Friday, December 14, 2007

Taking coals to Newcastle

Earlier this year the Times ran a story about a National Audit Office report that showed that the cost of administering the claims of miners with disabling chest diseases far outstripped the amount of money that was paid out in compensation. The total cost of administering the claims was £2.3bn and more than half of it (£1.3bn) went to pay private lawyers who brought the claims. The Times also noted that,
The [NAO] report was ordered after allegations published in The Times about the financial relationship between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms handling coal health claims, a matter that is now the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation (1).
One of the top ten firms to receive large sums of public money as a result was the law firm Browell Smith & Co, that received £54.6 million from thousands of cases (2). The firm specialises in what some might call "ambulance chasing" and its major clients are the National Union of Mineworkers, GMB and TGWU.

Nothing wrong there of course, but for one interesting thing. There appears to be a financial relationship between Browell Smith & Co and the Labour Party. During all those years it was suing the Government on behalf of miners for taxpayers money in fees and compensation it was also donating to the Labour Party coffers.

As the above shows, between 2002 and 2004 the solicitor, from its Newcastle base, donated £24, 633 to the Labour Party in many small and often odd amounts. Now I'm not saying that that is public money moving out of the Treasury via a solicitor into the Labour Party coffers, I am merely pointing out that it could quite easily look like it might be.

Alternatively, if the Serious Fraud Office is looking into possible financial relationships between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms involved with claims, then what pray tell might they think of the finanical relationship between a solicitor and the party of Government involved in the very same compensation claims?

Having said this, perhaps the donations were actually more of those secret proxy donations coming through the system? It's interesting to note that yet again we are in the North-East of England after all. The same solicitor also sponsored a constituency dinner for Hilary Armstrong in 2006 so they are certainly well-connected (3).

Update: Gareth has noted in the comments that also on the top ten list is a solicitor called "Thompson's" and a law firm called "Thompsons Solicitors" has donated £121,990 to the Labour Party. Is it the same solicitor? I did search originally but did a cut and paste from the Times. Should have removed the apostrophe.


Anonymous said...

Try searching for donations to the Labour party made in the name of 'Thompsons Solicitors'.

Anonymous said...

It’s interesting to note that Labour attempted to exclude the Unions from being subject to the Compensation Bill. This was despite a lot of evidence of corrupt practices taking place at various Unions in encouraging miners to make claims. The Unions usually took a massive cut of any compensation. Perhaps if they donated a little less to the Labour Party they would not have engage in such questionable activities to keep their books in order.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if similar dodgy donations can be found from companies that encouraged persecution of IT freelancers i.e. IR35, S660, the flood of work permits, etc?

Anonymous said...

Beresford's is another firm that did extremely well out of miners compensation, as anyone who drives past their new offices in Doncaster would testify. But the origins of dodgy links between these firms and the UDM effectively predates New Labour.

This isn't a case of the government trying to channel public money into its coffers via 3rd parties, and a suggestion that it might be would indicate too much time spent ready about conspiracy theories.

Don't put down to deliberate intent, that which more simply is a consequence of greed on the part of the solicitors and incompetance on the part of the DTI. Remember, you're talking about the Labour heartland here; most of these firms have been donating to Labour since long before the current bunch of mendacious crooks took office. The the founders of most of the firms in question were less than sterling pillars of the community. All that has happened is that they're thrived under New Labour and can afford to give back a bit more.

Anonymous said...

As usual when Government decides to give us back some of our own money, they do it very badly. Most of it ends up in the hands of the undeserving or is spent on yet more civil servents whose pensions will have to be paid forever and ever.