An investigation by The Herald found that former Scottish Labour MP and chief executive of anti-independence group Scotland in Union, Pamela Nash, has been working for a consultancy business in the run-up to the General Election.
The firm claims to offer “an edge” on likely changes in legislation and laws following the next election, with Labour leader Keir Starmer tipped to become the next prime minister.
Nash served as Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts between 2010 and 2015 and is currently the party’s candidate in Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke.
Last week, she was named as a member of the cross-party “General Election Advisory Board” created by the 56 Degrees North consultancy.
The firm’s website states that the board brings “together the brightest and best across Westminster, Whitehall and Holyrood – all to give you an edge as you seek to understand, engage and shape decision-making with the key players.”
Yet questions have been asked about how appropriate Nash’s place on the board is given the fact she is running in the election.
Clare Adamson, the SNP MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said: “Voters in Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke deserve to be represented by a member of parliament who is fully focused on their needs – not someone in the pocket of big business.
“With vital issues such as the Westminster-controlled economy in ruin, war in the Middle East and the Post Office Horizon scandal – SNP MP Marion Fellows has been at the forefront in standing up for our constituents on the issues that really matter.
“Ultimately, come the general election, the people of Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke will get to decide if they want to be represented by an SNP MP who will champion them or a Labour MP who will be a champion for corporate businesses.”
It is understood Nash is planning to stand down from the board once the election is officially called.
Labour wants all estate agents to have at least one A level and for all agency owners to have completed a degree-level qualifications, it has been revealed.
The new regulations have been added as an amendment to the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill currently making its way through Parliament.
And although this amendment is unlikely to become law, it indicates very strongly the way that Labour would regulate the estate agency sector once it is in power – which seems very likely given its current lead in the polls over the Tories.
More controversially Propertymark’s policy chief, Timothy Douglas, told The Telegraph that the rules would ‘apply retroactively’.
He says this would mean all current agents could be forced to return to education if they do not already have the minimum level of qualifications and would likely be given a grace period in which to comply with the new entry requirements.
These requirements may sound familiar to agents who followed the rise of then disappearance of Lord Best’s Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) which caused an uproar in 2019 when it was first published in Parliament.
In October last year Shadow Housing Minister Matthew Pennycook (main picture), who has lodged the latest amendments in Parliament mentioned above, told the Labour conference that he intended to implement RoPA once Labour won power. This would include a statutory code of practice, a fit and proper person test and membership of a professional body should be mandatory.
Lunenburg’s town council will gather more details on what a major new development could mean for local taxes before starting the process to sell public land for the new neighbourhood.
People packed the gallery of the Town of Lunenburg’s council meeting Tuesday evening where Blockhouse Hill was on the agenda.
Consultants MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects presented three options of what a new neighbourhood could look like on the back slope of Blockhouse hill, and a fourth option to leave it as a park.
Resident Heather Langille was among the six residents who raised concerns about the plan and called for councillors to consider more information before moving ahead.
“It should stay in public hands and it should not be sold for private interests,” Langille said after the meeting.
The development options have a mix of semi-detached duplexes, townhomes and secondary suites in a stepped design down the slope to the Back Harbour. New roads and pedestrian-only green streets are also included, and all options would not touch the existing RV campground and Sylvia Park.
The number of possible housing units range from none, if the land remains as is, to the highest-density option of 368 units.
Municipal staff said during the meeting that selling the land, and adding new taxpayers to the town, will help with Lunenburg’s aging infrastructure and housing crunch. A recent town report said it will cost about $46 million to fix 10 buildings in need of maintenance.
A housing assessment for Lunenburg states the town of 2,300 people needs 120 new housing units by 2027, and 170 by 2032 to accommodate its growing population.
But Langille said there are other areas of town “much more suitable” for housing. A petition from more than 700 local residents has asked to pause the project.
Council, based on a suggestion from Mayor Jamie Myra, voted to delay voting on declaring the land surplus — which would allow it to eventually sell the land for development — until March to hear back from staff on the taxes implications.
“We need to have some idea of those costs going forward to make educated decisions … that are better for the residents of our community and I think that’s really important,” Myra said after the meeting.
