John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: January 29, 2017 Last modified: January 29, 2017

There will be a reckoning
The BHS saga gets sorrier and sorrier. The work and pensions select committee published correspondence with the concurrent administrators of BHS, Duff & Phelps and FRP Advisory, which show that the costs of the administration were £1.3 million higher than estimated in June 2016. The original administrations, Duff & Phelps, now expect to charge just over £4 million for their work, compared with an original estimate of £3.5 million. That’s despite an arrangement which saw FRP Advisory appoint concurrent administrators at the behest of BHS. FRP Advisory took on exclusive responsibility for investigations into Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective companies, fellow directors and advisors. In the case of Sir Philip and his companies, Duff & Phelps did not commence any such work. In their response, Duff & Phelps listed further elements of the administration that had not been completed at the point BHS went into liquidation on 2 December 2016. These included the finalisation of liabilities and claims against various parties and agreeing the surrenders of leases and commercial disputes. The remaining work will be conducted by FRP Advisory as liquidators of BHS. That company’s work as concurrent administrator will cost around £800,000.

Tighten up your wig
Labour MP Chris Bryant drew baffled looks from colleagues when he wished Commons Speaker John Bercow a happy “kiss a ginger day” during parliamentary business questions. Bercow said officials had had to search on Google to explain the reference (to a Facebook campaign urging people to show affection for those with red hair) adding that it sounded like a “very rum business”.

A new England
Companies could be charged to hire skilled workers from the EU after Brexit, Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill suggested. A £1,000 immigration “skills charge” is being brought in this April for firms recruiting from outside the EU. Goodwill told peers a similar levy for EU workers “may be something that has been suggested to us could apply”. One business group said the idea had “raised eyebrows” while a top European politician said it was “shocking”. But Downing Street said Goodwill’s remarks had been “misinterpreted” and such a levy was “not on the government’s agenda”. Not much goodwill there, then..

No one knows nothing anymore
Bank of England governor Mark Carney admitted that the immediate risk posed by Brexit to the UK economy has declined, He told MPs that the risk was greater for continental Europe than for the UK. He also told members of the Treasury select committee that a period of transition was “highly advisable”. Given his doom-laden predictions before the referendum, is the David Cameron appointee, who began his career at Goldman Sachs, really worth his reported £586,000 total salary and renumeration package?

There is power in a union
An employment tribunal found that a CitySprint bicycle courier should be classed as a worker, rather than self-employed. The claim was for two days’ unpaid holiday pay, but the real argument was whether couriers should be classified as “independent contractors”, or “workers” in the eyes of UK and EU law. The tribunal found that Maggie Dewhurst was be entitled to basic employment rights such as holiday pay, sick pay and the National Living Wage. Jon Katona, vice-president of the non-TUC affiliated Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, himself a CitySprint courier who supported Maggie’s claim as a witness in the tribunal, said: “This is a huge victory for couriers, and workers everywhere who have been asked to sign their rights away for a job. And it’s a warning to other companies that masquerading as a non-employer, or as a go-between for independent businessmen is over. You’re going to have to give your workforce the rights and protections owed to them according to the true working relationship, or we will come after you.”

Moving the goalposts
The TUC called on Theresa May to make clear to Britain’s bosses that any watering down of workers’ rights following Brexit is off the table. The TUC move followed the emergence of a letter sent to MPs by Simon Boyd, the managing director of John Reid & Sons (Structsteel) Limited, which highlights the directives and regulations that have come about as a result of our membership of the EU beneficial to workers. The letter showed that the Brexit vote was seen as a means to an end for scrapping workers’ rights by some bosses who campaigned to Leave. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Leave campaign promised people more control over their lives. But now bad bosses are trying to hijack Brexit to let them walk all over working people. No-one voted to leave to lose vital protections like safe working hours and fair holiday pay. The PM promised working people that all rights and protections that come from the EU will be safe when Britain leaves. She must stand firm now, and guarantee the UK will respect all existing rights at work. And she must promise Britain’s workers that her government will mirror all new protections for workers in the rest of Europe while the UK is negotiating to leave the EU.” We’re still waiting for that, but no-one should be surprised. Records at Companies House show that John Reid & Sons made a political donation of £8,000 in the year to March 2016 to Leave campaign group Business for Britain EU Referendum Team. The firm has been a regular donor to UKIP, giving £6,000 in the year to March 2015, £13,000 in the year to March 2010 and £2,000 in the year to March 2008. Another director of the firm – Rollo Reid – is a UKIP activist in the Christchurch area, where the firm is located.

Milkmen of human kindness
Ten of the worst excuses given by unscrupulous bosses found to have underpaid workers the National Minimum Wage have been officially revealed by ministers. They include only wanting to pay staff when there were customers to be served and believing it was acceptable to underpay workers until they had “proved” themselves. The list was published to coincide with a new awareness campaign to encourage workers to check their pay to ensure they are receiving at least the statutory minimum ahead of the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rising on 1 April 2017. Investigators from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said some of the other excuses given to them by employers caught out for underpaying staff included: the employee wasn’t a good worker “so I didn’t think they deserved to be paid the NMW”; “I thought it was OK to pay foreign workers below the NMW as they aren’t British”; “she doesn’t deserve the NMW because she only makes the teas and sweeps the floors”; and “the NMW doesn’t apply to my business”. Stupidity, or self-serving malice? You decide.

Chasing rainbows
HMRC’s role in policing failure to pay the minimum wage has been criticised by Roger Lilley, one of two newspaper delivery workers who received the biggest pay-out yet for breaches by Midcounties Co-op. “Our case took over 300 days to resolve,” he said. “Our evidence did not carry nearly as much weight as the employer. HMRC were not at all on our side.” Lilley has written to business secretary, Greg Clarke, to complain about “yawning gaps of non-disclosure” in the investigative process and a lack of information about how the repayment had been calculated between the employer and HMRC.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.