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Two Stories revisited

July 23, 2020 3:12 PM
suar (Thanks to Sonny Ravesteijn for sharing their work on Unsplash.)Two stories we have covered recently are back in the news . Neither show the Government in a particularly good light
1 Planning approval of East London development original article here
At a Parliamentary Select Committee the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, admitted he now regrets sitting next to the Tory donor Richard Desmond at a fundraising dinner before overruling a local authority and the government planning inspectorate to give permission for the billionaire's £1bn Westferry property development.
He also conceded it "would have been better not to" exchange messages with Desmond after the dinner, but claimed there was "no bias whatsoever" in his initial approval of the east London development, which was later quashed when the minister removed his approval for the scheme last month, admitting it was "unlawful by reason of apparent bias" after a challenge in Court from from Tower Hamlets.
Jenrick remains under pressure over the issue, after emails between civil servants released last month suggested he was "insistent" that the decision be rushed through in January in time for Desmond to avoid a £45m community levy to the borough. One of the texts from Desmond to Jenrick said "We don't want to give Marxists loads of doe for nothing!" referring to the fact that the money would have gone to one of the poorest areas in the UK
Desmond subsequently donated £12,000 to the party a fortnight after permission was granted.
2 Purchase of bankrupt satellite business original article here
Business secretary, Alok Sharma, overrode the concerns of his senior official when the government took a £400m stake in the failed satellite company OneWeb. which went bankrupt earlier this year while trying to develop a space network to deliver broadband. Ministers hope it will compensate for the loss of access to the EU's Galileo programme after Brexit.

However, Sam Beckett, the acting permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy raised serious concerns about the purchase in a letter sent on 26 June that was made public on Wednesday.

She told Sharma that an assessment by the UK Space Agency had identified "substantial technical and operational hurdles" that OneWeb would need to overcome in order to become a "viable and profitable business".There was a "high likelihood" that further taxpayer funding would be required to complete OneWeb's satellite constellation.

Beckett said it was an "unusual" purchase for government and there were significant risks. "While in one scenario we could get a 20% return, the central case is marginal and there are significant downside risks, including that venture capital investments of this sort can fail, with the consequence that all the value of the equity can be lost."

She said she could not be sure that the investment met Whitehall's strict value-for-money requirements and so requested a formal order, a ministerial direction, from Sharma to proceed.

The business secretary told her he supported the benefits of improved broadband access, and the scheme could signal "UK ambition and influence on the global stage".

Darren Jones, chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee said: "The secretary of state's use of a ministerial direction to push through the purchase of a stake in OneWeb against the advice of his own permanent secretary heightens concerns around this investment and about the prospects of this delivering UK jobs and value for taxpayers' money.