Addendum: Fifth reason for astonishment at Tom Watson MP over Sky Bet

  1. Here’s a fifth reason why I’m astonished Tom Watson MP accepted the gift of four tickets for a football match from Sky Bet (see previous post). On 28 March 2018, gambling regulator the Gambling Commission fined Sky Bet £1m for “failing to protect vulnerable consumers” (http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/news/2018/SkyBet-to-pay-1m-penalty.aspx).
  2. As I say, Mr Watson didn’t respond to requests for comment. I emailed him twice at parliament: 23 June 2018 and 27 June 2018. On both occasions, I immediately received an automated acknowledgement.
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Tom Watson MP accepts gift of four tickets for football match from Sky Bet

  1. The latest (at 18 June 2018) register of MPs’ financial interests shows that Tom Watson MP accepted a gift of four tickets for the Sky Bet Championship play-off final, a football match that took place on 26 May 2018. The total value was £392. Sky Betting and Gaming (Sky Bet), the gambling company, was the donor. As well as being deputy leader of Labour, Mr Watson is shadow culture secretary.
  2. I‘m astonished at his decision for at least four reasons.
  3. First, as shadow culture secretary, Mr Watson surely shouldn’t be compromised or appear to be compromised by accepting gifts from the gambling industry. Gambling is within his remit – and, as everyone knows, there are many controversies around the industry and its regulation.
  4. Second, the shadow culture secretary regularly lambasts the gambling industry. On 15 June 2018, for example, The Times newspaper revealed that the government wouldn’t be introducing its £2 maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) until April 2020 after the Treasury struck a backroom deal with bookmakers. The Guardian newspaper followed up the story the next day, where Mr Watson blasted the government for its two-year delay: “Capitulating to a two-year delay is a pathetic move from a fundamentally weak government. Those who praised the government when the announcement was made will feel badly let down. They are already rolling back on their promises and allowing these machines to ruin more lives.” Last weekend, meanwhile, Mr Watson turned his fire on online gambling, telling the Financial Times newspaper: “Britain is in the throes of a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction, with the rise in online and smartphone gambling a central part of the problem. There has been an explosion of new digital products since the last law was passed to regulate gambling. The current laws aren’t fit for the purpose of regulating these new products. If we are to get a grip on the rise of problem gambling we need a new Gambling Act fit for the digital age.”
  5. Third, Sky Betting and Gaming is a leading online gambling firm – and so one of the companies fuelling Mr Watson’s “hidden epidemic of gambling addiction”. (Sky Bet is its sports betting brand.)
  6. Fourth, Sky Betting and Gaming, as its name suggests, has a longstanding association with satellite broadcaster Sky PLC. Indeed, Sky held a controlling stake until 2015, when it sold an 80 percent stake to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Sky continued as partner, retaining a 20% stake and consenting to a long-term licence of the Sky brand. In April 2018, CVC and Sky in turn sold the firm to Canadian betting behemoth The Stars Group for £3.4 billion. Nevertheless Sky retains an interest with a small stake in Stars, and the Sky trademarks are still used under licence. Sky, of course, was founded by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns 39.14% of the firm. Mr Murdoch’s company News International was seriously damaged by the 2011 phone-hacking scandal at the now-closed News of the World newspaper. And Mr Watson was one of the leading campaigners who helped expose wrongdoing at the infamous tabloid. In 2012, he published a well-known book with journalist Martin Hickman on the alleged abuses of power by Mr Murdoch’s UK newspapers not only the News of the World, “Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain”. Mr Watson remains a vocal critic of Mr Murdoch as the mogul continues his protracted stop-start battle for full control of Sky.
  7. Four reasons, then, why I’m astonished Mr Watson accepted the gift of four tickets for a football match from Sky Bet.
  8. Mr Watson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

GambleAware trustee works for secretive political lobbyist – and fails to disclose role on trustee register of interests

  1. A trustee of key charity GambleAware (GA; registered charity number: 1093910) is working for a secretive political lobbyist – and has failed to disclose the role on the trustee register of interests.
  2. Former MP and government minister Chris Pond was appointed as a trustee of GA, the UK’s leading problem-gambling charity, on 9 March 2017, Companies House filings show. Mr Pond “was until recently head of UK public affairs with Kreab Gavin Anderson”, says his biography on the charity website (screen shot in Figure 1). As you can see, no dates are given. His Who’s Who 2018 entry, however, states Mr Pond worked for the political lobbyist 2013-2016. Before becoming a GA trustee, then.

