It's time for an end to cronyism

by Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust

It's time for an end to cronyism

by Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust
Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust
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Good Law Project use strategic litigation for a better world. Runnymede Trust is the UK’s leading independent think tank on race equality and race relations.
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Latest: June 23, 2021

We will keep going - the stakes are too high not to

It’s been a while since you heard from us in our ‘Jobs for the Boys’ case so we wanted to give you an update. As you’ll remember the case focused on the appointments of Dido H…

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In August, the Conservative Peer Dido Harding was appointed as Head of the National Institute for Health Protection. The wife of a Conservative MP and friend of former Prime Minister David Cameron, Dido Harding didn’t pip other candidates to the post at the interview. There weren’t any other candidates. She was just handed the job. 

She’s not the only one to land a top job this way. Each week it seems another individual secures a role of vital public importance without any advertisement or fair process - and very often that individual has personal and political connections to Government. 

Our public bodies perform vital functions. Effective Test and Trace is absolutely key to tackling the pandemic. And we need to have those bodies run by people who are the best placed to do the job at hand, who were recruited through open competition and appointed because of what they know, not who they know. 

This Government's approach discriminates against those born without a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s unfair to those who don’t rub shoulders with high-ranking Ministers. And it’s unfair to groups who the data shows are shut out of public life.

Appointing your mates to top jobs isn’t new or the preserve of the Conservative Party: we all remember “Tony’s Cronies” too. But it’s high time we put a stop to it. Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project are challenging the appointment of Dido Harding, as well as a string of other appointments which were made with seemingly no advertisement or fair recruitment process. 

The judicial review raises two legal arguments:

  • Recruitment without open competition is indirect discrimination on grounds of, in particular, race and disability, contrary to the Equality Act 2010; and

  • Government appears to have breached its public sector equality duty in s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in filling senior public sector roles without paying due regard to the impact of its recruitment approach on those with protected characteristics.

You can find our Pre Action Protocol letter here.

The details: 

Good Law Project has instructed Jason Coppel and Hannah Slarks of 11KBW Chambers and Rook Irwin Sweeney. They will work considerably below market rates. 10% of the funds raised will be a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. We will use any surplus to develop other litigation.

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Update 3

Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust

June 23, 2021

We will keep going - the stakes are too high not to

It’s been a while since you heard from us in our ‘Jobs for the Boys’ case so we wanted to give you an update. As you’ll remember the case focused on the appointments of Dido Harding - wife of a Conservative MP and friend of David Cameron - first as Head of Test and Trace and then later as Head of the National Institute for Health Protection without any adequate process. Later in the process we asked about Kate Bingham and Mike Coupe.

We continue to await a hearing date from the High Court - but we have had an explanation from Government of the process that was followed for Kate Bingham to be appointed. That process was less poor than Government had previously led us to understand and so we will not challenge her appointment. 

We are, however, continuing with the challenges to Dido Harding and Mike Coupe where, we believe, the evidence demonstrates that the processes were unacceptably poor. You may also think the outcomes were not much better - and you would expect poor processes to deliver poor outcomes. 

Make no mistake, the case is not straightforward. It is also made more difficult by the political climate.

Very few civil society organisations have the freedom our grassroots funding model gives us. Fewer still can afford to be indifferent to the attacks of a Government that is increasingly intolerant of challenge. Understandably many cannot afford to put their heads above the parapet in support of this litigation for fear of Government, or its increasingly partisan regulators, shooting them off. 

But we have arranged ourselves, as an organisation, so we have that freedom. And we think the principle at stake - that Government must appoint the best candidate, not its best friend - is incredibly important. If we don’t assert the principle we don’t see anyone else who can. 

So we propose to proceed with our attempt to clarify that the law requires Government to appoint based on merit - not on handshakes and private connections. 

Update 2

Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust

March 28, 2021

Permission granted – we’re going to Court

We are pleased to announce that our judicial review with Runnymede over the Government’s practice of handing public sector jobs to its mates without open recruitment has been granted permission. We will have our day in Court.

The story we tell ourselves is that these things don’t happen here. That the handing out of important roles to friends, without competition, is something for abroad. But the pandemic has exposed that as a fairytale. In the real world, we are now a “chumocracy” where having the right friends matters as much or more than having the right skills.

Since the start of the pandemic, Government has created a number of new bodies whose leaders fall outside the usual public appointment regime. Many of the roles have gone to those personally connected to the Conservative Party. 

The most high profile was the appointment of Dido Harding as Chair of NHS Test and Trace. A sitting Conservative Peer, wife of a Conservative MP and friend of former Prime Minister David Cameron, Harding didn’t pip other candidates to the post at the interview. There were no other candidates. The Test and Trace programme – with a budget of a staggering £37bn – has consistently failed to meet its targets and is widely and rightly perceived as a disaster.

Harding is far from the only friend of the Conservative Party to land a top public sector job. Kate Bingham, wife of Tory MP and Treasury Minister, Jesse Norman and cousin by marriage of Rachel Johnson, was appointed Chair of the Vaccine Taskforce. The vaccine programme is a success but that no more vindicates the chumocracy than Harding’s failure damns it. 

The principle – that we should be appointing on the basis of talent rather than relationships – remains the same. Our public bodies perform vital functions. They must always be run by the people who are best placed to do the job. In response to our lawyers’ correspondence asking Ministers to reveal how and why certain individuals, including Harding, were chosen to lead vital public health bodies, Government has admitted the roles were not openly advertised. 

It’s hard to put it better than the Commissioner for Public Appointments: … some at the centre of government want not only to have the final say but to tilt the competition system in their favour to appoint their allies…

This is not the Britain we should be.

We will publish the date for our High Court hearing as soon as it is available.

Update 1

Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust

Dec. 2, 2020

Cronyism - the live discussion

On Thursday 10th December, Good Law Project is hosting a live panel discussion on our challenge over Dido Harding’s appointment as Head of Test & Trace and Government’s practice of parachuting mates into top public sector roles without any open or fair process.

Thousands of lives depend on these public bodies. Yet this Government has handed them over without competition to cronies who’ve channelled billions of taxpayers’ money to private companies and their associates, while Test and Trace fails. It discriminates against those who don’t rub shoulders with Conservative ministers - and we don’t believe it is lawful.

If you would like to find more about the case and the extraordinary material we have unearthed so far, watch our live panel discussion with speakers including: Jolyon Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, Clive Lewis MP for Norwich South, and Dr Halima Begum, Director of The Runnymede Trust, the co-claimants in the case.

Here are the details of the event:

When:  6PM - 7PM, Thursday 10th December

Where: Facebook and Twitter

RSVP: on Eventbrite now for your free ticket

You don’t need to download anything to watch the event - just log on to our Facebook or Twitter at 6pm. If you have questions for our panellists you can send them in advance.

For a flavour of what’s in store listen to Jolyon on the Stories of Our Times podcast, on how we are paying the price as Ministers cast transparency rules aside.

Thank you for your support. We hope to see you on the 10th.

Good Law Project Team

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