There will be another public hearing before any final decision is made.
Councillors also directed the consultants to draft development rules for the highest-density option — 368 units with about 36 per cent of the site as park space — which would set out detailed requirements attached to land even after it changes hands.
Consultants have estimated that option would cost about $182 million in construction, labour and water and wastewater upgrades for whoever develops the land.
Coun. Peter Mosher said he’d like to have rules for the “full plan” that could always be scaled down, or built in phases over the coming decades.
Staff had suggested drafting rules for the second-densest option (256 units) which was also the top choice for most people surveyed during the consultant’s workshops.
The Friends of Blockhouse Hill advocacy group raised concerns during the meeting, and in a letter to council, about development’s impact on the town’s UNESCO World Heritage designation. They have also taken issue with how only 10 per cent of the homes would be designated as affordable.
Julian Smith is an expert heritage planner on the consultant’s team who co-authored UNESCO’s recommendation on the historic urban landscape. He told the meeting all the development options in the buffer zone around Old Town Lunenburg are not highrise or industrial, so they would not hurt its designation.
In fact, Smith said a past chair of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee told him buffer development that helps the Old Town survive as a “healthy community” where locals can afford to live would benefit both Lunenburg and be an inspiration to sites around the world.
Concerns about tourism pressure
Smith said Venice’s UNESCO designation, for instance, was put in danger this summer because tourism pressures have pushed affordable housing, and the ability for people to live normal lives, out of the historic city.
“Lunenburg is already feeling the effects of global tourism but those will only increase with time, and that’s a very serious threat to the integrity of world heritage sites,” Smith said.
But resident and Friends of Blockhouse Hill member, Alison Strachan, said Lunenburg’s tourism is seasonal and housing shortages could be reduced by cracking down short-term rentals.
She said town council could possibly look at Halifax’s rules requiring that rentals are owner-occupied in most residential zones.
Strachan also said consultation with the Mi’kmaw community is needed, as well as more research into the Indigenous history around the hill which has been largely unexplored.
“We should be the leaders in reconciliation. We are a colonized town — at their detriment,” Strachan said.
Myra said he would like the issue to go to a plebiscite in the upcoming October municipal elections.
THE Financial Times (FT) has done the sums and found Labour has quadrupled its use of management consultants in the run-up to the election — this is despite Labour’s Rachel Reeves making a big song and dance about the dangers of relying on management consultants.
Taking the money is a U-turn on three crucial areas: privatisation, tax and regulation.
The FT found: “The opposition party received £287,000 in donations of staff time from consultancy firms in the year to September 2023, up from £72,000 in the prior 12 months, according to Electoral Commission data.”
The management consultancies give Labour headquarters “free” staff to help run its offices. Labour took £93,000 worth of “free” staff time from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and £138,000 worth of “free” secondees from Ernst and Young (EY).
But as the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” — you might think you are getting something for nothing, but the guy serving up “free” food will make you pay somehow.
The management consultants hand over free staff to Labour because they want to influence policy now on behalf of themselves and their client corporations, and they want to get a foot in the door for when Labour is handing out multibillion contracts when they become the government. They want to shape Labour now and get phone numbers of and friendships with Labour’s key players for the future.
It is only months since Reeves herself promised to cut government consultancy spending in half under a Labour government. This was already a modest proposal — Reeves told Labour’s conference: “We will slash government consultancy spending, which has almost quadrupled in just six years.”
Her plan still leaves consultancy spending twice as high as in 2017. But given Labour’s own consultancy freebies, even this seems unlikely.
Thanks to years of privatisation and outsourcing, the government struggles to “deliver” services. Where once the government could, say, found an entire health service, or launch a new public-sector bank, now it struggles to create anything.
Every time there is a new social demand or a new programme to launch, the government can’t find any “in-house” experts, so leans on consultants, who can charge exorbitant rates. They in turn advise on contracting out the new service to their corporate mates, so the government never grows capacity, and the cycle continues.
It’s a kind of learned helplessness that leads the state to act in a masochistic fashion, handing out more work to charlatans with a PowerPoint presentation.
