UK Parliament

Cameron’s good day to bury a LOT of bad news: From lost asylum seekers, rising council tax and police cuts to the PM’s dinner guests, gifts and army of spin doctors

  • Ministers rush out 36 statements to Parliament on last day of term
  • Files on spin doctors, public sector pay and PM’s gifts also released
  • Reports published into homelessness, benefit cuts, asylum seekers
  • See full news coverage on David Cameron at 

While David Cameron was in Brussels meeting EU leaders, his ministers and officials were bundling out announcements

The government was tonight accused of a ‘shockingly cynical move’ by rushing out dozens of announcements and reports as MPs broke up for Christmas.

With the Commons sitting for the last time until January, ministers released 36 written statements and dozens of transparency files on spin doctors and ministerial cars and meetings.

While David Cameron was in Brussels meeting EU leaders, his ministers and officials were bundling out announcements on 10,000 asylum seekers going missing, 4 per cent rises in council tax, homeless children and hundreds of quangocrats earning more than the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister himself signed off a statement announcing the Muslim Brotherhood will not be banned despite the group having a ‘highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism’.

Figures were also published for the cost of ministerial cars and tax-payer funded special advisers, plus the guests Mr Cameron has hosted at Chequers or met in Downing Street.

Ministers announced details of rising council tax, cuts to the police, expanding the badger cull, reforming the House of Lords, and how 300 quangocrats and civil servants earn more than the Prime Minister.

Reports were published into deaths in prisons, how 100,000 children will be homeless in England this Christmas and more than 10,000 asylum seekers which have disappeared off the government’s radar.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said: “The Government has released dozens of announcements on the final day of Parliament, shortly before the Christmas break, in a deliberate attempt to avoid proper scrutiny of the information and proposals they contain.

“It is a shockingly cynical move.’

 Dinner guests at Chequers and meeting Amal Clooney 

Details have been released of David Cameron’s guests at his Chequers country retreat between April and September.

French president Francois Hollande and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker were among 11 people entertained at the taxpayer’s expense, at a cost of just over £2,300 – or £210 a head.

French president Francois Hollande was were among 11 people entertained at the taxpayer's expense between April and September, at a cost of just over £2,300

 In June. the Prime Minister met lawyer Amal Clooney - wife of movie star George - to discuss human rights in the Maldives

 The figures are not thought to include overheads at the residence, which are covered by an annual grant of just under £600,000.

Separately, details show the Prime Minister met lawyer Amal Clooney – wife of movie star George – to discuss human rights in the Maldives.

In July he met TV chef Jamie Oliver to discuss childhood obesity and in August met Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis.

 Cameron given boots, alcohol, rugs, watches and a jacket

A list was also published of gifts given to Mr Cameron between April and September.

From April to June he received a rug from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a silver ornament from the General Rahel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan Army, a glass art platter from Michelle Obama and bronze coins from David Coehn.

At the G7 summit in Munich in May Mr Cameron was also presented with alcohol, boots and a jacket.

The PM was given a watch by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a rug by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a porcelain figure by the President of Indonesia, a picture by the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, watches by firms Swatch and Flik Flak and a framed oil painting by the Prime Minister of Mongolia.

All of the gifts were held by Downing Street and not bought back by the PM.

George Osborne received an iPhone from Apple. It has been kept by the department, but it is not known whether the Chancellor has use of it.

 Minister’s chauffeur-driven cars used to drive around red boxes

The Department for Transport published costs of chauffeur-driven cars used by ministers and officials for the first time in three years.

The overall bill for the Government car service hit £6.35million last year.

It included 1,191 journeys booked for individual ministers through the GCS and 826 occasions when a car was used to ferry a red ministerial box.

 £8.4million army of Conservative spin doctors paid for by YOU 

The taxpayer-funded bill for government spin doctors will hit £8.4million this year.

Chancellor George Osborne alone now has 10 spads working for him in the Treasury, including a new director of communications and the aide credited with overhauling his image given a 42 per cent pay hike.

Details of the army of 96 political special advisers (spads) paid using public money was slipped out by the Cabinet Office on the day Parliament breaks for Christmas.

