On the day the Health and Social Care Act became law, Jos Bell digs deep into the links between private health, big money donations, and the Tory Party.
Long, long ago in the days of fuzzy screened black and white tv, when the NHS was the nation’s great hope and well before he engaged in armchair combat with Tricky Dickie Nixon, David Frost hosted That Was The Week That Was. The theme tune punchline was ‘it’s over – let it go’.
These days the BBC gives us Andrew Neil’s This Week, which being altogether less nimble than its satirical predecessor consigned the passing of the health and social care bill and the intentional destruction of the NHS into an inverted wallpaper hanging of Big Ben revolving inside ‘Big John’ Bercow’s jubilee kaleidoscope.
BBC News, meanwhile, chose to focus on the Cabinet banging their approval of the bill’s passing into the polished fabric of their governing table.
Given the weight of knowledge and opinion stacked against the bill – now Act – and the government’s continuum stance of placing their fingers firmly in their ears and chanting LaLaLa into the broadcast ether, letting the evidence go is the very last thing we should do.
What with one white water raft followed by another, there is a growing desire to expose the income and expenditure truth of both our government and the way in which they appear to be putting personal profit above our national wellbeing – both in private and in front of the camera.
• Exposed: Lansley’s NHS reform cheerleaders 16 Mar 2011
After weeks of questioning the increasingly glaring H&SCB omissions and distortions from the BBC, many of the nation’s alarmed have contacted our very own public service broadcaster to query the lack of reporting on matters NHS. Responses have varied between standard email replies and the panicked slamming down of phones – but none so telling as the email received by Marcus Chow.
Now it emerges chair Lord Patten does indeed have many fingers in private health pies – which perhaps explains why our erstwhile national treasure broadcaster has serially failed to help us to protect our NHS national treasure.
It seems in these days of Altogether-Now Austerity, that hard cash for those who can both rake it in and splash it about is indeed the evidence question.
Not only was the then Tory Treasurer exposed in a Fergie reprise, proffering Cam Dine with Me and Sam time in return for a measly quarter of a million, but also let it not be forgotten that in the midst of last summer’s ‘listening phase’, Cameron revealed his own tendency to believe that under-the-dinner-table deals for a quick suppository prescription from one’s GP were not uncommon.
It seems he thinks everyone behaves like his former Treasurer. Whoever gave him that idea?
Perhaps it was Mr Osborne – who we now know has been caught red-box handed with his fingers in the NHS till to the tune of £500,000,000 in blatant contravention of his own spending review statement ruling.
Having said of NHS efficiency savings “the money we save will be reinvested in our nation’s health care”, Osbornomics now dictates that said savings from the IT pot are not going to be ‘vired’ or reinvested but will instead be ‘channelled towards central govt deficit reduction’. ie. never to be seen again.
Meanwhile, cash-strapped service managers can only look on in horror whilst their spreadsheets whimper in pain as the gaps in front line services start to impact. How much disappeared provision would half a billion replace? THAT much. That’s how much.
With the blink and miss it litany of happenings over the past few days it’s difficult to count the bank notes being whisked away in the Tory breeze. As Dr Eoin Clarke reveals, since Cameron took over the leadership of the Tory Party, donations have almost trebled to a total of £159,484,285.40.
Whilst Labour members fret about their capacity to afford £40 pa, this is clearly the party where the majority of those in the world of big bucks see their best self-interests lying – and presumably the bigger buck the donation the bigger the influence on policy, which although causing interest amongst the public are most certainly not policies in the public interest.
Certainly with climate change denier Henry Angest and Vitol oil magnate Ian Taylor (£) as donor-diners at the Camerons’ chow-down, it is hardly a stretch to see where the downturn in green industry investment and the prioritisation of oil and gas has sprung from. It remains to be seen whether they also received a complimentary ride on Rebekah’s GG.
Champion funder guests also included party co-chair Andrew Feldman – also a BTG Ltd pharmaceuticals major shareholder; Michael Hintze, who in addition to funding the Adam Werrity Desk at his CQS hedge fund offices, loaned the party £4million; Lord Sainsbury – who whilst Hospira Inc and Becton Dickinson seem to have websites largely full of good intentions, opportunistically sees fit to plonk GP surgeries in between the fish fingers and alcopops aisles of his supermarket chain.
This has of course all been champagne bubbling in the undertow of the H&SC Bill badinage – and continually laughed off in false jocular fashion by the government benches.
As Channel 4 posted on their website in April last year:
“Links between politicians, think tanks, lobby groups and health companies lie at the heart of some criticism of coalition health policies.”
Now it cannot be denied.
Mark Adams, the professional lobbyist who blew the whistle on the whole sordid business professes himself:
“…surprised that this kind of access to the PM was possible. Lobbying is not about buying access. The possibility of paying large sums of money to buy access is not acceptable.”
It is also evident that more than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England that is today being enacted.
Not that the Tory Party’s little helpers can claim immunity.