We saw this in a very exaggerated form over Covid. Research by the news Website Open Democracy in 2022 identified £700 million of contracts with consultancies to run Covid-related contracts, with Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC, PA Consulting and McKinsey among the top winners.
The government needed to set up new testing, welfare and health services to deal with Covid, but instead of turning to health or local government staff, it turned to consultants. The government did not want to strengthen the state, it wanted to strengthen the “private sector,” so the consultancies got the cash.
Labour used to attack this privatisation. Back in 2020, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said it was “truly shocking” Michael Gove had authorised consultants on £7,000-a-day rates to run the Covid “test and trace” service. But now Labour themselves rely on these consultants.
Labour’s relaxed attitude to consultancies runs counter to even quite right-wing Labour MP’s professed attitudes. Back when Ed Balls was shadow chancellor, Labour’s front bench frequently took free staff from PwC to help them develop policy. Between 2010 and 2014 PwC donated over £1m of staff time to the Labour Party.
PwC, like other big management consultants, are also tax consultants. Then-chair of the MPs’ public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, accused PwC of “selling tax avoidance on an industrial scale” by promoting Luxembourg structures to corporations.
Hodge also said it was “inappropriate” for Labour MPs to take free staff and free advice from PwC. So for a while — until Starmer became leader — Labour stopped using consultants.
During that time, Reeves claimed to have become a critic of the consultancies. Back then, Reeves was viewed as very right wing, especially after she declared in 2015 that Labour was “not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.”
She tried to rebuild some credibility in a left-moving Labour Party from her place on the MPs’ business committee, not least by consultancy-bashing.
Consultancies often also have business as company auditors: these are supposed to go through companies’ books and reassure their investors and the public the firms are not hiding anything.
Reeves lashed PwC and EY, which had said retail giant BHS and PFI leader Carillion were just fine, giving them audit green lights just before these companies collapsed.
Reeves said PwC and EY’s failures were at the centre of a crisis in “trust” because: “Faith in business was hit hard by the financial crisis, and the malpractice and incompetence evidenced by executives at BHS, Carillion and several other companies recently has only made this worse.”
Reeves said the consultancies had helped this happen. She linked the consultancies’ behaviour to a wider crisis, saying in 2018: “At the root of so many of the challenges our country faces today is trust. From politicians to journalists to ‘experts,’ a revolt against elites has been driven by a breakdown in trust.”
Reeves argued that “people stopped believing in politicians represented them,” alongside their loss of trust in big business. She said the corporate dishonesty happened as “power and wealth have shifted sharply” from “labour to capital” so “workers” feel “business elites live in another world to them, totally detached from their everyday lives, with no regard for them unless it is how to squeeze more profit from them.”
Reeves warned: “If a system does not work for the majority, if our society continues to feel like it is rigged, then there will be a reaction over which traditional elites will not have control.”
All good points. But the fact that Reeves is part of a leadership that now embraces the consultancies it once castigated surely shows she is less worried about “trust” and more keen about embracing those “business elites” after all.
Follow Solomon Hughes on X at @SolHughesWriter.
Since 2019 the government has stated and re-stated its support for the principles of the recommendations without making any apparent progress in implementing them.
Now a Labour amendment to the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill to regulate property agents has been tabled following extensive lobbying from Propertymark and others on the issue.
The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill was debated at Committee stage earlier this week after passing its Second Reading in the House of Commons on December 11.
The UK Government has stated that a ban on new leasehold houses, the end of marriage value, and a redress scheme for freeholders will be added as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.
Additionally, a consultation asking for views on options to halt ground rents for current leaseholders closed on Wednesday this week.
Timothy Douglas, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Propertymark, says: “It is really positive to see an amendment put forward to get the recommendations in Lord Best’s report on the Regulation of Property Agents on the statute book.
“The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill alongside other proposed housing legislation will bring huge change to the way people buy, sell, rent and live in property. However, currently there no minimum standards to work in the property sector and there are no statutory rules to ensure those buying, selling and managing property are suitably qualified.
“This amendment is an opportunity to provide a greater level of protection for consumers and should be widely supported.”
