Business is Booming in Mid-Beds
Posted Tuesday, 24 March 2015 at 09:01
I had a great day on Friday visiting businesses run by and that provide employment for my constituents in Mid-Bedfordshire.
It started with a breakfast meeting in Flitwick with entrepreneurs who have braved the business climate of the last few years and are now feeling quietly optimistic about the road ahead.
One delegate even told me, ‘We are all scared to say it out loud but the phones are ringing again and everyone I speak to in Mid Beds is getting busier and busier.’
Then it was on to Driveline Golf, who produced a nice video of me meeting their enthusiastic young apprentices, and the Consumer Protection Association, which is doing well and celebrating its 25th birthday in Mid-Beds.
This all goes to show that business is booming in Mid-Beds. We have the Millbrook technology hub and now Centre Parks all contributing to a long-term downward trend for unemployment in the constituency.
Posted Friday, 6 March 2015 at 19:45
Posted Thursday, 5 March 2015 at 20:30
Littlewoods and Telegraph Pension Funds
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mel Stride.)
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I am proud to represent the seat of Mid Bedfordshire, but I am also proud to have been born and bred in Liverpool. I have secured this Adjournment debate because I am gravely concerned that the pensions of many thousands of people in Liverpool and elsewhere in Britain, including in my constituency, might be in danger and that if things go badly wrong the British people, via the Pension Protection Fund, will be called on to pick up the pieces.
We must not forget the lessons learned from the Robert Maxwell scandal. Potentially, billions of pounds of public money is at stake, placed at risk by the pension schemes of the companies ultimately controlled by two men, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, also known as the Barclay twins.
The twins are rich men, although perhaps not as rich as they appear to be, who live in Monaco and in a pseudo-Gothic castle on the island of Brecqhou, off Sark, to avoid British tax. They do not pay their fair share of tax, yet their company, Shop Direct, formerly known as Littlewoods, is suing the British taxpayer for £1.2 billion in compound interest for overpayment of tax on a company the Barclay twins did not even own when the event took place. Some might call that greedy. I do. The Barclay twins are avariciously greedy.
The Daily Telegraph, and they are notoriously aggressive in defence of their own reputations. Twice they have sued British journalists in France. The BBC “Panorama” journalist John Sweeney was convicted of criminal libel in France for comments he made on BBC Radio Guernsey. In 2005, The Times was sued by the twins, again in France. Some might call it hypocritical for owners of a British newspaper that regularly dishes out dirt to sue competitor journalists in a foreign jurisdiction. I call that hypocritical. When I wrote a critical judgment of their actions on my blog, they harassed my blog site host with midnight e-mails from lawyers in New York, France and London, forcing my host to close down my blog for a few hours. The Barclay twins are deeply hypocritical.
The Twins are notoriously reclusive, which is rather weird, as they own
People who watched the “Panorama” programme “The Tax Havens Twins”, still available on YouTube, saw ordinary people on Sark give witness that they have been bullied by the twins’ representative on the island. The Barclay twins are also bullies.
The danger to public funds from the twins is fundamentally simple, although the details are murky and obscure, perhaps deliberately so. The twins’ companies, including Shop Direct and Yodel, are losing money hand over fist. Yodel has a loan with HSBC worth £250 million pounds, and if we add that to other loans we see that the twins’ companies owe about £l billion to the banks. That may all be with HSBC, and not just the £250 million as reported. In addition, Shop Direct has traded receipts from its loan book for a £1.25 billion pound facility with a clearing bank, believed to be HSBC.
On the rare occasion when profits are made, they are shelled out of the individual company and transferred to parent and/or grandparent companies often incorporated
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offshore in the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and other offshore havens. In plain English, the twins’ businesses are losing massive amounts of cash, and when they do not they are hollowed out. If the pension funds suddenly needed a fresh injection of funds, how easy would it be for the pension trustees to extract that money from this complex maze of offshore accounts?
The answer to the question turns on the strength of the pension fund covenants. Again, the picture is not clear, and that is not good. Let us take the Littlewoods scheme, the Littlewoods plan, the GUS ex-gratia unfunded scheme and the unfunded scheme for members. I will refer to them as “the scheme” for short, and that scheme is worth £1.37 billion.
