Rishi Sunak’s Macavity-like vanishing act after damning fraud verdict – Tom Richmond
It began with Lord Agnew, a Treasury Minister, dramatically resigning at the House of Lords despatch box over “schoolboy” handling of fraudulent Covid business loans.
It continued at PMQs when Johnson was asked: “Did the Prime Minister agree to the Chancellor of the Exchequer writing off £4.3bn of fraud?” The reply was intriguing: “No, of course not.”
And, amid doubts whether Johnson’s response was intentional, mis-speak or another lie, a Treasury Select Committee review of the Budget revealed a £1bn post-Brexit cut in funding for regional development – casting more doubt on the London Government’s ‘levelling up’ plan.
These are three significant setbacks to the self-conscious Sunak who is viewed as the leading contender to become Prime Minister when the discredited Johnson finally leaves office.
They’re become even more damning when set in the context of the forthcoming increase in taxes coupled with soaring energy costs while £4.3bn of fraud – the equivalent of £154 for every household – is being written off.
And while I, for one, have great sympathy for the Chancellor, and the support schemes he put in place when Covid struck, the confluence of these developments risk his reputation.
Taxpayers’ money cannot be distributed like confetti to fraudsters without proper scrutiny, hence why Sunak needs to reconcile the following conundrum rather than undertaking another Macavity-like vanishing act.
Is it any wonder, Chancellor, that taxes are going up by such a significant sum, and left behind areas being denied funding that they previously received from the European Union when, in the words of Lord Agnew, more than 1,000 companies received “bounce-back loans which were not even trading when Covid struck”? It’s fraud – political and economic – and it stinks as much as Sunak’s non-response to date.
THERE is one advantage to Richmond MP Rishi Sunak being Chancellor – he can pull rank. This explains why Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, Carl Cowling, group chief executive of WH Smith and Heidi Reynolds, the high street chain’s retail director, were all summonsed to North Yorkshire.
Sunal called the meeting after repeated and unexpected closures of the Post Office branch over the last six months. After posing behind the counter for a picture for his website, he reported that he was grateful that they “came to Northallerton to answer my questions”.
I don’t blame Sunak for his job as MP so assiduously, but could he, as Chancellor, be just as assertive when it comes to Royal Mail and the millions of letters, and NHS appointments, still undelivered because of staff shortages and a second class response by the organisation?
PS: Chancellor, you have my email address and mobile number if you don’t want your response to get held up in the post.
ONE consequence of the ‘partygate’ scandal dragging on is that Kate Josephs remains on ‘paid leave’ as Sheffield City Council’s chief executive.
She’s been conspicuous by her absence after it emerged that she was present at a Whitehall leaving do in December 2020 when her work heading the Covid taskforce came to end.
Ms Josephs was then less than straightforward about the revelation – only confirming that the party was held, and drink taken, moments before its disclosure in a national newspaper.
Yet why should Sheffield taxpayers be subsidising Josephs. and her £190,000 a year salary, when they, themselves, followed the rules and are not at fault?
As I wrote last week, only a full and frank explanation from Ms Josephs on why she took so long to admit her error will suffice – but who is stopping her?
NOT only is there a leadership vacuum in Sheffield, but this also extends to another of Yorkshire’s great cities – Bradford. Its council no longer has jurisdiction for children’s social services following the murder of 16-month-old toddler Star Hobson in a chilling cruelty case.
And this comes just weeks after the Commons – in a rare show of unity – condemned the council’s poor response to victims of child sexual exploitation.
Yet, while councils deserve sympathy over budget restraints, neither council chief executive Kersten England or leader Susan Hinchcliffe appear to have offered to resign. Why not? Others have stepped aside for much less in the not so distant past when personal accountability – and responsibility – still counted in both national and local government.
I WAS quite taken aback to switch on Sky News this week for PMQs where its right-wing analyst was one-time Tory MP Barry ‘Bazza’ Legg – presumably because anyone of note had turned down to invite.
Legg once told me that he took the credit for coining the phrase ‘back to basics’ – that did a lot for John Major’s government, didn’t it? But he was one of Dame Shirley Porter’s lieutenants when Westminster City Council was mired in a ‘homes for votes’ gerrymandering scandal in the 1990s and I recall evenings waiting to doorstep him outside his ‘pad’ by Buckingham Palace. This was also the time when 100 homeless families, including 150 children, were rehoused in two dilapidated tower blocks known to be full of asbestos.
And the irony that a central figure from that period can now appear to ‘look’ like an exemplar of standards shows just how far the Tory party has fallen.
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