Egypt crisis: UK will not take sides, says William Hague
Foreign secretary says Britain will not ‘pick and choose’ which side to support in conflict that could last years or even decades. Read more…
Egypt crisis hits tourism and economy
Holiday companies cut tours, governments advise against travel and businesses scale back operations as violence continues. Read more…
Gibraltar ‘the party is over’ comments raise concerns in London
Foreign Office vows to safeguard British sovereignty over Rock after Spanish minister escalates row, promising a harder line. Read more…
The 50, 75 and 100 yuan per head menu options that the Foreign Office was offered for the ‘return British banquet’ at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, in 1982
Foreign Office investigates claims by Ansaru rebels, while Italian government is quoted as saying hostages are dead
The Foreign Office is investigating claims by a Nigerian Islamist group that it has killed seven kidnapped foreign construction workers, one whom is understood to be British.
The hostages were taken on 16 February while working for Lebanese construction company Setraco in Jama’are, a town about 125 miles north of Bauchi, where militant Islamists have launched numerous attacks. Ansaru, a splinter group independent from Boko Haram, the main terrorist group in northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility.
The FCO said it was “aware of reports of the death of a British national in Nigeria” but declined to comment further, urging the media not to speculate because of the “extremely sensitive” situation.
Italy’s foreign ministry has said it believes the group of hostages are dead, according to an Italian news agency.
Ansa quoted from a ministry statement which said all seven hostages had been killed.
The Italians said checks carried out in co-operation with the other interested countries led them to believe news of the killing of the hostages was true. The statement said: “It is an atrocious act of terrorism, against which the Italian government expresses the most firm condemnation, for which it can find no explanation, except barbarous and blind violence.”
Greece’s foreign ministry said it believed the Greek hostage had been killed.
A message was posted on an Islamist website claiming that Ansaru members had killed the hostages after reports of British warplanes parked at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, 200 miles away in Abuja. The terrorists made clear they believed these planes were to be used as part of a bid to rescue the hostages.
But the group cited as evidence of the British plan a report on a Nigerian website that was dated 23 February, two weeks earlier, which also included a quote from the British high commissioner in Nigeria, Rob Fitzpatrick, describing the presence of the planes as “routine military-to-military engagement”.
Announcing the killings “in the name of Allah most beneficent most merciful”, Ansaru said: “The British government sent five jet bombers, soldiers and intelligent parading in Bauchi in order to rescue them [sic]. They also arrested many people including women and killed some of them.
“By this progress the Nigeria and British government operation led to the death of all the seven Christian foreigners because the soul of a single believer is worth more than the lives of thousands of unbelievers”. It was signed “Abu Usumatal Ansary (JAMBS [Ansaru] leader)”.
The group reportedly said a video of the killings would be posted online. An image accompanying the posting appeared to show a gunman standing over dead bodies. A Foreign Office spokesman declined to comment on the claim of military action or a rescue attempt.
Ansaru also claimed a message from the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, which said the government would do anything in its power to free the hostages, contributed to the decision to kill them. On Saturday, a spokesman for the Nigerian military said at least two soldiers and 52 Boko Haram fighters died in fighting in Maiduguri following a visit by the president.
The hostage crisis started when members of Ansaru kidnapped seven employees of Setraco in a violent raid. Three of the workers were Lebanese, while the other four were from Britain, Greece, Italy and the Philippines.
Authorities said the gunmen first attacked a prison and set fire to police trucks. They then blew up a back fence at the construction company’s compound and took over, killing a guard in the process, witnesses and police said.
The gunmen appeared to be organised, leaving the Nigerian household staff members unharmed while the foreigners were quickly abducted, a witness said. The group cited “the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah … by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali”.
Falklands governor at the time of the 1982 Argentinian invasion
Sir Rex Hunt, who has died aged 86, was governor and commander-in-chief of the Falklands Islands at the time of the Argentinian invasion on 2 April 1982. The ignominy that he felt in handing over authority to a foreign power – he refused to use the word “surrender” – was redeemed four months later, in the wake of a war that cost nearly 1,000 lives, when he returned to the islands in triumph as the colourful figurehead of re-established British rule.
Like most in the Falklands community, Hunt had half-expected the invasion; he had read the diplomatic runes and observed the naval manoeuvres. Definitive confirmation that an 11,000-strong Argentinian force was on it way came less than 24 hours before the event in a Foreign Office cable that concluded, “You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly.” With a detachment of 69 Royal Marines, the nominal military presence Britain maintained on the islands, supplemented by a volunteer defence force, the outcome was never in doubt.
Hunt sent his family and domestic staff away with only their most valuable possessions (his housekeeper took a picture of the Queen and a bottle of gin). A small but tenacious figure, he followed the progress of the invasion from his office at Government House, Stanley, taking shelter under his desk whenever the gunfire sounded close. He kept in touch with the islanders by telephoning in to the local radio station, whose manager, Patrick Watts, kept up a 16-hour live commentary on the crisis. When Hunt realised that the game was up, he took down a white net curtain, wrapped it round an umbrella as an improvised white flag and sent an aide out to discuss ceasefire terms. Then he put on his full ceremonial uniform, complete with plumed hat, and marched off to meet the enemy at Stanley town hall. “You have landed unlawfully on British territory and I order you to remove yourself and your troops forthwith,” he told them.
It was all to no avail. Hunt was dispatched via the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo back to Britain, where he sat out the war, only to return to the South Atlantic after the British military victory in June. Initially, his job title was redefined as that of “civil commissioner”, but in the final year of his posting, 1985, a new Falklands constitution reinstated the position of “governor”. Hunt was always proud to say that he had arrived and left the Falklands with that title.
His love affair with the Falkland Islands might have seemed unusual given his previous postings. Since joining what was then His Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service in 1951, he had served in Uganda (1962); Kuching, formerly the city of Sarawak, Malaysia (1964-65); Kota Kinabalu, formerly Jesselton, Malaysia (1965-67); Brunei (1967); Ankara (1968-70); Jakarta (1970-72); and Kuala Lumpur (1976-79). He was consul general at the British embassy in Saigon at the time of the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, and he and his wife – Mavis Underbank, whom he had married in 1951 – understandably described themselves as “confirmed tropical birds”.
