­lockdown, in April 2020, Meller took part in a call with Lord Bethell, who was spearheading the Department of Health and Social Care’s procurement of PPE.

The company was later awarded a total of six contracts worth £160 million for PPE.


Government tries to silence whistleblower

The British government last week tried to prevent a whistleblower who raised concerns about its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 from using key parts of evidence to fight her upcoming employment tribunal case. Josie Stewart, a former senior civil servant who worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), was dismissed for giving an anonymous BBC interview about the fall of Kabul in 2021. She is  now suing the FCDO.

Her whistleblowing and unfair dismissal lawsuit is set to be heard in May 2024. At a hearing last week the government applied to have parts of Stewart’s witness statement evidence struck out on the grounds of parliamentary privilege.

The tribunal heard that parts of Stewart’s witness statement refer to evidence about Afghanistan given by various individuals to parliamentary select committees accompanied by her own views about the truthfulness of that testimony. The tribunal was told part of the reason she leaked information to the BBC was that she believed parliamentary scrutiny was being undermined by allegedly misleading statements to parliament by ministers and senior civil servants.

The FCDO claimed that the passages referring to proceedings in the House of Commons should be struck out on grounds of parliamentary privilege which protect free speech and say that the courts cannot question or examine any proceedings in parliament. Gavin Millar KC, barrister for Stewart said the FCDO’s reliance on parliamentary privilege was “misconceived”. “The implications would be even more profound in other cases, for example cases in which the whistleblower speaks out exclusively in order to correct inaccuracies or even lies told to parliament,” he said.


  • The cost of new armed drones for the British military has jumped more than 40 percent.  The price tag to buy and operate a fleet of 16 US-made Protector pilotless aircraft has risen to £1.76 billion, up from a 2016 estimated total lifetime cost of £1.25 billion, according to official figures. The drone is made by General Atomics of the US and has a wingspan of 24 metres, which is bigger than most business jets. It is armed with 500lb laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles.

  • Boris Johnson will avoid censure for breaking the rules on ex-ministers taking up new jobs despite the government accepting he committed a breach over his appointment as a Daily Mail columnist. Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, said it would be “disproportionate to undertake further action” other than acknowledging a “clear breach”. Johnson told the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that he was becoming a Daily Mail columnist only half an hour before the public announcement.

Tories make Afghan migrants homeless… 

The Home Office has stopped feeding hundreds of Afghan refugees who are still living in hotels. It follows the government’s decision to end the use of hotels to house more than 8,000 Afghans brought to Britain under its resettlement scheme by September.

Despite ministers pledging to “find homes for all of them”, at least 25 local councils have now been left responsible for preventing more than 500 Afghans becoming homeless, including 300 children. Some have been allowed to stay in the hotels on a temporary basis but had their meals withdrawn overnight. The change has left children going to school hungry because takeaways aren’t always open, and adults are skipping meals because they can’t afford to pay for hot food.

In June, the Home Office told him one refugee he would need to find his own accommodation in the private rented sector. He spoke to 22 different property agents in Bradford.

“They all said the same thing—that they could not offer me a home because I couldn’t demonstrate I earned enough money and I didn’t have a guarantor,” he said. On one occasion, he said a property agent just hung up on him as soon as he told them he was a refugee.


…and half of Peckham’s school children are too 

The housing crisis is worsening. At Harris Primary Academy in Peckham, south London, over half of their 300 schools’ pupils are homeless. Children arrive at the school gates after spending the night in a hostel or bed and breakfast, or in a temporary flat, or the sofa of a family member’s living room.

They may have lived like this for days, or weeks—they may have moved several times in a matter of months. Some wake up in one hotel and go to bed later that day in a different one.

At Peckham Park Primary, this is “the new normal”. The  housing crisis is so acute in south London, it’s the children in stable, secure housing that stand out. “Children arrive at school really hungry, because they have been on such a big journey to get to school,” said principal Marie Corbett. “Often the children might fall asleep in the day because they might not have a bed, or they are sleeping on a mattress”


Things they say

‘They were understandably anxious’

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley after he met with 70 firearms officers following the murder charge for the killing of Chris Kaba

‘Bravery comes in many forms’

Rowley again

‘We depend on our brave firearms officers to protect us from the most dangerous and violent in society. They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties’

Home Secretary Suella Braverman plays with the contempt of court laws over the Chris Kaba case

‘Most of the media is in cahoots with elites, peddling political narratives rather than the truth’

Media boss Rupert Murdoch presumably condemning himself

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