One in ten Liberal Democrat Peers have financial links to companies involved in private healthcare – the Lib Dems’ second largest donor is a family-owned group of care home companies, previously based in a tax haven, who since legalising by setting up a UK office have increased the size of their donations to more than £1 million.
Crucially, as Left Foot Forward reported on Monday, Lansley himself is not immune from even a scraping the surface scrutiny. Additionally, last spring, questions were asked about the role and contacts of his wife Sally Low, the managing director of PR company Low Associates.
Whilst she repeatedly denies Low Associates is involved in lobbying – describing its activities as providing “strategic advice” to clients, helping people prepare before they give evidence to committees of MPs – she also gives speeches on improving lobbying skills, in which she says lobbyists should “establish positive relationships with decision-makers before you need their help”.
Clients of Low Associates personnel in their previous careers have included the pharmaceutical companies SmithKline Beecham, Unilever and Procter & Gamble. Lobbying by any other name?
In May 2011 as the scrutiny of the bill gathered pace, Grahame Morris MP (Labour, Easington) said he believed there had been a clear “conflict of interest” when Ms Low was found to be involved in work encouraging the integration of the public and private sectors.
We also know Private Eye revealed that under Lansley, the DH produced a report on red meat which bizarrely gave only McDonald’s burgers and Peperami a good rating; Lansley, a fan of light touch food regulation offering little protection for consumers, having previously been in the pay of the advertisers for said products, must have thought we would all ask for extra large servings – even if they were probably not served by LaLa in a pinny at the Downing St drive in.
In terms of health and social care fine dining, the most notable top table guest so far listed must be the recently Knighted hedge fund manager Sir Paul Ruddock, co-founder and chief executive of Lansdowne Partners who has given half a million pounds to the Conservative Party (as well as £5million to the V&A of which he is chair).
The FT revealed (£) Ruddock, who manages the $7.46-billion Lansdowne with Steve Heinz:
“…controversially took short positions in Northern Rock and HBOS at the height of the credit crunch… his hedge fund was among several criticised during the financial crisis of three years ago for shorting bank stocks.”
Lansdowne’s European Long Only fund gained 4.52% from December 3st to January 27th. Lansdowne’s UK Equity fund gained 5.67% in the same time period.
Financials, which were the worst performing stocks in 2011, still figure prominently in the Lansdowne portfolio. Lansdowne also has the fifth largest holding in JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM) after increasing its holding by +219% in the company during the third quarter. It is its fifth largest holding, as well as significant positions in Citigroup Inc (C) and U S Bancorp Del (USB).
Along with Crispin Odey (founder of Odey Asset Management, a hedge fund based in London with a portfolio of $1,046,636,000), Ruddock is the backer of Circle Health, run by former Goldman Sachs vice-president Ali Parsdoust. Valuation of the company varies wildly between £66 – £188m.
Circle Health of course is already notorious in being both the first private company to take over an NHS hospital and also to challenge commissioning decisions where it was not the favoured option. Circle also employs former Conservative Party health spokesman Mark Simmonds as well as health secretary Andrew Lansley’s ex-aide Christina Lineen.
Her predecessor is Nick Seddon, who is deputy director of centre-right think tank Reform, whose predecessor in turn was Elizabeth Truss MP (Conservative, South West Norfolk). Together Ruddock and Odey have donated £790,000 to the Tories.
Yes, we get the drift.
Last month a second hospital (George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton) was put up for privatisation through outsourcing, despite previous assurances from Lansley that the transfer of Hinchingbrooke Hospital to Circle Health was a one-off.
Bidders for the Nuneaton contract include Circle Health, Serco, and CareUK, whose chairman and his wife between them donated £203,500 to the Conservative Party in the five years to November 2009; and as Left Foot Forward reported on Monday, his wife gave Andrew Lansley’s office £21,000 just before the last election.
For anyone who wonders why this is so important, health and care *should* be all about wellbeing and safeguarding life.
Hedge funds and associated organisations are the fulcrum of so many of those things which harm: short selling, asset stripping, reduced job security, pensions deficit, reduced health and safety in the workplace, banking disasters – all for self seeking profit for those who are fast emerging from under the filthy lucre dinner table, those who we so fondly like to think of as the nation’s fat cats.
This is the world of the 1% who have increased their personal wealth by the same 49% as the Shirley CAP whilst the rest of us carry the trickle down weight of the banking disaster.
After Francis Maude pulled out of an appearance on C4 News yesterday evening – presumably having finally run out of steam as Cameron’s stool pigeon, Michael Fallon took the hot seat in his place. Interestingly, in a desperate bid to divert attention from Jon Snow’s accusations that oil would be the subject of after dinner mint discussion, he knocked his Premier Cru over in the direction of the H&SC bill instead.
Perhaps that’s because he has previously admitted making more than £27,000 in fees from private healthcare firm Attendo – owned by private equity firm IK Investment. Attendo has faced accusations of neglect of patients in the privatised nursing homes it operates in Sweden. One in Stockholm was shut after an inspection. The company has very close links with Sweden’s Conservative Party.
I think that’s what’s called squaring the circle.