Here’s a summary of the RoPA working party recommendations:
Scope of new regulation: “We recommend that all those carrying out property agency work be regulated (including auctioneers, rent-to-rent firms, property guardian providers, international property agents, and online agents)” but this regulation will not extend to property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla nor to the Airbnb-style short-let sector.
“However, we recommend that the legislation required to regulate property agents should allow for future extension to the scope of regulation (e.g. to include at a future point regulation of landlords, freeholders and developers – as well as retirement housing managers and Right to Manage companies).”
The new regulator: “We do not consider that an existing body could take on the role of the new regulator. Therefore, Government should establish a new public body to undertake this role. The new regulator should be established and run with regard to general principles of good governance, including: independence, openness and transparency, accountability, integrity, clarity of purpose and effectiveness. The new regulator, through its board, should be accountable to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. It should publish an annual report on its progress in raising standards of property agents, using agreed key performance indicators – including customer satisfaction …
“We recommend that the new regulator take over responsibility for the approval of property agent redress and client money protection schemes. The new regulator should have the power to appoint a single ombudsman for property agents, rather than competing redress schemes, if they believe this to be the best way of improving standards.”
“The new regulator should be able to consider complaints from all sources. Where solicitors, lawyers or other professionals have evidence of possible illegal agent behaviour, they should be obliged to present it to the new regulator.”
Licensing: “To confirm appropriate qualifications and credentials, property agencies and qualifying agents should be required to hold and display a licence to practise from the new regulator. Before granting a licence, the new regulator should check that an agent has fulfilled its legal obligations (such as belonging to a redress scheme and submitting a copy of their annual audited accounts to the new regulator) – and that they have passed a fit-and-proper person test. We recommend that the new regulator should be able to vary licensing conditions as it sees fit and that it maintains accessible records of licensed property agents.”
Codes of Practice: “Codes of practice set out clear standards of behaviour. The Government has already committed to requiring that letting agents adhere to a code of practice, and we recommend that all property agents be required to do so. There should be a single, high- level set of principles applicable to all property agents which is set in statute: the ‘overarching’ code. Then, underneath, ‘regulatory’ codes specific to various aspects of property agent practice, binding only on those providing these types of services.
“Key principles for the ‘overarching’ code should include that agents must act with honesty and integrity; ensure all staff are appropriately qualified; declare conflicts of interest; and have an effective complaints procedure in place. To develop and maintain the ‘regulatory’ codes, the new regulator should establish a working group for each sector of property agency to work up sector-specific detail.”
Qualifications: “In the new regime, every property agency should be responsible for ensuring their staff are trained to the appropriate level and clear oversight arrangements are in place for junior staff. To ensure levels of qualification are appropriate yet proportionate, the working group recommend that licensed agents should be qualified to a minimum of level 3 of Ofqual’s Regulated Qualification Framework; company directors and managing agents should be qualified to a minimum of level 4 in most cases.”
The new regulator will be expected to develop a system of qualification quality control.
Leasehold and freehold charges: “The new regulator should be given a statutory duty to ensure transparency of leaseholder and freeholder charges, and should work with the sector (property agents, developers and consumers) to draw up the detail of the regulatory codes to underpin this aim as it applies to property agents … We recommend that the new regulator takes over from the First-tier Tribunal the power to block a landlord’s chosen managing agent where the leaseholders have reasonably exercised a veto. We also recommend that the new regulator provides information on managing agent performance to allow landlord freeholders – and where relevant, leaseholders – to make an informed choice of managing agent.”
Assurance and enforcement: “We recommend that the new regulator should have a range of options for enforcement action according to the seriousness of the infringement and how regularly it has occurred. These options should range from agreeing remedial actions and issuing warnings up to the revocation of licences and prosecutions for unlicensed practice.”
“The new regulator and other bodies (such as Trading Standards and redress schemes) will need to share information and work together effectively. There should be a system of flexible working between the new regulator and Trading Standards teams, and the new regulator should set out guidance clarifying their own and Trading Standards’ roles with regards to enforcement action to avoid duplication.”