Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, comes under fire from the Public Accounts Committee and sinks yet more deeply into the quagmire of his politically motivated decisions.
Robert Jenrick – ah, Robert Jenrick. It’s a tough call but, among a strong field, I think Robert Jenrick might just edge it as my favourite Tory. He never fails to live down to his own standards. Early on in the pandemic, he set down a marker as a Cabinet member who thinks the rules are for other people (admittedly, that does not mark him out particularly amongst the current crop) and has done solid work in accruing dodgy financial benefits for Tory donors, for his constituency and for his mates.
Jenrick is of interest to us in the East Midlands as he is MP for Newark. Of course, he doesn’t actually live in Newark. Not often, anyway. As ‘Lockdown 1’ (the original and best) revealed, he also has houses in London and Herefordshire. The family spends most of its time in the £2.5 million townhouse in London.
But Jenrick isn’t just MP for Newark, he is also Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is in his ministerial capacity that he has done perhaps his finest work so far.
In the summer, it came to light that he saved Tory-donor Richard Desmond £45 million by overturning an inconvenient planning decision in Tower Hamlets just in the nick of time. Jenrick’s price for this action? A quick chat over dinner and a £12,000 donation from Desmond to Tory funds. I can’t get over this donation. £12,000. Is that it? Is that all it costs to influence a Tory Secretary of State? Possibly there’s more here than meets the eye. Maybe we’ll find out one day. Maybe we won’t.
Jenrick hasn’t rested on his laurels though. In July 2019, the £3.6 billion Town’s Fund was launched to provide support for 101 struggling towns across England. Newark was awarded £25 million, despite the fact that it ranks as the 270th most deprived town (on a list of 541). Jenrick didn’t sign off on the grant – that would be unethical. Jake Berry, previously a Communities Minister, did that.
Darwen, a town in Berry’s constituency and ranking 289th, also received a grant from the Town’s Fund. Guess who signed that off? That would be Robert Jenrick. That’s right – Jenrick signed off a grant to Berry’s constituency and Berry signed off one to Jenrick’s. According to Jenrick, this is all ‘perfectly normal’. It’s no wonder that a scathing report released today by the Public Accounts Committee describes the Town’s Fund as “a politically corrupt scheme to benefit the Tory party.”
The cross-party committee asked the ministry for an account of how the £25 million was awarded to Newark. So far, the ministry has provided only a summary of the assessment.
The committee has blasted the inadequacy of this response. The report concludes that “the selection process was not impartial […] this lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process, and has risked the civil service’s reputation for integrity and impartiality.” It has demanded to see evidence that the Newark grant was above board within one month.
Jenrick has survived breaking lockdown. He has survived the stench of corruption that surrounded his dealings with Richard Desmond. He will undoubtedly survive this latest furore about Tory partiality. As far as he’s concerned, it seems that this sort of thing is indeed ‘perfectly normal’.
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