Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Levitt denies rumours he is to be a paid adviser to Nestlé

Tom Levitt today published a press release on his website* about rumours he is to become a paid adviser to Nestlé after he stands down at the General Election.

This denial follows the publication of the following story in the latest edition of satirical magazine Private Eye last week:

Tom Levitt, Labour MP for High Peak, is standing down at the next election - no doubt to the relief of colleagues who were often bemused by his defence of Nestlé, the food giant frequently attacked for its baby milk marketing practices.

Levitt even went on a Nestlé-funded trip to South Africa, returning full of praise for his hosts and even quoting Nestle's own PR on his blog to refute activists' charges.

Announcing his decision not to stand for re-election, Levitt said: "I would like to spend more time with my wife, our children and grandchildren. I would also like to do something different in the work environment." How fortunate that one of the roles that will help the transition to his "new work environment" will be... as a paid adviser to Nestlé!
Levitt has responded as follows:
"Over the years I have been a guest of Nestlé at Wimbledon, at a cricket test match and on a visit to South Africa in 2008 to look at Corporate Social Responsibility, all properly recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. Nestlé is the owner of Buxton Water, an important local employer and an iconic brand of the High Peak area. It is right for the MP to have close relations with important local companies.

"I have no firm plans yet for what I shall be doing in the work environment after the election - though I have some irons in the fire - but the post of "paid advisor to Nestlé" is news to me.

"I am not aware of any MP colleague who has been "bemused" in the way the story suggests. The "practices" to which the story refers took place 30 to 40 years ago and I now believe that Nestlé is amongst the most ethical of traders in this field."

Which sounds to us like a lovely little bit of PR for Nestlé. For further details and background of this story, please visit our new blog - Levitt Watch!

*when this link no longer works, you can view a screen grab here.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Levitt prays for the 'last word' on expenses

Tom Levitt has today published a press release* (which is usually regurgitated as his weekly column) entitled 'Expenses the final word?'. Unfortunately for him, it still leaves some questions about the exact position. We'll go through some of his words (in italics) with our observations (in bold).

Gone is the do-what-you-like atmosphere which allowed MPs, including myself, to claim for things which the public found unreasonable. Note the use of the the word 'public', Levitt seems to be suggesting it's not actually unreasonable, it's just that those who take the view that it is outnumber him in thinking so. How very like Tony Blair!

Let me be clear about my record: I was guided by the law, the rules of Parliament, professional advice and my conscience at all times. All of which were found wanting - they write the rules, they create the law and they want us to forgive them for taking full advantage of it.

The auditors under Sir Thomas Legg disallowed three claims that I had made:

- the inadvertent claiming of 12 months (instead of 10) Council Tax on my London flat for two years, £412 (revealed and paid back last May). This simply isn't true - Legg's report contains no mention of the Council Tax, that was spotted by this blog last June, Levitt only repaying it when the press picked up our story. This was the only money that had been repaid last Thursday.

- a piece of furniture, allowed in 2005 but deemed to have been extravagant in 2009, £389 (revealed last October). That piece of furniture was a sofa bed which had cost us £1599, and which Legg considered was too extravagant to the tune of £389. The £389 had not been repaid by Levitt up until last Thursday.

- a miscalculation of mortgage interest over five years (confirmed in last week’s Legg report) of net £390.95. Wrong again: the mortgage interest was for 2004, 2005 & 2006 (3 years), and the amount outstanding was £800.95 as of last Thursday (nothing repaid then).

All of these sums have now been paid back; nothing is outstanding. We'll have to take Tom's word for it, some proof would be nice given that he has such a poor record of repaying the money that is owed.

We must move quickly to put these issues behind us. But not until May eh, Tom? Not until you're eligible for your massive golden handshake?

Now it could be that Tom is about to get his wish: this may indeed be the last word about Tom Levitt's expenses, given the lack of info likely to be available in future. But there is the whole question of what it is that Levitt will get up to next. Will he go back to teaching? Will he spread the good word about charities? Will he become an ambassador for Nestlé, a company with which he has been huddling in the past (now there's a story in there somewhere...)? Or perhaps Gordon Brown will reward him for his sycophancy by making him a peer of the realm? Lord Buxton anyone?

If this is the end, then keep watching this blog. Depending upon what follows, something else may follow it. We'll be watching...

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab

Thursday, 4 February 2010

More confusion - exactly what has Levitt repaid?

Shortly after writing the last post, we turned our attention to another document released today on the parliament website. This is a list of exactly who has repaid what - Levitt appears on page 16 of this PDF.

Looking at the document you'll note that he has repaid £412, as today's Legg report made clear. But in the 'comments' column at the end, we learn what this is for:

Two months inadvertent over claim of Council Tax in two consecutive years.

Now you may remember that the issue of Levitt overclaiming £407.60 for his Council Tax was discovered and first brought to the attention of the world by this website last June.

So the questions that now flow from this are:

  • Has Levitt repaid anything towards the sofa bed overpayment identified by Legg?
  • If he has, then why hasn't it been accounted for by Legg?
  • If he hasn't, what the hell is he playing at?

There really is no point in looking to us for the answers when all of the official information seems so hopelessly confused...

Levitt the debtor still owes £777.95

As everyone will know by now, today saw the publication of Sir Thomas Legg's report into MPs expenses. The report (which can be read here - this is a PDF file) mentions Tom Levitt on page 97, and tells us the following:
Mr Levitt was overpaid by a net total of £800.95 for mortgage interest between April 2004 and March 2006.
He was also paid £1,599 for a sofa bed in October 2004. This exceeded the nearest relevant guideline price of £1,210 by £389.
Total repayment recommended: £1,189.95
Total repayments received since 1 April 2009: £412.00
Balance recommended to be repaid: £777.95

Yes, you read that right - Levitt still has not repaid £777.95.

Now let's pay a little more attention to the implications of this news. Our initial post on this blog in May last year dealt with Levitt's first confession-like column, where he admitted to over-claiming for mortgage payments. At the time, following the intervention of the Telegraph a few days later, this figure was shown to be £6,000 and Levitt said he had paid it all back. But now we find out that 4 to 6 years later, £800.95 is still outstanding. May we also remind readers that the issue of overclaiming for mortgage payments is an ongoing issue for Levitt: buried in the files released last October is correspondence between the House of Commons Fees Office and Levitt where they point out he has over-claimed for his mortgage (and broken a previous agreement) to the tune of £1,428.98, which they then deducted from his future claims to ensure that it was repaid (page 66 of this PDF).

The sofa bed issue meanwhile, is one that we are familiar from October last year. Levitt loudly commented that he had repaid it in full, and he indeed seems to have paid £412, i.e. £23 more than requested. But then he still owes £777.95.

When he announced that he was standing down from Parliament in November, Levitt said with regard to expenses reform that "we need to demonstrate that a line has been drawn". But after all that has occurred, his sincerity is still an issue, hence the outstanding £777.95. Levitt this week gave the kiss of death to his successor as the Labour candidate at the next election, Caitlin Bisknell, by loudly trumpeting her success* and having his photo taken with her, shaking her hand. One starts to wonder who benefits from this - is there anyone left in the High Peak who would shake the hand of an out-and-out liar and fraudster like Levitt?

*when this link no longer works, try this screen grab