8 Days Remaining

Friday 30th
posted by Morning Star in Features

While Eric Pickles attempts to ‘take on’ corruption, he continues to earn £40k a year for a lawbreaking firm, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

THE government’s “anti-corruption champion,” Eric Pickles, is an MP who also works for an offal firm that repeatedly breaks the law.

Pickles was cabinet minister for local government. He’s still an MP but moonlights on the “advisory board” of a company called the Leo Group.

This Yorkshire animal waste firm pays him £40,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary. That’s more than most people earn full time, but he gets the money for under 12 hours work a week. Pickles was a law-maker, but he now works for a firm of law-breakers for £296 an hour.

Pickles, with his part-time job for a firm regularly fined for pollution, is worried about the democratic processes being corrupted.

But he isn’t worried about the influence of lawbreaking companies on MPs; he’s worried about voting.

In 2015 David Cameron made Pickles “the prime minister’s anti-corruption champion,” a role he still holds under May.

Pickles thinks fake voters are a big problem, even though all authorities say impersonating voters is not a major issue. His solution to a question no-one is asking might make it harder for poorer people to vote.

Under his plans, people without a passport or a driving licence will have to come up with all kinds of paperwork at the ballot box.

This is US-style voter suppression, which will discourage some of the poorest people from voting.

But while Pickles proposes using this vote-supressing solution to what most commentators see as a minor issue, his government is doing nothing about the corrupting influence of second jobs for MPs. Even if the firms they work for seem to be hit by scandals.

Pickles joined the Leo Group in April 2016 as a well paid “adviser.” Founded and run by the Sawrij family, the group specialises in gathering animal by-products — including dead animals — and rendering, processing or recycling animal waste into everything from pet food to “biomass” fuels with a history of spills, accidents and safety breaches.

In 2013 Leo Group boss Danny Sawrij was fined £300,000 plus £150,000 costs for offences relating to lorry drivers not properly recording their hours.

The traffic commissioner also revoked the licences for the animal waste haulier, which would have been a very major blow to the firm.

However, Commissioner Beverly Bell allowed the group’s firm to run lorries on a “temporary” license as long as Danny Sawrij was kept away from direct control and all the lorries’ tachographs were regularly checked.

In 2011 a Leo Group firm was fined £32,000 for spilling animal waste in the streets in several disgusting incidents.

One pile of intestines was seen on a pavement near a school and on another occasion a motorcyclist skidded on offal.

Leo Group firms also had fines for animal waste spillages in 2009 and safety fines following workplace injuries in 2007 and 2004.

The Leo Group has also faced campaigns by residents near their sites against their attempts to increase their business or the number of lorries full of animal waste they are allowed to run.

Locals often object to the smells and noise and poor safety record of the firm.

The Leo Group might find an ex-government minister and current MP on the board useful as they deal with these regulation and licensing questions.

One subsidiary of the Leo Group has particular legal problems: Omega Proteins, which processes dead animals in Penrith in Cumbria.

In July 2015 Omega Proteins was fined £100,000 for illegally discharging animal effluent.

Locals are enraged about the pollution by Pickles’ firm, which causes a local foul smell called the “Penrith Pong.”

This September Eden Council had to order Omega Proteins to stop work on the site.

They were erecting new buildings and doing extra work apparently without planning permission.

As residents have been campaigning to stop the site expanding, this looks like a particularly serious breach.

Local councillor Michael Slee told the Carlisle News and Star that “it is unacceptable for anyone to knowingly breach planning control and think they can cause harm and disruption to our residents without suffering any consequences.”

Before he became prime minister, David Cameron said that “corporate lobbying” was “the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

He said this involved “ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”

As long as ex-ministers like Pickles can get jobs with lawbreaking polluters, government ministers have a disincentive to crack down on polluters, raise fines, increase inspections or tighten up planning laws.

There is an implicit promise they too can get lucrative jobs with such firms.

This is the influence of big money distorting and I would argue corrupting the political system. But instead of regulating MPs’ second jobs or ex-ministers for hire, the Tories have, with Pickles, found a way to “take on” corruption that ignores corporate influence and may take away some poor folks’ votes in the process.