One of the problems highlighted by the Robert Maxwell scandal was that too many of the pension fund trustees were dependent on Robert Maxwell. How many of the Littlewoods scheme trustees are genuinely independent of the twins? One, maybe two. Of the eight trustees, I can identify five that are not. The Pensions Regulator recommends the appointment of a professional trustee for a large scheme. As far as we can tell, no such appointment has been made. It also recommends two independent trustees. Of the two that are in place, one has been there since 1997, the other since 2008—that is not independent.
With a pension scheme worth £1.37 billion, it is very worrying that the recommendations of the Pensions Regulator appear to be ignored. That is at the heart of this matter. The dire financial performance of Shop Direct and Yodel, the £1 billion of loans, and the trade of the Shop Direct loan book for a further £1.25 billion give rise to concerns that the trustees must, by law, address. Minister, is that happening?
The Daily Telegraph because, he said, the paper was defrauding its readers. He said that it had gone soft on HSBC because it did not want to lose advertising income. Mr Oborne understated the problem. The Daily Telegraph went soft on HSBC not just for fear of losing advertising money but because the twins’ companies are in so much debt to HSBC—at least £250 million, possibly as much as £1 billion in loans if HSBC is the bank behind the loan-book deal.The Daily Telegraph owners may have a further £1.25 billion of reasons to be soft on the tax cheats’ bank. We are talking a cool £2 billion-plus here, not the £250 million that was recently reported.
Recently, journalist Peter Oborne left
As I have told the House, the twins are suing the taxpayer in the Supreme Court for almost exactly the same amount as the loan book agreement, which by the way, requires renewal every 12 months, making it very vulnerable. They have already received the simple interest and principal amounting to over £470 million so they have already taken a fair slug of our money. But it is not enough. These offshore, non-UK taxpayers would like the British taxpayer to transfer to their pockets the cost of four operational hospitals or 12 running schools. But they may not win their case in the Supreme Court. The twins’ companies underlying the pension funds may end up in a serious amount of debt, running into billions, just like Robert Maxwell’s companies.
If the twins win their case, how are to we ensure that the £1.2 billion remains on British soil to safeguard the scheme from future poor investment returns? As we know, that happens. It is the reason why the Pension Protection Fund was established—to protect members
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and contributors from scheme shortfalls. I fear that the money will be siphoned offshore, leaving the tax payer via the Pension Protection Fund to pick up the £1 billion-plus price tag if the group continues to perform financially as badly as it has been doing.
The Barclays winning or losing their £1.2 billion court case makes no difference to this scenario. If they win, they could siphon the money abroad and the British taxpayer will pick up the bill. If they lose, the British taxpayer picks up the bill by picking up any shortfall in the scheme fund. Can we depend on the Barclay twins to do the right thing should the scheme suffer a shortfall? We can only make that assessment based on their financial track record and character. We know that they are in serious debt. We know that they were criticized for their role in the Crown Agents scandal going all the way back to 1973. As Mr Paddy McKillen, the owner of three London hotels, can testify, they lack scruples. Mr McKillen’s American social security number was stolen in order to gain access to his financial information as part of an aggressive and hostile takeover of his business.
Let us take a look at the experience of the islanders on Sark. For years they have been bullied, blackmailed, threatened and terrorised. People have fled the island, others have woken to find flyers and papers with their personal information posted across the island. When the wife of the seigneur of Sark fell seriously ill, the twins’ man on the island attacked the seigneur, and all because the Barclays want control of the island and for it to be run as they see fit. The character of the twins can be summed up in three words: greedy, hypocritical and bullying.
What assurance can the Minister provide that if the Barclay twins win their victory in court and get £1.2 billion from the taxpayer, the money will stay here in the UK for the benefit of the scheme fund members, should there be a shortfall? What guarantee can he give that if there were a shortfall, the British taxpayer will not be funding the scheme via the Pension Protection Fund? Has the Pensions Regulator looked into this matter, given the poor financial performance and indebtedness of the contributing companies?