The bill for special advisers has rocketed in recent years, hitting £9.6million in the last year of the coalition and expected to top £8.4million in 2015-16

 A year ago the Tories had 69 special advisers, while the Lib Dems had a further 38.

Since winning the election outright, David Cameron’s government has sought to bolster Conservative numbers.

Traditionally Cabinet ministers had two state-funded political aides, famously portrayed in the BBC satire The Thick of It.

Thea Rogers, the former producer to BBC political editor Nick Robinson credited with transforming the George Osborne's public image, is now paid 42 per cent more than last year

But today’s data shows there are eleven ministers with three or more spads, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Mr Cameron now has 32 advisers, up from 26 in November last year. The biggest earners are chief of staff Ed LLewellyn and Downing Street head of communications Craig Oliver on £140,000.

In total there are 92 special advisers and a further four members of Mr Osborne’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Despite the Lib Dems leaving government, the total number has fallen only slightly from 107.

The pay bill is now 35 per cent higher than in 2009-10 when Gordon Brown left office as PM with 71 advisers on the government payroll.

Mr Osborne, who has faced claims he is using his Treasury powerbase to plot his bid to replace Mr Cameron as Tory leader, now has six people listed as special advisers and a further four people on the Council of Economic Advisers.

It includes new director of communications James Chapman – a former political editor of the Daily Mail – who is paid £125,000.

Thea Rogers, the former producer to BBC political editor Nick Robinson credited with transforming the Chancellor’s public image, is now paid 42 per cent more than last year.

She is said to be responsible for Mr Osborne’s dramatically reduced waistline thanks to the 5:2 diet, a Caesar-style, close-cropped haircut and his high-profile tours of factories and building sites in hi-vis.

As an adviser a year ago she was paid £69,250 but after being promoted to chief of staff she now earns £98,000.

Friends of Mr Osborne noted that there were 11 special advisers in the Treasury immediately before the election.

Mr Brown also had 11 when he was Chancellor plotting to replace Tony Blair in Number 10.

 Council tax bills to rise by up to 4% as government grant is cut

Town halls will be able to increase council tax by 4 per cent every single year.

Greg Clark, the Local Government Secretary, said they would be able to increase the levy by 2 per cent to go towards the costs of elderly care.

This is on top of the 2 per cent a year they are already allowed to put council tax up by without a referendum.

The draconian rises will see the average annual council tax bill for a Band D household rising by up to £320 by 2020/21.

The huge increases – of up to 22 per cent by that year – come after years of restraint as the government forced town halls to play their part in the battle against austerity.

A central government funding scheme aimed at encouraging town halls to freeze council tax has been scrapped, Mr Clark said – making it more likely that town halls will increase bills.

If local authorities impose both 2 per cent rises next year, this would add around £60 to this year’s average Band D bill of £1,484.

If they continue increasing bills by this amount over subsequent years, by 2020/21 the Band D council tax amount will be £1,806.

In addition, a quarter of councils will be able to add £5 a year to their bills to pay for the local police.

 More than 300 quangocrats and mandarins earning more than PM

Sir Jeremy Heywood – dubbed Sir Cover-Up – received a pay rise last year to £195,000

 More than 300 quangocrats and Whitehall mandarins earn more than the Prime Minister, official figures show.

The total is the highest in five years – despite David Cameron’s pledge to slash the cost of politics and tackle the Whitehall gravy train.

Of the 319 officials who take home more than the PM’s £150,000 salary, eight are on more than £300,000. Another 11 take home between £250,000 and £300,000.

No fewer than 35 people working on the controversial HS2 train line earn more than Mr Cameron, including chief executive Simon Kirby who takes home £750,000 – five times as much.

Sir Jeremy Heywood – dubbed Sir Cover-Up – received a pay rise last year to £195,000.

Dozens of officials working for health quangos also earn salaries in excess of the premier’s – despite the fact that the NHS faces a winter crisis and many trust are in debt.

Fifty people at quangos set up during former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s controversial NHS reorganisation are on more than £150,000.