But the Falklands offered promotion and a chance for Hunt to resume his beloved hobby of flying (the job came with its own Cessna aircraft). So Mavis set aside her doubts and they set off for the distant islands, 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic. Hunt loved it from the start. He drove around Stanley in his official car, a red London taxi, and quickly became involved in the numerous activities – horseracing festivals, sheepdog trials, and the like – that meld together the small farm communities of the Falklands hinterland, or “camp”, beyond the capital.
To the islanders’ delight, and the irritation of Whitehall, Hunt also went native. He championed the Falklands cause at every opportunity and opposed Foreign Office proposals to negotiate a leaseback solution to the Falkland Islands problem with Argentina. In retirement, he chaired the Falkland Islands Association until 2005, was president of the Falkland Islands Trust for many years and remained a sturdy advocate of the islanders’ cause on the after-dinner lecture circuit.
Hunt was born in Redcar, Yorkshire, and educated at the local Coatham school. He read law at St Peter’s College, Oxford, before joining the RAF as a cadet in 1941. He was commissioned as a pilot in 1944, and flew Spitfires with No 5 Squadron in India in 1946 before transferring to Germany with No 26 Squadron in 1947. He left active service in 1948, but remained in the reserves, where he reached the rank of flight lieutenant, until 1951.
Hunt was knighted in October 1982. His memoir, My Falkland Days, appeared in 1992. That year, too, he was portrayed by Ian Richardson in the BBC television drama, An Ungentlemanly Act, about the Argentinian invasion, though it was not a performance to his liking. He last visited the Falklands in June 2007, for the 25th anniversary of the conflict, and this week the flag on Government House in Stanley was lowered to half mast in his honour.
He is survived by Mavis and his children, Antony and Diana.
• Rex Masterman Hunt, diplomat and colonial administrator, born 29 June 1926; died 11 November 2012
Conservative politician and Foreign Office minister who had a distinguished career as a diplomat
Ray Whitney, who has died aged 81, was a member of the generation of Conservative politicians who chose to make the House of Commons a career because of a profound personal conviction about the need for change in British politics in the last quarter of the 20th century. Coming from a working-class background, he was a natural supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but he differed from many of her other enthusiastic parliamentary acolytes by exhibiting a free-thinking, independent-minded approach that inevitably inhibited his short-lived ministerial career.
His arrival at Westminster, as the victor of the Wycombe byelection in 1978 (caused by the death of his predecessor, Sir John Hall) on an increased majority, was a signal of the swing to the Conservatives which would sweep Thatcher into office the following year. He was seen as a hardline Tory rightwinger with strong views on such predictable subjects as the Soviet Union and the trade unions, but he was also true to the views he had reached during his earlier careers in the army and the Foreign Office. He was an enthusiastic European throughout his time in parliament, bemoaning the lack of coherence displayed by both the Thatcher and Major governments on this increasingly controversial issue.
Having been head of chancery at the British embassy in Argentina from 1969 to 1972, he also struck a highly individual line within the Conservative party over Britain’s decision to send a taskforce to recapture the Falkland Islands, in 1982, expressing considerable doubt about the move in the Commons’ emergency debate and angering the Tory right by urging negotiations for a diplomatic solution. “I have always been passionately committed to finding a longterm stable solution for the Falkland Islanders and for Anglo-Argentine relations,” he said. However, although the episode changed his standing in the party, Thatcher rated his honesty and reliability, and after her triumph in the 1983 post-Falklands war election she appointed him as the junior minister at the FCO with responsibility for relations with Buenos Aires.
He had taken the first step on the ladder of promotion when Nigel Lawson and Peter Rees chose him as their joint parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury in 1979. It was not a position that was conducive to Whitney, who was 47 when he entered the Commons, was of a similar age to his two bosses and disliked the constraints of being unable to speak his mind in the chamber. He had resigned as a diplomat in order to pursue his political beliefs and now found that the compensations of being an unpaid political bag-carrier were slight. He only lasted a few months in the post, but found far greater satisfaction as vice-chairman of the party’s employment committee and chairman of its foreign affairs committee until he joined the government in 1983.
Whitney was a much-liked man at Westminster. He had a practised diplomatic charm, but it was genuine and he was always courteous even with those whose politics were anathema to him. He was energetic, enthusiastic and fizzing with ideas for new ways of doing things, and on a number of issues was ahead of his time. He promoted an early attempt to make union strike ballots compulsory and an unsuccessful bill to reform Sunday trading. He started an organisation to encourage arms control, chaired the Mountbatten Community Trust, became chairman of the Positive European Group and was licensed as a lay minister in the Church of England.
He spoke French, Spanish and Mandarin fluently and enjoyed interpreting when required at international parliamentary functions. After a year at the FCO, he was moved sideways to the Department of Health and remained an enthusiastic campaigner for NHS reform for the remainder of his career. He was a minister only until 1986, when he was sacked – mainly because he appeared dispensable – but he nevertheless remained loyal to Thatcher. In 1988 he wrote a book promoting a radical introduction of a voucher system for healthcare. He was knighted in 1997.
Whitney was the son of George, a shoe-factory worker in Northampton, and his wife, Ethel. He went to Wellingborough school, Northamptonshire, and Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1951. He served in Italy, Korea, Hong Kong and Germany and was seconded to the Australian army from 1960 until 1963, when he resigned to become a diplomat the following year. He took a degree at London University’s School of Asian and Oriental Studies and was first secretary in Peking from 1966 for two years.
In 1967 he was involved in three attacks by Red Guards on British diplomats, during the last of which the British embassy was blockaded and then attacked, ransacked and set on fire. During the blockade, Whitney and the other embassy staff played water polo and watched Ealing comedies – having first burned all the important paperwork. He then helped the staff escape, using his military expertise, and they found refuge in the Albanian embassy. The Chinese refused to allow Whitney an exit visa for a year. His other posts included deputy high commissioner in Bangladesh and heading the FCO’s counter-propaganda department.