The Robert Maxwell pensions scandal happened because too many people— journalists, politicians, pension fund trustees and lawyers—held their tongue for fear of legal threats and intimidation. Today, the Government protect individuals against pension fund loss via the PPF, but that fund could not survive a hit to the tune of £1 billion. I know the Minister will be keen to provide reassurance that all is well with the fund, but all is not well when one considers the existing make-up of the fund trustees. We are not just concerned about today. Just under the surface, things are not well. I urge the Minister to use his good offices and impress on the Pensions Regulator the need to evaluate at the very least the composition and validity of the scheme trustees.
Click here to read the minister's reply.
Today the foundations of the Barclay twins’ empire are cracking. Tomorrow the walls may come tumbling down. I hope that as a consequence of the dire financial circumstances of the Barclay twins’ companies, there will be no threat to the long-term security of the pensioners dependent on them. I hope I am wrong, but I fear I may be right.
Visit to Leonard Cheshire Agate House
Posted Friday, 27 February 2015 at 20:59
I have visited the Leonard Cheshire Home in Ampthill many times during my tenure as the MP for Mid Beds and it feels like only five minutes ago we were fundraising for the renovations. None of us know how we would cope if we were faced with such adversity. I know many of the 'back stories' of the residents and some have lived a very different life before tragedy or illness kicked in. Many thanks to Cllr Mark Smith for answering so many of the council related questions.
Read more at leonardcheshire.org/agatehouse
Nisa Toddington wins at the Best Small Shop of the Year awards
Posted Wednesday, 25 February 2015 at 20:20
Nisa Local Toddington received Highly Commended for the Best Small Shop Competition 2015
at the House of Commons. Really exciting to be with them all on the day and witness their achievement. Small business thrives in Mid Beds!
For more see bestsmallshops.uk
Why career politicians are terrible for democracy
Posted Monday, 23 February 2015 at 20:52
I'm always thrilled to be asked to appear on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show and here, I am explaining why career politicians are a disaster for democracy. Click here
about three mins in.
Ampthill Surgeries Parking Crisis
Posted Thursday, 12 February 2015 at 10:55
As a patient at the Greensands surgery in Ampthill I have always been frustrated by the parking situation in the area. The allocation by SEPT of 20 district nurses to the town was a great boost to health service provision but it has turned a serious problem critical.
When I was contacted by the management of the surgeries and the patient participation groups I was happy to do what I can to raise the issue and push the relevant decision makers to release the funding necessary to provide adequate parking. This is vital before a serious accident occurs.
Amanda Devlin of the Beds Times & Citizen has covered the story with a great article (available here
), the video above and the front page splash.
I have contacted the head of NHS England and Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health. I am working with the local council. I have started a petition in the surgeries so that the people directly affected can make their voice heard.
With a playgroup nearby and elderly patients trying to navigate the pavements a serious accident could occur near the Ampthill surgeries at any moment. I will work with any and all available stakeholders to find a solution that keeps my constituents safe.
Millbrook Technology Park
Posted Tuesday, 10 February 2015 at 09:17
It was a pleasure to attend the Millbrook Technology Park in my constituency last week for the launch event of the new business park.
This fantastic asset for Mid-Bedfordshire is a globally renowned centre for design, engineering, testing and technology development.
The new technology park will provide a home to a cluster of companies renowned for their expertise at the leading edge of automotive technology.
Expansion and development of the site’s facilities is a great boost to our local area and will provide more than 1,000 highly skilled jobs, worth a forecast £118 million to the economy.
Mitochondrial Donation Regulations
Posted Wednesday, 4 February 2015 at 12:41
Yesterday I was proud to be able to vote for the mitochondrial donation regulations. I thought about this at great length and received much correspondence from constituents on the matter so I wanted to explain why I voted the way that I did. Several people, including my own family, have expressed surprise for my support of this issue.
When I first became an MP in 2005 one of the first pieces of constituency casework I dealt with was a family with two young boys suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The regulations I voted for yesterday will enable scientists to attempt to eradicate the disease. Although neither of those boys would have been able to benefit, other families around the country and in Mid-Bedfordshire in the future will have the chance to rid themselves of what can only be described as a heart-breaking disease, which affects the very young.
The regulations presented for a vote yesterday were very specific. The slippery slope argument therefore doesn't apply as any further move would require a further vote. I am also satisfied that the regulations affect such a small number of scientists working in such specific circumstances that most of the arguments against given are not relevant.