Twenty-six of them work at Public Health England, which pumps out nannying guidance on diet and lifestyle, with the highest – microbiologist Frances Gould – on £220,000.

Another 24 are at NHS England, with the highest – chief financial officer Paul Baumann – on £205,000.

The NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor, which regulates foundation trusts, have seven each on more than the premier.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre, which collects statistics for the NHS, has six on the list; while NHS Blood and Transplant is on five.

Another four officials at under-fire regulator the Care Quality Commission earn £150,000 or more, including chief hospitals inspector Michael Richards on £235,000; while NHS rationing watchdog NICE has two on the list.

All this is on top of the Department of Health, where five civil servants earn more than the PM including chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, on £210,000.

 10,000 asylum seekers have dropped off government’s radar

Thousands of asylum seekers have dropped off the Government’s radar, an official report has revealed.

Caseworkers told inspectors there were around 10,000 cases where the main applicant and any dependants, such as children, were not in contact with the Home Office or had absconded.

The number will include those who were awaiting a decision, as well as those who are still in the country after their application has been refused.

While enforcement teams could conduct residential visits to attempt to trace missing claimants they were ‘reluctant to do so as this work was not a priority and was considered a drain on resources’, a report by the borders watchdog said.

 More than 100,000 children will be homeless this Christmas 

More than 100,000 children in England will be homeless for Christmas, official figures showed today.

A sharp annual rise in homelessness means the number of households in temporary accommodation reached 68,560 at the end of September, up 13 per cent in a year.

The quarterly survey for the Department for Communities and Local Government found 103,430 children and unborn babies did not have a permanent roof over their head.

Homelessness charities blamed welfare cuts and the squeeze on local government funding for the ‘worrying’ increases in homelessness.

Shadow housing minister John Healey said minister should be ‘ashamed’ and added: ‘It’s no merry Christmas for the thousands of families without a home of their own this winter, including the 100,000 children forced to live out of hostels or other temporary accommodation.

‘This situation is unacceptable and it’s unnecessary. Ministers must act.’

Communities minister Marcus Jones said the Government would provide a £5 million fund to the 25 local authorities facing the greatest housing pressures as part of efforts to curb the rises.

The Government will also explore options ‘including legislation’ to stop people becoming homeless, DCLG announced.

 Three in four families hit by bedroom tax cut back on food

More than three quarters of people affected by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ have reduced spending on food since it was introduced, an official analysis found.

A Government-commissioned report into the housing benefit cut for council and social tenants with a spare room found they were comparatively more likely to run out of cash each week.

Only around a third had been successful in accessing hardship funds put in place by the Government to ease the impact of what it calls the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’.

But fewer than one in ten of those who escaped the regime had done so by moving to a smaller property it showed – which critics said undermined ministers’ case for the controversial policy.

Introduced in April 2013, affected tenants can lose up to a quarter of their housing benefit and a string of reports have pointed to an increase in poverty among those affected.

The latest findings are from an in-depth study by Ipsos MORI and the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

 Muslim Brotherhood will not be banned despite ‘highly ambiguous’ relationship with violent extremism

Mohammed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was briefly Egyptian President until being overthrown in 2013 

 The Muslim Brotherhood will not be banned despite the group having a ‘highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism’.

Publishing a long awaited review into the controversial group, which played a leading role in Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the Prime Minister insisted it would be kept under close watch.

But after extensive work, Mr Cameron said it would not be made illegal to join the group – though being a member will be considered a ‘possible indicator of extremism’ by the security services.

The government review was completed last summer amid calls from allies such as Saudi Arabia for the UK to impose a ban on the group, and ministers have been accused of sitting on the report to avoid upsetting key partners in the Middle East.

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist organisation by several countries but has also taken part in democratic elections on a peaceful platform.

The Egyptian government has waged a sweeping crackdown on senior figures from the Islamist group since its then leader Mohammed Morsi was ousted as president by the military in 2013.

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Cameron said: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood comprises both a transnational network, with links in the UK, and national organisations in and outside the Islamic world.

‘The movement is deliberately opaque, and habitually secretive.’