In 1956 he married Sheila Prince, with whom he had two sons, Simon and Mark. They all survive him.
• Raymond William Whitney, politician, born 28 November 1930; died 15 August 2012
FCO reports a huge rise in the number of British teenagers being hospitalised while holidaying abroad
UK teenagers holidaying in Mallorca and Ibiza are responsible for a huge increase in the number of tourists hospitalised in the Spanish islands, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The renowned party island of Mallorca has seen a 132% increase in hospitalisations over the two years to the end of March 2012, while Ibiza has seen a 40% increase. These account for just over 10 of the reported 70 cases a week of British people hospitalised globally, according to the FCO.
Many of the Spanish island cases involve UK teenage holidaymakers falling ill or having accidents while under the influence of of drugs and alcohol, according to consular staff. The figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, said the FCO, as they only show those cases reported to the Spanish consulate.
The FCO said it has seen a recent change in the demographic of people travelling to Ibiza and Mallorca, with more young people in their late teens around going on holiday without their parents for the first time. An increase in independent travel also means youngsters are often not subject to the beady eye of a tour representative looking out for them.
“Young people tend to be more daring, taking part in sporting activities or renting quad bikes, and are more likely to engage in risky behaviour,” said an FCO spokeswoman.
Not all illnesses and injuries are down to heavy partying, however. The report, British Behaviour Abroad, which is compiled annually from worldwide cases needing consular assistance, also noted that there has been an increase in cruise-ship visitors visiting Spain since the Arab Spring. Many of these tourists are older people, some with existing medical conditions that will not be covered by travel insurance.
“We witness many cases where people have invalidated their policy – perhaps by not declaring a pre-existing medical condition or not checking their policy covers a particular activity, such as hiring a moped,” said minister for consular services Jeremy Browne. “Unfortunately they are then surprised that the Foreign Office cannot pay for their bills and flight home.”
Many holidaymakers to the EU mistakenly believe that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover them for all medical costs abroad. Recent figures from insurer Axa show that repatriation can cost around £30,000 for an air ambulance back from Spain while a night in a Spanish medical centre can cost over £1,000. In the Spanish islands, the cost of a rehydration drip can cost about €695.
A separate report on holiday costs from the Post Office may provide further incentive for holidaymakers to take their annual summer break in the UK – despite the atrocious weather. Bournemouth has been judged one of the better-value resorts in Europe
The Dorset holiday destination came fifth out of 12 European resorts included in the survey. The research, which assessed the cost of 10 typical holiday items, including suncream, ice cream, soft drinks, insect repellant and family meals out, found that Bulgaria, where the basket of holiday items cost £110.17, offered the best value for money while Spain’s Costa del Sol was the next least-expensive destination at £121.11. In Bournemouth, holidaymakers would pay £147.23.
However, while a Coca-Cola costs just 86p in the Algarve, holidaymakers will pay more than double at £1.75 in Bournemouth, £1.95 in Turkey, £2.16 in France and £2.24 in Crete.
Despite the economic turmoil in Greece, which holidaymakers might expect to result in lower prices, Greek resorts were the most expensive. Crete was the priciest resort, according to Post Office Travel Money, with the basket of items costing £189.15, while Ayia Napa in Cyprus was £170.89.
Although the pound is at its highest level against the euro and other European currencies, only half of British families are planning to go away this summer.
Research by Ipsos Mori for Europ Assistance found that just 51% of Britons are planning a summer break, compared to 58% of all 3,500 Europeans questioned for the survey. Of these 41%, the same number as last year, are planning just one break, while those intending to go away more than once is down to 17% this year from 25% in 2011.
Holidays are also becoming shorter; the proportion of fortnight-long holidays has fallen to its lowest point at 37% of those planned and there has been a corresponding increase in one-week holidays – now also at 37%.
Here’s an afternoon summary.
• Union leaders have said that the government’s plans to cut the size of Whitehall will ensure that the civil service reform plans announced this afternoon do not benefit the public. Here’s a statement from Paul Noon, general secretary of Prospect, the union representing civil service professionals.
What is planned for the government’s own workforce is more of the same – pay and job cuts, once again without any indication of what tasks are to be shed or their impact on core skills.
The cuts are to be achieved by a human resources policy that takes it out on people who don’t get on with their boss, which will only create a culture of fear and import into government the worst excesses of David Brent’s The Office.
This is not a vision of a professional civil service attuned to an economy in crisis or the technological needs of the 21st century. It is management by diktat and another nail in the coffin of the public service ethos.
And the PCS union said the plan involved “huge and unsustainable” job cuts. (See 4.20pm.) The unions spoke out after Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, unveiled his plans in the Commons. (See 4.09pm.)
• David Anderson, the independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, has said that plans to allow secret hearings in civil courts are “overkill”. Giving evidence to the joint committee on human rights, he said the government’s justice and security bill went too far.
It addresses what I consider to be a genuine problem, but it does so in a way which is disproportionate. I think there is an element of overkill, that I have no doubt will be the subject of debate.
• Labour has criticsed Jeremy Browne, the Foreign Office minister, for saying England has little chance of winning Euro 2012. (See 1.45pm.) Dick Caborn, the former sports minister, put out this statement.
Lifelong football fans like George Osborne and David Cameron will be shocked by Jeremy Browne’s comments. We know this government is cold on Europe, but by any standards this is taking it a bit far.
History suggests England only win tournaments with a Labour Government. And if the Government was fighting as hard for the country as the England team are on the pitch we’d be doing a lot better.
A Downing Street spokeswoman defended Browne’s comments, insisting: “He was just stating historical fact rather than passing judgment.”
• Sean Worth, a No 10 adviser until last month, has told the Guardian the Conservatives are in danger of becoming permanently associated with slashing spending on schools, hospitals and other services instead of reforming them.