    Figure 1. Trustee Chris Pond biography on GambleAware website at 26 May 2018

  3. In 2017, though, Mr Pond became an “adviser” to another political lobbyist, Centaurus Communications Ltd (registered company number: 08335964), according to its recently re-designed website (screen shot in Figure 2). Nevertheless Mr Pond hasn’t disclosed the role on the GA trustee register of interests (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 2. “Chris Pond joined Centaurus as an adviser in 2017” – Centaurus Communications Ltd website at 30 May 2018

    Figure 3. Chris Pond’s entry on GambleAware trustee register of interests at 26 May 2018

  4. At 17 February 2017 Mr Pond was on the Centaurus website as an “adviser” – that is, prior to joining the charity as a trustee (https://web.archive.org/web/20170217211513/http://centauruscommunications.com/#team). There’s nothing special about 17 February 2017: it happens to be the earliest date last year when the Centaurus website was captured on online archive the Wayback Machine.
  5. It’s bad enough a GA trustee is working for a political lobbyist. What’s more, Centaurus is a secretive company: it doesn’t routinely disclose the clients for whom it provides political lobbying services. Thus there’s no client list on its website.
  6. Further, Centaurus Communications isn’t a member of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), where members report their political lobbying clients on a public register. The firm isn’t a member of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) either, where again members disclose their political lobbying clients on a public register.
  7. As I say, Centaurus keeps its clients secret. In addition, Jonathan Horsman, the company’s owner and sole director, didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment about the lack of transparency on clients.
  8. Incidentally, the hidden clients – and non-responsiveness – surely call into question Centaurus’ involvement with the alternative lending all-party parliamentary group (APPG). Mr Horsman at the firm is listed as “public enquiry point” (!) for the APPG on parliament’s latest (at 6 June 2018) register of APPGs. For the avoidance of doubt, I only became aware of Centaurus’ role there because of the information on the register of APPGs.
  9. I first wrote about GA on 27 February 2017, revealing several problems with the charity that undermined its independence and credibility. One of these was that the then new independent chair, Kate Lampard, was – and is – paid proportionately more than the prime minister (almost all charity trustees are unpaid, remember). Another was that half of the then trustees, five of the ten, held senior positions in the UK gambling industry! So it’s important to acknowledge the improvements Ms Lampard has instigated at GA. The most significant is the shake-up in the board of trustees: of the now eleven trustees, only one works for a gambling company (Henry Birch, who is chief executive of The Rank Group PLC).
  10. Astonishingly, though, there’s still nothing on the GA website about working with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), the trade body for UK advertisers. At date of publication searching the charity website for “Incorporated Society of British Advertisers” or “ISBA” produces no results. On 11 March 2018, I exclusively described four problems with the tie-up. Given the many controversies around gambling advertising (see 11 March 2018 post), the continuing opacity and unaccountability at the charity on its relationship with ISBA only damage public trust and confidence in GA.
  11. Back to Mr Pond and his role at Centaurus Communications. That he was already an “adviser” to the political lobbyist when appointed as a GA trustee is surely unacceptable. No trustee of the UK’s leading charity for problem gambling should be working for a political lobbyist – even if it routinely lists its clients, which Centaurus doesn’t. Equally as serious is Mr Pond’s failure to disclose the role on the trustee register of interests.
  12. I put my findings to GA in an email. In its response, a spokesperson, who withheld his/her name, wrote: “He [Mr Pond] has confirmed that Centaurus Communications Ltd recently asked him to do some paid advisory work on financial service issues going forward, which he appreciates he would need to declare, but he has not begun this work, nor has he received any payment in the past from this company.”
  13. The anonymous spokesperson continued: “May I reassure you that the register of interests is updated at least annually, and when any material changes occur – new paid employment does constitute a material change so we have now added reference to this connection in the published register of interests in advance of the work beginning. While not required to do so unless a specific conflict has arisen, Chris also brought this interest to the attention of other trustees verbally at the start of our most recent board meeting.”
  14. He/she finished: “Finally, given your concerns about the non-disclosure of the company’s client list, Chris has checked and been assured that Centaurus has never undertaken any work related to gambling. His own work with them is in financial services.”
  15. As you can see, GA didn’t explain why “adviser” Mr Pond has been on the Centaurus website from before the date of his appointment as a trustee of the charity (9 March 2017). Oh, and withholding the name of its spokesperson only undermines GA’s credibility. So much for transparency and accountability.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards opens inquiry into Jeremy Hunt