The Prime Minister said the Brotherhood characterises Western societies and liberal Muslims as ‘decadent and immoral’ and ‘it can be seen primarily as a political project’.

But he continued: ‘Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism.’

 Solar subsidies slashed by 64% to keep bills ‘as low as possible’

Taxpayer subsidies for solar panels on homes are to be slashed by more than 60 per cent, ministers have announced to protests

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said she wanted to keep household bills ‘as low as possible’ while maintaining ‘sensible’ support for new technology.

But Labour’s Lisa Nandy blasted the Government move as ‘short sighted’ while environmental campaigners warned it would undermine the green credentials of David Cameron’s government.

The feed-in tariff is available to people who want to fit solar panels to their home but they will now get less money back for the electricity their panels generate

 Domestic solar panels will now receive 4.39p per kilowatt hour of renewable electricity generated, down 64 per cent on the 12p they would have received from January, but more than the 1.63p originally proposed.

Ms Rudd said: ‘My priority is to ensure energy bills for hardworking families and businesses are kept as low as possible whilst ensuring there is a sensible level of support for low carbon technologies that represent value for money.

‘We have to get the balance right and I am clear that subsidies should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model.

‘When the cost of technologies come down, so should the consumer-funded support.’

Shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy said: ‘These short-sighted cuts will place big limits on our solar industry and lead to job losses.

‘These cuts stand in stark contrast to the generous handouts Ministers recently announced to dirty diesel generators.

‘At a time when energy bills are a big concern it makes no sense to limit one of the cheapest forms of clean energy.’

 Cameron urged to scrap the power of the Lords to veto regulations following tax credits row

The House of Lords should be stripped of the power to veto new regulations and instead be restricted to calling on MPs to rethink proposals, a review commissioned by David Cameron has recommended.

The review by Tory grandee Lord Strathclyde recommended that a new law should be passed which would ensure that the Commons had the “final say” over secondary legislation.

The move comes after Labour and Liberal Democrat peers infuriated ministers in October by combining to block Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to cut tax credits for the low paid.

Lord Strathclyde said: “In my review, I have looked carefully at the history and current practice of the House of Lords as it regards secondary legislation and financial matters and I have spoken to a wide range of parliamentarians.

“I believe that my recommendations strike the right balance between preserving the vital role of the House of Lords in scrutinising legislation, and enabling the elected House of Commons to have a decisive role on statutory instruments.”

Mr Cameron will respond to the report’s recommendations in the new year.

Labour MP Graham Allen, who chaired the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the last parliament, criticised the “casual, undemocratic” manner of the reform and said it ought to have looked again at the question of whether there should be a fully-elected Lords.

 Only a fraction of doomed court charge is collected within a month, official figures show

Justice Secretary Michael Gove plans to scrap the controversial charge next week but only a fraction is currently being collected

Just 4 per cent of criminal court charges are being paid within a month, official figures have shown, as the Government prepares to axe the controversial scheme.

The fee issued to convicted criminals – branded a “tax on justice” by critics – is being scrapped on Christmas Eve amid widespread opposition from lawyers and campaign groups.

Since April, those convicted of crimes in England and Wales have had to pay a charge between £150 and £1,200.

Opponents claim the charge creates a “perverse incentive” to plead guilty, with some defendants attempting to admit charges even though they claim to be innocent in order to pay the minimum amount.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed £27.7 million in criminal court charges had been issued since the scheme was introduced.

But only 4% of the fees were collected within a month of being imposed between July and September.

Shadow human rights minister Andy Slaughter said: “We always suspected that the criminal courts charge was distorting the criminal justice system and now we know the truth.

“The pitiful collection rate revealed today shows that it was financially flawed from the start. Worthless as well as dangerous. Why on earth did the Government sign it off in the first place?”

Meanwhile, justice minister Shailesh Vara announced a 10% increase in court fees for a range of civil proceedings, including enforcement proceedings, determination of costs proceedings, and civil business in the magistrates courts.

New fees are being introduced for the first time in certain tax and financial chambers and also property courts, Mr Vara said in a written ministerial statement.

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