• A poll has revealed that most GP practices will open as usual on Thursday, when doctors are supposed to be taking industrial action. As the Press Association reports, a poll by Pulse magazine said only a quarter of practices across the UK have notified their primary care organisation that they will be taking part in the strike. Across 20 primary care organisations, 281 out of 1,265 practices have so far notified NHS managers they are taking action.
• Ofcom has said that potential concentrations of media power should be subject to regular, formal reviews.
That’s it for today. Thanks for the comments.
Here is some reaction to the civil service reform plan.
The plan confirms the huge and unsustainable number of job cuts planned by this government, which means more use of the private sector, allowing profit margins to drive decisions about the provision of services instead of public need.
It will do nothing to address the major concerns of civil and public servants, that their jobs are being slashed, their pay is being cut and their pensions are being raided to pay off a deficit caused by the recession and bailing out the banks.
And instead of accepting that their political choices are making our economic situation worse and damaging the public services we all rely on, ministers appear to want to blame civil servants and claim that the answer is to cut the civil service down to record levels.
• The Institute for Government says it is a promising plan. The IfG has also published a detailed response (pdf).
It is a promising plan with some bold ideas, with the potential to achieve needed improvements. But all depends on the consistency, coherence and energy of implementation. Some statements show a serious appetite for reform. The plan is relevant to the whole of the civil service, not just the policy making elite. It addresses many key issues that reform must tackle. But it is early days. There are plenty of questions to answer before we can judge whether the reform ideas will be turned into actions that transform the civil service. The Institute for Government will follow up this initial response up with a detailed examination of many of the proposals.
And here’s a quote from Francis Maude about the plans.
To succeed in the future we need a civil service that is faster, more flexible and more innovative – better able to deliver this government’s ambitious programme of reforms to the public services on which we all rely. Because of the size of the deficit we inherited in 2010 our civil service is smaller today than at any time since the second world war. This has highlighted where there are weaknesses and strengthened the need to tackle them.
We need to build capabilities and address missing skills, embrace new ways of delivering services – for example through mutuals – and do more digitally. To improve decision making we need better management information and greater accountability. And we are responding to the concerns of civil servants by transforming performance management and career development in what will be a more corporate civil service.
a summary of the civil service reform proposals on the civil service website.There is
And here’s the full 31-page reform plan (pdf).
Here’s a summary of the proposals from the Cabinet Office (in their words, not mine).
• More rigorous performance management: Performance management will be strengthened by standardising competency frameworks across Government and implementing a tougher appraisal system which, for the SCS, identifies the top 25% and the bottom 10%. Good performance will be recognised and poor performance tackled. Civil servants have told us they are frustrated by a culture where exceptional performance is not sufficiently recognised and under-performance is not addressed.
• Strengthening capability: By autumn we will have a cross-Civil Service capabilities plan that identifies what skills are missing and how gaps will be filled. For the first time talent will be deployed corporately – so people with the right skills in departments can be matched to the greatest corporate need. With more services commissioned from outside, there is a serious lack of commissioning, contracting and digital skills.
• Unified Civil Service: There will be a more unified approach to developing talent and building capacity across the Civil Service. Shared services will become the norm to ensure that there is a consistently high quality service available to every Department.
• New ways of delivering services: By autumn the Cabinet Office will have completed a review with departments to see what further examples of change in delivery models can be implemented this Parliament. The old binary choice between the monolithic in-house provision and full-scale privatisation has been replaced by a number of new ways of delivering services, including mutuals. Digital by default needs to become a reality.
• Creating a modern employment offer for staff: The Civil Service will be a good, modern employer and continue to be among the best employers in the country. Departments will undertake a review of terms and conditions to identify those beyond what a good, modern employer would provide. We will also take actions to ensure staff get the IT and security training they’ve been asking for so they can do their jobs properly.
• Open policy making: a new presumption in favour of open policy making, with policy developed on the basis of the widest possible engagement with external experts and those who will have the task of delivering the policy once announced.
Maude is replying to Trickett.
He says he is very concerned about the danger of cronyism. That is why the new procedures will be overseen by the civil service commission.
He says he does not assume that bringing in the private sector is always the best solution.
On regional pay, he says the only moves towards this took place under Labour. The Ministry of Justice introduced an element of regional pay. This government won’t take it any further unless there is strong evidence to support it, he says.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, is responding.
He says there has been a collapse in morale over the last two years.
He says he particularly welcomes the plans to extend the digital delivery of services.
He asks Maude to confirm that he does not think that the private sector is always superior to the public sector.
He asks what consultation there has been on plans to sack the 10% worst performers.
He asks if the government is still committed to regional pay.
And he asks if there will be a “rise in cronyism” as a result of the plans.
Maude is still speaking.
There are some deficiences in capabilities, he says.
Civil servants will need more financial knowledge.
There is also a policy skills gap, he says.
By the autumn a capabilities plan will be in place saying what skills are missing.
Staff say manager lack leadership skills. In future, leadership will be taught.
Permanent secretaries will in future have to have spent at least two years in an operational role.
In the future there will be more appraisals. Those in the bottom 10% will have to show real improvement if they expect to stay.
Policy making will be opened up. In future, open policy making will become the default.
A small fund will pilot policy making from outside Whitehall, he says.
Maude says none of the actions in the plan are dramatic. But, taken together, they will produce real change.
Change is essential if the civil service is to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world, he says.
Maude is still speaking.
He says there are 500,000 people in the civil service. That will go down to 380,000.
In the future it will become normal for departments to share services.
Providing services digitally will be the norm.
There will also be more mutuals, he says.
Management layers will be cut. At most there will be eight layers between the top and the front line, and often there will be fewer, he says.
Accountability will be sharper. At the moment management information in government is poor. By October a robust cross-government management information system will be in place. This will enable civil servants to be held to account.
Former accounting officers will, if necessarily, be called back to give evidence to the public accounts committee.
The civil service commission will be consulted on how secretaries of state can have more say in the appointment of permanent secretaries. Under the current system, they are normally only given one name to approve.