  1. On 18 April 2018, Kathryn Stone, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, announced on her website that she has opened an inquiry into health secretary Jeremy Hunt, after he admitted breaching money laundering rules when buying seven luxury flats in Southampton.
  2. The revelations about Mr Hunt that led to the opening of the inquiry were reported in the front-page lead story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on 13 April 2018 (see 13 April 2018 post). I was named as source of the story in the Telegraph exclusive.
  3. Mr Hunt received a “bulk discount” on the seven flats from a property firm owned and chaired by a Conservative donor, Nicolas James Roach, according to the Guardian newspaper on 19 April 2018.

National newspaper follow-ups of my Jeremy Hunt exposé

  1. Today (14 April 2018) the rest of the national press have followed up yesterday’s Daily Telegraph front-page exclusive on health secretary Jeremy Hunt for which I was source (see previous post).
  2. Here I highlight two reports, where the journalists quoted me, after bothering to speak to me and ask questions. Proper journalism, then.
  3. I told the Daily Mail I was disappointed Mr Hunt simply blamed his accountant for the failures I identified (Daily Mail 14 April 2018).
  4. The Guardian, meanwhile, reported my comments about the lack of scrutiny at Companies House. It seems Companies House is open to potential abuse. Why didn’t it pick up the glaring errors in the details for Mr Hunt’s company? (Guardian 14 April 2018).

Telegraph leads with my Jeremy Hunt exposé

  1. On 13 April 2018, the Daily Telegraph newspaper used my Jeremy Hunt exposé (see previous post) as the basis of its front-page lead story, “Hunt admits breaking rules over luxury flats”.
  2. Im named in the story as source, in the final paragraph on p.2.
  3. Here is a scanned copy of the front-page lead: Telegraph 13 April 2018 p.1. And here is a scanned copy of the rest of the story on p.2: Telegraph 13 April 2018 p.2.
  4. It’s also available online (paywall): https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/04/12/exclusive-jeremy-hunt-admits-breaking-governments-rules-company/.
  5. Er… That’s it.

Jeremy Hunt corrects errors at Companies House after my email – but is unresponsive

  1. I recently discovered errors in Companies House records for a new company jointly owned by health secretary Jeremy Hunt and his wife. The company information was duly corrected the day after I emailed Mr Hunt at parliament. Yet at date of publication the health secretary, or his office, hasn’t responded to requests for comment, which is disappointing.
  2. On 7 March 2018, Mr Hunt registered on the register of MPs’ financial interests joint ownership with his wife of “property holding company” Mare Pond Properties Limited (registered company number: 10970413). At the same time, he also registered purchase by his company of seven flats – just seven – in Southampton the previous month.
  3. On 28 March 2018, I asked the health secretary in an email: If you and your wife are joint owners, why aren’t each of you shown as a person with significant control” (PSC) on your company’s PSC register at Companies House?
  4. There was no PSC, according to his PSC register. (For an explanation of PSC, see http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/PSC.)
  5. I finished by inviting Mr Hunt to comment.
  6. An automated acknowledgement email immediately appeared in my inbox.
  7. The day after my message (i.e. 29 March 2018), his company’s PSC register at Companies House was duly corrected, filings there show.
  8. Having heard nothing a week later, I sent a reminder, now referring to the changes at Companies House, too. Again, I requested a comment.
  9. Straightaway another automated acknowledgement email arrived. But at date of publication there’s been nothing else.
  10. Mr Hunt‘s unresponsiveness is disappointing. The health secretary continually bangs on about how NHS staff and organisations must be open, transparent and accountable – particularly when things go wrong during patient care (“duty of candour”). He’s right, of course. What a pity, then, Mr Hunt fails to practise what he preaches.