UK Politics

Trash day: Big government announcements you may have missed

Road sweeper in Downing Street Image copyright Getty Images

It's being called "take out the trash day" - a reference from TV's The West Wing - when the government unloads potentially embarrassing news in a blizzard of documents on the final day of term.

A total of 36 written ministerial statements and 424 government documents were published on Thursday, as Parliament rose for the Christmas recess.

Labour - which was not above this sort of thing when it was in power - has accused David Cameron of a lack of transparency and "attempting to blind us with massive information".

Here are some of the more eye-catching announcements, with more to follow as we find them.


Home Office loses track of 10,000 asylum seekers

A report into UK immigration has found 10,000 cases of asylum seekers were not being tracked by the Home Office.

The report added there was a reluctance to find them as it "was not a priority and was considered a drain on resources".

From September, there were also more than 30,000 failed claims of asylum but the people involved had not been deported or given rights to stay longer.

David Holt, the author of the report, said failing to deal with cases in a "timely manner was inefficient as well as ineffective". He went on to say the more time it took, the more likely that the individuals would be harder to remove as they would form local ties and perhaps have children in the UK.

The Home Office said they were taking "significant steps" to address the findings and added they had successfully removed 79,000 people in the last two years.


UK will not ban Muslim Brotherhood

Image caption Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt 2013

The government said it would not ban the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, but said the organisation had an "ambiguous relationship with violent extremism".

David Cameron said the group will be kept under review, while the Muslim Brotherhood said it would legally challenge the "deeply flawed" findings.

The review has taken two years to complete and was ordered after pressure to ban the group.

Read more from the BBC's Dominic Casciani


Cameron increases number of special advisers

Image copyright jeff overs/BBC
Image caption Craig Oliver (left), David Cameron's director of communications, is one his special advisers

David Cameron promised to cut the number of government advisers, but it was revealed on Thursday he has employed more since the general election.

The prime minister has 32 special advisers - commonly know as Spads - up from 26 last year.

It is expected to cost the government £8.4m this year. Although overall the cost of Spads has decreased since the coalition government ended, it is still higher than during Gordon Brown's time in Downing Street.

The two highest paid are Mr Cameron's chief-of-staff Ed Llewellyn and communications chief Craig Oliver, both on £140,000.

Chancellor George Osborne has 11 staff to advise him - four are on a special Council of Economic Advisers - while most other ministers have two or three advisers.

Labour have accused the government of "breaking their promises". Deputy Leader Tom Watson said: "Taxpayers are picking up an ever larger bill for Tory spin doctors."

Labour minister Jon Ashworth highlighted the case of one of George Osborne's advisers Thea Rogers, a former BBC producer credited with improving the chancellor's image and encouraging him to go on a diet, being awarded a 42% pay rise, taking her salary to £98,000.

He said Mr Osborne had "one eye on the leadership" as he built "his empire within government".


Nearly £2m spent on driving ministers around

Image copyright Getty Images

The government spent nearly £2m on ministerial car services in 2014-15, according to the Department of Transport.

In 2014-15, it cost £1,901,960.43 to provide ministers with cars - a reduction of around £50,000 on the previous year.

However, this figure does not include car costs for Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers who use the Metropolitan Police.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said: "These charges do not necessarily reflect the total spend on car services for ministers as some departments have arrangements with other providers."

Mr Goodwill said charges to government departments have not increased since 2010. Over 2014-15 the total cost of cars - including operational costs - was £6.32m, a reduction from £21.62m in 2010-11.


Two-thirds of 'bedroom tax' tenants spent less on food

A report into housing benefit changes dubbed the "bedroom tax" by critics (the government prefers to call the old system a "spare room subsidy") found two-thirds of people affected by the cuts had to reduce the amount they spent on food and 78% often ran out of money before the end of the week.

Under the new system, officials calculate how many rooms a tenant needs and adjusts housing benefits accordingly. If bedrooms are deemed to be spare the tenant gets less money.

The government report found 76% of people cut back spending on food. While only a third successfully accessed a hardship fund to ease the impact of a reduction in money. Only one in 10 moved to a smaller property which is what the policy aims to do.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith said the report was "damning" and called the policy "shameful" and "vile" adding it drove "people deeper and deeper in to poverty".


UK military part of other national armies

Image copyright EPA

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced 177 UK military personnel were embedded in armed forces of other nations.

Countries include Australia, USA, New Zealand, Canada, France and Spain. There are also UK officers in Coalition forces, UN, NATO and the EU in a mixture of head quarters staff and officers.

The statement said these officers played an important role in "enhancing our national security interests around the world, strengthening our relationships with key allies and developing our own capabilities."

Human rights charity Reprieve called the information "almost worthless", "vague" and "a long way from real transparency".

They questioned where exactly personnel where based and what operations they were involved in, specifically questioning whether there was British involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The government said military personnel were involved in a "wide range of roles" for host countries including planning operations and training missions, being pilots, and working on naval vessels.


NHS Trust deaths report released

An NHS report was published into deaths at the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust which is one of the largest mental health trusts.

The report outlines failings at the hospital which included "a lack of leadership, focus and sufficient time spent in the Trust on carefully reporting and investigating unexpected deaths of mental health and learning disability service users".

It said there were more than 10,000 deaths during April 2011 and March 2015 of those 722 were "unexpected" but only 272 were investigated.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "determined" lessons were learned. He announced the Care Quality Commission will inspect the trust for how it investigated deaths. This will lead on to an investigation across other NHS trusts, not just mental health, across the UK looking into preventable deaths.

Labour accused the government of "by-passing scrutiny" as the report was published hours before MPs left Westminster for Christmas. Shadow Mental Health Minister, Luciana Berger said "Ministers must be held to account for what is going wrong."

She said: "It is pitiful that the government has chosen to sneak it out on the day Parliament is breaking for recess, preventing MPs from being able to question ministers about it."

The report was commissioned in 2013 after the death of Conor Sparrowhawk who was a patient and drowned in a bathtub after an epileptic seizure.

Read more


Highest paid government officials

The highest government earners were also revealed as part of the blizzard of documents released on Thursday.

Topping the charts as the highest paid official is Simon Kirby, chief executive of High Speed Rail 2 (HS2). His role is to deliver the HS2 program to "safety, cost, time and quality standards" in order to "transform Britain's capacity". He formerly worked at Network Rail. Jim Crawford, also working on HS2 earns £390,000, his role is to "plan, deliver and monitor" the project.

Head of the Green Investment Bank Edward Northam earns over £330,000, while CEO Shaun Kingsbury earns £325,000. The bank was set up by the government to fund environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects but is now set to be part-privatised.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, earns £200,000, while her colleague Peter Lewis, the chief executive of the Crown Prosecution Service, is on £160,000.

Lin Homer, head of HMRC earns £185,000, in recent weeks she has been grilled by two parliamentary committees on her handling of the e-borders scheme and also failures to take action against UK citizens hiding money Swiss HSBC accounts.

The highest paid employee of the Cabinet Office was the permanent secretary was John Manzoni, a former top BP executive, earning £230,000.

See the full list here

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