Francis Maude says he is setting out the first stage in a practical programme for reform.
The civil service has to be faster, more flexible, more innovative and more accountable, he says.
The civil service is smaller than it has been. That has highlighted weaknesses.
It needs to be more digital, and to use date more effectively.
A civil service reform plan is being published.
These plans will deliver “real change”, he says.
It is not an attack on civil servants. Civil servants themselves want change. Many of them are “deeply frustrated” by a culture that is risk-adverse.
Civil servants were consulted, and their ideas fed into the reform plan.
Maude says he wants this to be “change that lasts”. Ministers in the last government were consulted.
In the future the civil service will be flatter, more digital and more accountable. It will also be more satisfying to work for.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, is making his civil service statement now.
Labour source on Jeremy Browne football gaffe: ‘Just because he’s a Foreign Office minister doesn’t mean he has to support the foreigners.’
— Tim Shipman (Mail) (@ShippersUnbound) June 19, 2012
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will make his civil service reform statement shortly. As background, here’s a short reading list.
So we come to the big issue that these reforms appear to leave untouched: accountability. The civil service is the last remaining institution of British public life that is accountable to no-one but itself. Ministers are held to account for everything that happens in their departments, but cannot hire and fire their civil servants. Aside from permanent secretaries, senior civil servants do not have to report to parliament for their actions. This is what lies at the heart of the dispute between Margaret Hodge, chair of the powerful public accounts committee, and the former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.
The best way forward would be to more clearly distinguish between ministerial responsibility for policy and resources, and officials’ responsibility for delivery and administration. This would redress the governance vacuum at the heart of Whitehall, overturning the now anachronistic convention that ministers must be solely accountable to parliament for their departmental business. All senior civil servants (grade 5 and above) would then appear before select committees, if called. Permanent secretaries could be directly performance managed on fixed-term contracts.
Unless the accountability question is tackled, reform of the civil service will remain a piecemeal affair.
Francis Maude is about to release a new White Paper on Civil Service reform. It looks like it will be a mouse, when it needs to be a lion.
According to various reports, some Cabinet Ministers such as Michael Gove and Theresa May have pushed for a real reform package, which would allow them to appoint senior civil servants on fixed-term contracts. That would indeed put Whitehall on a new and much better footing. Instead the paper will leave the flawed structures of Whitehall in place and do no more than propose some minor variations on a theme. Given the importance of the subject and the potential cross-party support for radical reform, this is a significant disappointment.
Important announcement today by Francis Maude on Civil Service Reform. This is a good plan that civil servants can and should get behind.
Here’s a short afternoon reading list.
The row over Progress has highlighted a deep reserve of pent-up union grievance that Labour must now address. Paul Kenny’s speech to the GMB is moving testimony to just how abusive the union-Labour relationship has become in the recent years. The unions have basically been treated as cash-cows to be milked repeatedly before being put out to graze once again. Understandably, they have had enough. Progress has become the target of their frustrations, but the problem is one the party as a whole will have to deal with.
• Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome says Tory cabinet ministers seem to be siding with Boris Johnson, who thinks a eurozone fiscal union is doomed to fail, against David Cameron, who thinks it could work.
Here’s the top of the PA story.
The judge leading the investigation into media ethics will give his public reaction next week to a newspaper report that a minister’s intervention nearly made him quit.
Lord Justice Leveson was sufficiently concerned about the Mail on Sunday article that he considered convening a special hearing of the inquiry, which is not sitting next week.
That move was dropped following consideration of the cost of an emergency recall to taxpayers and other participants, a spokesman indicated.
But he has written to designated “core participants” to the review, set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, inviting comments and pledging to deal with the issue on Monday.
In the article, the inquiry chairman was said to asked the country’s most powerful civil servant to gag Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Update at 2.49pm: Actually, I see that Guido Fawkes had the story first.
Here’s a lunchtime summary.
• The National Union of Teachers has said that the government review of childcare affordability announced today seems to be about cutting costs. Christine Blower, the NUT general secretary, put out this statement.
The new government childcare commission appears to be more about cutting costs than any real determination to improve childcare. Education in early years, as in the rest of the sector, cannot be achieved on the cheap. This government has already done a great deal of damage to pupils’ well being and access to education with cuts to free school meals, the education maintenance allowance, music and school sports as well as local authority support services.
David Cameron needs to be clear what is meant by schools being open from 8am to 8pm. Many schools already operate breakfast and after school clubs which are run by staff from outside of the school. Opening schools during the holidays and at weekends for use by the local community again is not a new idea. However after school activities are only beneficial if they are affordable.
But Elizabeth Truss, a Conservative MP who published a report on this recently, said childcare could be made more affordable by changing adult/child ratios.
• Conservative MPs are meeting today to discuss how to oppose the government’s plans for Lords reform, the BBC has revealed. James Landale also says that Labour have not decided whether to support Tory rebels who try to block the bill’s timetable motion.
The opponents will only be able to defeat the government on this procedure motion if Labour backs them. And there are signs Labour is rowing back from its plans to give the bill a rough ride. Party sources had indicated last month that they would oppose the bill’s timetable but they now insist that no decision has been made.
A Labour spokesman said: “This is very premature speculation. No decisions have been made, no bill has been published, and it has not yet been discussed at shadow cabinet” …
Some Labour MPs fear that opposing the timetable would make the party look opportunistic and go against what they say are Ed Miliband’s reforming instincts. They also want to avoid an all-out war with Liberal Democrats with whom they might want to form a coalition after the next election.
One senior Labour source said: “Ed’s instincts are not to play silly buggers on this. He does support reform. But tactical considerations will grow stronger as the number of Tory rebels increase.”
• Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, has said that people who use tax avoidance loopholes are “the moral equivalent of benefit cheats”. Speaking about a tax avoidance scheme highlighted in a Times investigation (see 11.39am), he said it was being investigated.
