The Diary: John Street

Written By: John Street
Published: September 20, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

Venal Vennells
The Post Office’s annual report revealed a surge in the earnings of chief executive Paula Vennells, who is currently presiding over a programme of office closures and mass redundancies. She was  awarded a total reward package of £619,752 for the 2015-16 financial year – an 18.7% increase on the year before. Her package included basic pay, bonus and a £62,500 cash payment in lieu of pension. Alisdair Cameron, who joined the Post Office as chief financial officer in January 2015, received a total of £510,254 in his first full year in the job. Andy Furey, assistant secretary of the CWU communication workers’ union, said that the news “exposes the crass hypocrisy of the person at the top of this organisation. At a time when the network is in crisis, and some 2,000 Post Office workers are facing the loss of their livelihoods, it’s quite unbelievable that the most senior individual responsible for this mess has been rewarded to such an extent. Taken together, Vennells and her chief financial officer were paid a combined £1.13 million in 2015-16 — while jobs are being cut across our admin, crown network and supply chain operations and our members’ defined benefit pension scheme is being closed to future accrual.” Furey continued: “Vennells should spend more time working with this union to create a better future for all, and a bit less time counting her money.” Meanwhile, the Unite union which represents managers, accused the Post Office of “sneaking out” its annual report and accounts. On the executive pay bill, Brian Scott, Unite’s officer for the Post Office, said: “This is another example of ‘fat cats’ being rewarded for a catalogue of failure – the whole parlous state of the organisation needs to be urgently investigated by the new business secretary Greg Clark.” What are the chances of that happening?

Austerity fuels the gravy trains
The Arvato UK Outsourcing Index has revealed the value of outsourcing contracts signed by councils in the first six months of this year increased by 84% to £684.9 million, with IT deals representing the largest proportion of outsourcing deals (61%). That was despite a decrease in the value of public sector spending to £1.6 billion. The research also recorded a 50% increase in the number of deals procured by local authorities (from 12 to 18) between January and June, compared with the same period last year. In other words, the gravy train enjoyed by private companies due to “austerity” cuts is trundling along nicely.

Scrooge employers stung
Almost 200 employers that failed to pay their workers the statutory National Minimum Wage have been publicly named and shamed. Between them, they owed £465,291. The defaulters included football clubs, hotels, care homes and hairdressers. All of the money owed has been paid back to workers. The largest sum owed was £99,542 to 30 workers employed by the family run, Italian restaurant San Lorenzo, based in south west London. The arrears owed equates to £3,318 a worker. The unisex hairdressing salon chain,Regis UK, Coventry, the UK arm of the US firm Regis Corporation, owed £25,700 to 604 workers. The chain had a turnover of £73 million in 2015, and one unnamed director of had a remuneration package of £201,000 in the year to June 2015. Cleaning group Interserve FS (UK), with a turnover of £367 million, part of Interserve plc, a London Stock Exchange quoted company, oowed £894 to four workers. Championship football side Brighton and Hove Albion owed £2,862 to one worker and League Two team Blackpool owed £518 to one worker

Housing Act’s nuclear fallout
A briefing by the public services union UNISON warned that the 2016 Housing and Planning Act is a missed opportunity that will have a severe impact on the provision of housing in England. The focus on home ownership will reduce the amount of social and affordable housing available to ordinary working people, hitting general housing provision. Many public service workers will be affected by the Act, whether they are tenants forced to pay market rents or lose their social rented home; tenants who lose secure tenancies; staff who lose their jobs or see their pay, terms and conditions eroded. UNISON assistant policy officer Sylvia Jones said: “Rather than offering holistic solutions to improve the housing market across all housing types, the act focuses on boosting home ownership at the expense of affordable and social housing, which the majority of people on average incomes need.”

Plenty to spend on the ladies
The late Duke of Westminster’s fortune might have been worth a fraction of the £9.35bn his four children stand to inherit, were it not for an old war wound and a 12-year legal battle. In 1944, the 4th Duke was injured in the leg by an exploding shell while commanding his regiment. The law states that those who die in the service of their country are exempt from death duties. The duke went on to live another 23 years, eventually dying of cancer at the age of 60. The estate passed to his brother, Robert Grosvenor, and he successfully argued that the wound had caused infections which eventually led to cancer. By 1970, Robert was the richest man in Britain. The 6th Duke’s children will owe their fortune to rules which give generous concessions to the trusts used by Britain’s wealthiest families. With death duties at 40%, the heirs could have been liable for a £3bn plus tax bill, but the taxman is not expecting a huge windfall. His assets were owned by a series of trusts, which come under the umbrella of the Grosvenor Estate. The estate’s trustees control the property business, via Grosvenor Group Limited; Wheatsheaf, a food and energy business, which runs the farms; a fine art collection and a series of cash investments; rural land holdings in Lancashire, Sutherland and Wales; and the family seat at Eaton Hall near Chester. “The benefits of trusts are that they don’t form part of somebody’s estate,” explains Ian Dyall, a manager at tax planning adviser Towry. “In a discretionary trust, you have a whole pick list of potential beneficiaries which the trustees can choose to appoint benefits to, but no individual beneficiaries can demand money. Money can stay in the trust and cascade down generation to generation for up to 120 years and nobody pays inheritance tax on it.” Trusts are liable to one form of inheritance tax – every ten years, HM Revenue and Customs is entitled to claim 6% of the value of the trust fund. However, the Grosvenor Estate could benefit from several exemptions. There are waivers for food-producing farms and for trading businesses that employ real people – Grosvenor and the rural estates employ about 1,000 staff.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.