FORMER Tory whip Bill Wiggin MP is paid by a company running privatised welfare benefits.
Wiggin gets “up to £5,000” on top of his MP’s salary, but the privatisation has driven the poor and vulnerable to foodbanks.
Wiggin, who is MP for North Hertfordshire, was a Tory whip until September 2012.
In September 2013 he became a director of Allpay Ltd, a firm that makes prepaid cash cards.
Wiggin earned £2,000 from Allpay last year for two board meetings. It wasn’t a huge amount of cash, but at just 10.5 hours work, he is paid at a handsome rate of over £190 an hour.
Allpay is cashing in on the “social fund” that jobcentres used to give claimants crisis loans, offering one-off sums for things like fridges or beds.
Crisis loans were given to people who’d lost items through fire or damage or women who fled abusive husbands.
One of Wiggin’s jobs as assistant whip was pushing through the 2012 Welfare Reform Act.
This “devolved” the social fund, passing it from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to local authorities.
This devolution hit the poor hard — when the DWP devolved the fund, they also cut it. Local authorities had less money and were allowed to make up their own rules.
As well as cutting the amount of money to the poor, the devolution opened the door to privatisation.
The fund used to be run by DWP staff, but many local types of council, unused to the new duty, handed the work to private firms, including Allpay. Wiggin’s new employer proudly says on its website: “Following the government’s decision to abolish community care grants and crisis loans, local authorities are also using prepaid cards as a way of delivering parts of the social fund — which is being devolved to councils from 2013.”
Councils like Surrey pay Allpay to run their emergency payments. So Allpay gets a profitable contract, Wiggin gets a job on the board, but the poor get fewer grants, leaving them poorer and hungrier and colder.
Allpay relies on many other public-sector contracts alongside — it operates cashless cards for school dinner money, collects fines for the Ministry of Justice and does many other jobs that ultimately rely on the taxpayer.
But Wiggin has another job helping rich people keep their money out of the taxman’s hands.
Wiggin gets another £5,000 a year working for Banbury-based Philip T English International Financial Services.
It helps rich people look after their money. The firm says it “can create offshore companies and form trusts for both corporate and individual needs. This may be of particular benefit to foreign domiciled or non-resident individuals who wish to ring-fence their assets from UK based taxation.”
It also says its “financial and tax planning services extend beyond the boundaries of the UK in being able to provide advice to clients seeking to base themselves abroad or perhaps returning to the UK from non-resident status.”
Philip T English is clear that Wiggin’s main attraction is that he is an MP — it says: “The company and its clients benefit from his experience gained through his parliamentary career in the House of Commons which spanned more than a decade.”
So it uses his MP’s position to advertise its services, which include keeping rich people’s tax down.
Wiggin got his jobs some time ago, but they appear in the latest report of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), the watchdog which oversees former ministers’ — and former whips’ — private-sector jobs.
Acoba is a toothless watchdog. It mostly waves through ex-ministers’ appointments.
Before the last election David Cameron himself said that “the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way” was part of the “next big scandal waiting to happen.”
But he has done nothing to change it. Acoba sometimes bans ex-ministers from lobbying or using their “privileged information” for their new employers, but it has no way of enforcing these bans.
Indeed some ex-ministers treat Acoba with contempt and don’t seek its advice until after they have taken their jobs — which the committee “note with concern,” in a rather embarrassed complaint in their annual report.
WHY are hospital A&E departments in crisis? One reason is that, in a particularly weird “market mechanism,” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt decided to pay NHS hospitals less than the full amount for treating people in A&E. Hospitals are paid for treatment according to rates in an NHS tariff.
In 2010 Hunt was worried by the number of people going to A&E. So he thought paying hospitals less per patient would somehow “discourage” sick people from going to hospital.
Hunt introduced the “marginal rate emergency tariff,” which means that if hospitals treat more people in A&E than they did in 2009 — the “baseline year” — they only get 30 per cent of the cost of the extra patients.
The National Audit Office reviewed this policy last November and found it was, frankly, bollocks.
It said: “In practice, payment at the marginal rate has not contained the demand for emergency admissions. This can be because alternatives, including enhanced primary care services and discharge from A&E departments into community care, are not available.”
So just slashing the payment per patient hasn’t reduced the number of emergency admissions, especially as there has been no matching payment on alternatives.
It’s hardly surprising. There is a method in Hunt’s madness. According to the Audit Office, “elective care” — scheduled operations — is “profitable” for hospitals in Hunt’s tariff. But “emergency activity” is not.
And the private providers that Hunt wants to get running the NHS are only going to take over elective operations.
So the crisis for A&Es is part of an internal NHS market that also makes cherry-picking more profitable operations by private firms more possible.