HMRC are looking at the particular scheme that’s reported in The Times today with a view to either shutting it down or getting the money back in some other way. Let’s be very clear; at a time of real economic difficulty for our country, it is vitally important that everyone pays their fair share of tax. People who dodge the tax system are the moral equivalent of benefit cheats and we are coming to get them.
• David Nutt, the former chairman of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs,, has told MPs that drug use and possession should be decriminalised.
If society decides it allows people to market the drug alcohol, then if people want to make the rational decision to use a drug that is less toxic than alcohol then they should be able to do so.
• Downing Street has refused to confirm that the government’s white paper on adult social care will be published before the summer recess. Originally it was meant to be published in the spring. Responding to a BBC report saying that it will delayed until at least July, Downing Street would only say that it would be published “within the coming months”. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, has offered to suspend “politics as usual” to help the government achieve cross-party consensus on the issue. (See 9.07am.)
• Jeremy Browne, the Foreign Office minister, has suggested that England is unlikely to win the Euro 2012 championships. Giving evidence to the foreign affairs committee, he said England’s poor chances partly explained why the government ministers were not attending the group stages as a protest against Ukraine’s human rights record but not ruling out attending if England made it to the final. Browne was replying to a Scottish MP, Frank Roy, who suggested this was inconsistent.
I only observe that the only time that England have ever reached an international tournament final was when it was held in England. So these difficulties did not arise … I am delighted that you think they may do in two weeks’ time. But history suggests that we are dealing in hypotheticals here.
• A poll has been published suggesting that voters think former police officers, not former politicians, will make the best police commissioners. (See 12.39pm.)
• The Scottish government has said that it will hold talks with the Westminster government about providing water to the south east of England. As the Press Association reports, Scottish infrastructure and capital investment secretary Alex Neil wrote to the UK government in March, offering help with water supply in the long-term, if this could be both commercially and practically viable. At a conference in Edinburgh today Neil said talks would go ahead.
Of course, we readily acknowledge there are massive logistical issues and there will need to be major developments to ensure the transfer of water is commercially viable. But this is a government that thinks long-term and our hydro nation agenda is ambitious and offers huge opportunities in this area.
• Eleanor Smith, the Unison president, has accused David Cameron of leading “a government hell-bent on bringing discord, disharmony, doubt and despair to ordinary people, their families and their communities” in her speech to the Unison conference.
Yesterday Labour unveiled the names of its 41 police commissioner candidates for the elections being held in November. Seven former ministers are standing.
But, according to a poll commissioned by the Policy Exchange thinktank, voters do not want former politicians in these roles. Here’s what the Press Association has filed on the study.
Politicians would make the worst police commissioners, a new poll suggests.
According to the study, most voters believe ex-police officers would be the best candidates for the controversial roles.
Former MPs and councillors were deemed to be least suitable for taking on one of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) posts.
The poll for the Policy Exchange think-tank showed that fewer than one in 10 people feel these applicants would be the strongest contenders.
Blair Gibbs, head of Policy Exchange’s Crime and Justice Unit, said political parties need to give applicants careful consideration.
He said: “Voters will value relevant experience over a political CV and are looking to back candidates who speak to their concerns about local crime and disorder and the need to support visible, neighbourhood policing.”
The YouGov poll revealed 59% of voters ranked former police officers as their preferred candidates.
Nearly 30% of those consulted felt ordinary people with an interest in policing issues would make the best PCCs, while 26% of those polled would choose someone from a military background.
Some 13% of people backed candidates from a business background, while only 6% said they would opt for former government ministers, senior politicians and MPs.
Ahead of this afternoon’s announcement on civil service reform, the CBI has sent out a report saying government departments and local councils should share back-office functions. Matthew Fell, the CBI director for competitive markets, says this would save money.
At a time when budget savings have to be made, central government must standardise the sharing of back office services, like ICT and HR functions, which can deliver both better value and maintain or improve quality. To achieve this, the Cabinet Office needs to direct all government departments not already doing so to sign up to existing shared services arrangements in the short term and set out detailed plans to establish independent shared service centres to cater for the whole civil service in the future.
Len McCluskey (pictured), the Unite general secretary, has urged Boris Johnson, the London mayor, to intervene in the London bus dispute. On Friday drivers in London are due to strike in support of their demand for a £500 bonus for working during the Olympic Games. In a letter to Jonson, McCluskey said the mayor’s refusal to intervene was politically motivated.
It is inexplicable that the bus operators, acting as one, Transport for London (TfL) and you personally have so far refused to engage in any discussion on this matter with Unite.
We are now left with no option but to conclude that the stance you are taking is politically motivated and that the success of the London Games is now being put in jeopardy as a consequence of you and your party’s desire to ‘take on Unite’ following your earlier failed attempt to do so involving our tanker drivers. This is a truly reprehensible and irresponsible action.
I make this final call to you to engage personally in assisting TfL and the bus-operating companies in finding a just settlement to this matter, as the mayor of our city, chair of Transport for London and our host for the games.
The eyes of the world are upon us and as the Games draw closer, the questions as to why we are in this position and who is responsible will come into sharper focus.
David Cameron will not be watching England’s Euro 2012 match against Ukraine tonight, according to Downing Street. He will be in a G20 session on development, green growth, infrastructure and food security instead.
As for the rest of the papers, here are some stories and articles that are particularly interesting.
• Alexi Mostrous in the Times (paywall) says a Times investigation has established that “thousands of wealthy people in Britain pay as little as 1 per cent income tax using ‘below the radar’ accounting methods, part of a tax avoidance industry that costs the country billions of pounds”.
In March, the Chancellor George Osborne used the Budget to condemn aggressive tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”. Yet on the following day, Roy Lyness, of Peak Performance Accountants, which runs the K2 scheme, assured his clients: “We’re delighted to inform you that most of the powerful tax-saving opportunities survived unscathed.”
Posing as an IT consultant earning £280,000 a year, a Times reporter contacted a number of avoidance specialists offering schemes to people on salaries above £100,000. Mr Lyness promised that K2 could slash a hypothetical tax bill of £127,000 to just £3,500, equivalent to a personal income tax rate of 1.25 per cent.