If there are any further votes liberalising rules in this area more generally for advancement in DNA modification I would likely vote against in an instant. The arguments given by several of my constituents against general genetic engineering are entirely valid but they are fighting against changes that have not been proposed and were not voted upon yesterday.
For me, the best illustration of the broad coalition supporting these regulations comes in the form of both Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, and the Bishop of Carlisle. Many religious groups have legitimate concerns about the direction of some medical research but this was not the right time to draw that line.
Any further attempt to loosen regulations and unleash a torrent of negative side-effects from genetic research will not receive my assent. But this was a chance to make a minor change to regulations that will bring enormous benefits to families affected by diseases such as muscular dystrophy. I could not look in the eye the parents of those two young boys in my constituency if I had voted in any other way.
Clophill Heritage Trust
Posted Wednesday, 28 January 2015 at 15:42
Last Friday I visited Saint Mary’s Old Church in Greensand Ridge after an invitation from the Clophill Heritage Trust. They asked me to visit the Church, support the project and to publicise the need for funding through donations. The Trust has lost critical funding and is pursuing different avenues from the community to raise funds to complete the Project.
The Trust is restoring the Old Church so that the village’s residents can enjoy a previously neglected area. They are also building a Heritage Centre on the site and an observation tower offering the public incredible views of Greensand Ridge and beyond. New eco Lodges will provide accommodation for walkers and other visitors to the area.
The trust is also working closely with schools across Bedfordshire so that children can get a better knowledge of our exciting local history and its context in the broader themes explored in their classrooms.
After touring the grounds and seeing the wonderful history and views the site offers I met the some of the trust members and directors. I expressed my appreciation of their work to improve the community and provide new purpose for an area that had fallen into disrepair.
Readers who wish to donate to this great cause can do so by following the link on this page:
Campaign Day in Milton Keynes
Posted Tuesday, 27 January 2015 at 12:20
Amanda Devlin of the Milton Keynes Citizen has done this great write-up and video of our campaign day for Iain Stewart MP on Saturday. As she writes...
"It’s not often you hear someone shout “oh my god there is a celebrity on my doorstep!”
But that’s exactly what happened when ex-I’m a Celebrity star Nadine Dorries MP came to support MK South MP Iain Stewart for a campaign day on Saturday.
The pair were joined by almost 50 volunteers who knocked on more than 750 doors and delivered 2,000 leaflets as the countdown to the general election intensifies.
Ms Dorries, who campaigned in the heart of Woburn Sands with Mr Stewart, said: “The reaction was really positive from people on the doorstep.
“Iain has created a really good impression because he has worked so hard.
“You wonder sometimes if people know that, but they really do, and I think that is a result of Iain’s own assiduousness in reporting back to people, his profile in the media and the work that he does - you can’t fault him.
“He’s one of the nicest guys you could possibly meet.”
To mark the 100-day countdown to the election, I spent the day filming with the Milton Keynes Conservatives last week.
Come rain or shine, Mr Stewart’s dedicated volunteers have spent the last year door-knocking to gather people’s views and tell them the Conservative’s priorities “to secure a brighter future”.
They are backing Mr Stewart to come out on top in May’s election by maintaining his 5,000 majority.
Mr Stewart said: “I was very grateful to have my friend and colleague Nadine come over the border to help.
“Politics is a team game; I couldn’t do this job myself.
“There are some 90,000 electors in my constituency - it’s not physically possible for me to knock on every single door, so I do need people to come out and help me.
“I’m very grateful to the young, the old and everyone in between who give up their spare time to come out and help.
“We have lots of fun and swap stories.”
Posted Monday, 26 January 2015 at 12:27
Further to my meeting with Govia Thameslink, we have today heard that the company will revert to the previous method for delay repay compensation.
This was an issue raised with me by many constituents who felt that reduced compensation in light of a deteriorating service was simply unacceptable.
I put this matter directly to the company with a strong suggestion that they should listen to their customers and change it back. This they have now done.
I’m still monitoring service on the Thameslink line, particularly in light of the serious disruption this weekend due to flooding in a tunnel at Farringdon.