Labour has called for an investigation on allegations of cronyism after a Conservative peer was appointed to chair the independent universities watchdog.
Lord Wharton of Yarm, 36, will earn £60,000 a year for two working days a week despite having “none of the statutory qualifications for this post”, according to Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education.
Lord Wharton is a former Conservative MP, Boris Johnson’s campaign manager and will remain a Conservative peer despite the appointment to chair an independent regulator.
Labour have called the move “another example of cronyism” after repeated warnings by the National Audit Office which found companies recommended by MPs, peers and advisers were given priority to win government contracts during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Byline Times and the Citizens reported that contracts worth £881 million had been awarded to individuals who have donated a total of £8.2 million to the Conservative Party in recent years.
The contracts span across the various Coronavirus-related government projects such as the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the appointment of TalkTalk former head Dido Harding as head of the test-and-trace programme.
It comes after a speech given by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves which urged the Government to clean up its procurement of Covid contracts.
This week, MM spoke to Labour MPs in Greater Manchester about cronyism in the Conservative Party.
Responding to the appointment of Baron James Wharton as Chair of the Office for Students, Kate Green, also MP for Stretford and Urmston, said: “This latest appointment adds to the Conservative government’s growing catalogue of cronyism.
“Students have been forgotten by this government which is more concerned about securing jobs for their friends.
“It’s ridiculous to think James Wharton could make independent decisions while continuing to sit as a Conservative Peer.
“An investigation is urgently needed to restore public confidence in senior appointments.
“A Labour government will end this cronyism by restoring transparency at the heart of government through establishing an Integrity and Ethics commission.”
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary warned last week that higher education will suffer with this appointment.
In The Guardian, Ms Green wrote that to rebuild public trust in the Government, “we must begin with by ending the cronyism in Westminster that has plagued our pandemic response.”
Oldham West & Royton MP Jim McMahon said: “Since the first wave of the pandemic the Tories have doubled the amount of money they’ve given to their mates and donors.
“It’s scandalous and it’s time for contract cronyism to end.
“Just think about it, whilst denying our public sector key workers a pay-rise, threatening to cut Universal Credit for the most vulnerable in our society and forcing local councils to raise council tax, this Tory government is happy to see their mates get rich whilst working people in Oldham
struggle to make ends meet.”
Last year it was reported that British IT company Computacenter had been awarded deals worth £96 million for the provision of WiFi devices, laptops and tablets to assist pupils in online school.
MM spoke to Councillor Garry Bridges, the Manchester City Council Executive member for children and schools, about this contract.
He said: “Consistently through the pandemic we have seen the Government very slow to act.
“One thing which has slowed them down is their obsession with national contracts – which have often been contracted to firms which are then discovered to have links to the Conservative Party or individual ministers.
“Laptops which were badly needed by schools were procured centrally instead of providing schools with the money themselves, leading to delays and bureaucracy.
“We are often told that it is the need for speed which justifies these contracts but providing the money locally would have allowed school or Councils to act much more quickly to address a digital divide which has seen many families struggle to learn remotely.”