“It’s a game of cat and mouse,” he said. “The Revenue closes one scheme, we find another way round it.
“It’s like a sat-nav. I’m driving to Manchester, get a message saying there’s a smash at Stoke, press this button to re-route. That’s all we do with tax avoidance. The Revenue puts a block in, we just go round the block.”
Since Mr Miliband must form an alternative to the Coalition, not the Westminster branch of the WI, he has unveiled a plan for an anti-austerity alliance in Europe …
Billed as “a small gathering, not a bunfest”, the inaugural meeting is likely to take place in Paris after the party conference season, and the invitees will probably include Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish PM, Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden, Angela Merkel’s social democrat challenger, Sigmar Gabriel, and southern European players. Mr Miliband’s advisers are also watching to see whether the G20 opens a chasm between Merkel and Cameron on one side and Hollande on the other, backed by an Obama who is exasperated by European dithering and keen to engineer a sharper divide with his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
Having made some headway (though not yet enough) in outlining the society he envisages for straitened times, Mr Miliband now hopes to establish himself as an international actor and an unashamed European. “Ed has got to be totally clear that we believe that the future of Britain is best in Europe,” says one senior Labour figure.
Armed Forces personnel face having to serve for another five years before qualifying for their pensions, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
Soldiers, sailors and airmen may have to give as much as 23 years’ service before being able to leave with their pensions, up from as little as 18 years at present.
The result would be that the effective minimum age for leaving the Services with an immediate pension would increase from 40 to 45.
The plan, disclosed in a Ministry of Defence document, has emerged amid complaints from soldiers that they have been targets for redundancy days before qualifying for their pension. Many soldiers claimed they were sacked and denied an immediate pension, in some cases after the MoD miscalculated the length of their service.
Health trusts have decided not to dock salaries even though the GPs will refuse to treat almost all their patients.
They claim that a day’s pay – £430 to a typical GP on £110,000 a year – is merited because urgent cases will still be dealt with.
• Melanie Newman and Oliver Wright in the Independent say Lord Fink, the Conservative treasurer, has been criticised for agreeing to host a dinner in the Lords that would have broken anti-sleaze rules. Fink cancelled the booking before it went ahead.
We need a clear, rigorous system of qualifications in place to ensure a competent and confident workforce. As I have said there are far too many qualifications, they don’t equip students with the necessary skills and the system is confusing. In response I recommend the content of qualifications be changed to strengthen and include more on child development and play, special educational needs and disability, and inclusivity and diversity. More importantly the qualifications must focus on the birth to 7 age range. Level 3 must become the minimum standard for the workforce. This means all staff, who work to the EYFS framework, including childminders should be qualified at a minimum level 3 by September 2022, with some staging of posts in the interim.
It is crucial that we raise expectations of the workforce so that we attract the best people – quality staff make a difference. When I published my interim the press heavily focused on my view of literacy and numeracy skills amongst staff caring and educating our babies and young children. These skills are essential: to develop professional knowledge; to communicate effectively with parents; to carry out observations or assessments, to read stories to children and to support children’s early language development. This reinforces my argument for the importance of quality and why I am recommending students must have a level 2 in English and mathematics upon entry to a level 3 early education or childcare course.
Sarah Teather, the children’s minister, said she welcomed the “thoughtful and thorough” report.
It takes a careful and measured look at the sector, and will be very useful in helping us to shape the future of the early years workforce. We need to attract bright people to the sector so that our young children get the best possible start in life – after all, they only get one chance.
Do you know what Serbia’s new president looks like?
No, nor did I, so I have some sympathy for Lady Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who has been caught on camera asking aides to help her identify Tomislav Nikolic.
almost seven million people living in extreme financial stress, do check out Patrick Butler’s Breadline Britain live blog. He’s hosting a live Q&A about the report later and he’s inviting readers to post comments about their own experience of living on the breadline.If you read the Guardian’s exclusive story today about
Three weeks after the ‘Yes’ campaign was launched, support for Scottish independence has fallen in our latest poll for The Times and The Sun.
Among those certain to vote in the referendum, 35% agree that ‘Scotland should be an independent country’ while 55% disagree and 11% are undecided. This represents a fall of 4 points in support for independence compared to our previous poll in January 2012, while support for staying in the union has risen by 5 points over the same period.
This means the anti-independence lobby is now 20 points ahead – up from an 11 point lead in January.
Here’s the top of the Press Association story about the inflation figures.
The rate of inflation unexpectedly fell to a two-and-a-half-year low last month as declining oil prices started to filter through to the petrol pumps.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate of inflation dropped to 2.8% in May, from 3% in April, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, the lowest level since November 2009. City analysts expected the rate to remain unchanged.
The decline was driven by a sharp drop in petrol pump prices, as the average petrol price fell by 4.5p per litre between April and May to stand at 137.1p. Last year, the average petrol price rose 2p to 136.3p.
Inflation has fallen from 5.2% last September due to the waning impact of the VAT hike at the start of 2011 and falling energy, food and commodity prices, easing pressure on squeezed household incomes.
Despite today’s fall, inflation has still not pulled back as quickly as the Bank of England initially expected, after fears over increasing tensions between the West and Iran pushed oil prices higher in March.
But the cost of crude oil has fallen since then and May’s inflation figures show that this is starting to benefit consumers.
Average diesel prices also decreased, dropping 4.4p to 143.3p between April and May, compared with a 0.7p rise last year to 141.5p.
The fall in inflation in May is likely to bolster the case for the Bank to pump more emergency cash into the economy through its quantitative easing programme, as the eurozone crisis escalates and threatens to destabilise the UK economy.
Britain’s economy entered a technical recession in the first quarter of the year as gross domestic product declined 0.2%, following a 0.3% drop in the final quarter of 2011.
Last month, inflation moved to within 1% of the Government’s 2% target, meaning Bank Governor Sir Mervyn King did not have to send a letter of explanation to the Chancellor.
A Treasury spokesman said: “Inflation is out of Open Letter territory for the second month in a row, which is good news and is providing some welcome relief for family budgets.”
There are two polls around this morning. Here are the figures.
YouGov for the Sun
Labour: 44% (no change from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 33% (up 1)
Ukip: 8% (no change)
Lib Dems: 7% (down 2)
Labour lead: 11 points
Government approval: -39 (no change)
Labour: 41% (no change since Populus for the Times in May)
Conservatives: 33% (no change)
Lib Dems: 9% (down 1)
Labour lead: 8 points
the Dilnot report on social care has now been delayed until at least July. On his blog, he explains why the Treasury is so reluctant to accept the Dilnot plan.The BBC’s Mark Easton says the governnment’s response to
Whispers from Whitehall tell a story of agonising inside the Treasury – not only the question “Can we afford it?”, but also asking “Is Dilnot’s solution the right one?”
The commission’s plan is for a cap on how much individuals must fork out before the state starts paying the bills. Recommending it be set at £35,000, the cost to the Treasury is put at around £1.7bn a year.
But with a second round of deep public sector cuts in the offing, the question being asked is whether the government can really agree to spend close to another couple of billion on subsidising residential care costs for people who may be relatively affluent in terms of property …
Treasury officials have been looking at whether the money could be found from cuts to other services currently provided to the same group. Should winter fuel allowance and free TV licences be means tested? What about the state pension? For the moment, it seems the politics and economics of such moves cannot be made to add up.
Easton’s blog also includes the “Barnet graph of doom” – a graph doing the rounds in Whitehall, apparently, showing that “unless things change dramatically, within 20 years Barnet Council will be ‘unable to provide any services except adult social care and children’s services: no libraries, no parks, no leisure centres – not even bin collections’.”
Andy Burnham (pictured), the shadow health secretary, was talking about this on the Today programme this morning. There are cross-party talks on social care underway and Burnham offered to suspend “politics as usual” to enable these talks to succeed.
It’s for the government to set forward the options as they see it, but without political courage there is no progress, and the offer I would make today to the Government is almost to suspend politics as usual – to give them the space to bring forward some difficult options without the usual point scoring.
But Burnham could not resist a tiny bit of point scoring himself. He said he would not comment in detail on how the cross-party talks were going. However, he also made it quite clear that he thought Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, was not handling them very well.
I have some concerns about the way the government has approached the talks, but I don’t want to go into those details today, because I want those talks to succeed. We have met, and there’s been exchange of information between the parties. It is going on – it’s not happening anything like as urgently or as quickly as I would like to see.
I’ve taken the quotes from PoliticsHome.
It may be that the eurozone crisis is going to continue for some time, in which case the UK must do all it can to put its own house in order and link up with the fastest growing parts of the world.
What does that mean? The UK joining Asean? Nice idea, but I doubt they’ll have us.
Back in the UK, it’s fairly quiet. The main event seems to be Francis Maude’s civil service reform announcement. As Juliette Jowit and Nicholas Watt report, it will feature two key proposals.
• All permanent secretaries in what are known as the main delivery departments, such as health and education, will be required to have had more than two years in a commercial or operational role. Maude, whose plans are based on a consultation process with staff across the country, is keen to provide opportunities to the 70% of civil servants outside Whitehall who do not fit into the Yes Minister policymaking mould.
• A more rigorous appraisal system, which will identify the top 25% and the bottom 10%. The high performers will be recognised while the poor performers will be “tackled”.
I’ll be covering the announcement when we get it at 3.30pm.
Here’s the full agenda for the day.
9am: Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, attends the launch of the London 2012 Festival.
9.25am: Sarah Teather, the children’s minister, speaks at the Early Years 2012 conference. As Patrick Wintour reports, the government is launching a government childcare commission that will look at lengthening the school day and allowing childcare workers to look after more children at any one time, in an attempt to cut costs for parents.
9.30am: Inflation figures for May are published.
10am: Rail experts give evidence to the Commons transport committee
10am: Pension funds and investment managers give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about City pay.
10.15am: Jeremy Browne, the Foreign Office minister, gives evidence to the foreign affairs committee on human rights.
11am: David Nutt, the former chairman of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs, and other drugs experts give evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.
11am: Nick Herbert, the policing minister, gives a speech on elected police commissioners.
1.50pm: David Anderson, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, gives evidence to the joint human rights committee on the justice and security bill.
3.30pm: Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, is expected to make a statement in the Commons about plans to reform the civil service.
At some point today Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, is speaking at his union’s annual conference.
As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another at about 4pm.
If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
And if you’re a hardcore fan, you can follow @gdnpoliticslive. It’s an automated feed that tweets the start of every new post that I put on the blog.
Department’s commercial director calls on suppliers to do their homework on procurement
The commercial director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has argued that if the government is to achieve its goal of procurements taking 120 days, both Whitehall and suppliers have to understand what they are procuring and the risks associated with it.
Ann Pedder told the Intellect World Class Public Services conference in London that there was an onus on suppliers to understand the business of what government is trying to achieve.
“If we are trying to achieve 120 days, then we all have to do more homework up front. It would also be useful to be honest and open about where the risk is,” she said. “On some recent procurements, we have successfully managed the process, but we may have missed a trick in where the risk was placed.”
Reiterating the government’s desire to be viewed as a single customer, Pedder told delegates: “We have aspirations to be a single customer and how you as suppliers organise yourselves can help us achieve our aim.”
She added that if you have the privilege of being a supplier to government, you are expected to behave in a certain way. There is a responsibility, she suggested, to act as a single supplier to a single customer and not as a supplier that has contracts with 10 different departments.
Also speaking at the event was David Smith, commercial director at the Department for Work and Pensions. He said the government wants to simplify procurement processes to reduce the cost of bidding down to 120 days, or even down to 90 days – a point that was also made by John Collington, the chief procurement officer, at the same event.
Smith said that reducing the cost of bidding to suppliers ultimately reduces the recharging of those costs to government. But he added: “I’d rather spend 150 days getting it right than 100 days getting it wrong.”
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