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BT accused of rural broadband monopoly

BT has an "effective monopoly" over rural broadband after the Government awarded all of the 44 contracts from the £1.2bn scheme to the telecommunications giant, a group of influential MPs has said.

Read: Children's education affected by 'slow internet speeds'

Broadband
BT's position as a monopoly supplier should have raised a "red flag", PAC said. Credit: PA

Read: 'Rural penalty' marring country life

In another another scathing report of the rural broadband scheme the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the way it had been set up "failed to deliver meaningful competition".

This meant BT had been put in a strong position by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) making it more difficult for customers to insist on value for money, according to PAC.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs PAC, said: "Since our hearing in July last year, when 26 of the 44 contracts to deliver this were with BT, all remaining contracts have now also gone to BT.

"Despite our warnings last September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has allowed poor cost transparency and the lack of detailed broadband rollout plans to create conditions whereby alternative suppliers may be crowded out."

Read: BT's 'near monopoly' of rural broadband attacked by MPs

'Chronic shortage' of staff hindering A&E improvements

The "chronic shortage" of trained A&E doctors is suffocating any attempts to improve emergency admissions services, the head of the Public Accounts Committee has warned.

Margaret Hodge criticised the NHS' reliance on temporary staff, which she dubbed "expensive" and not capable of offering "the same quality of service".

Any attempt to improve emergency admissions services in the NHS is being completely stymied by the chronic shortage of specialist A&E consultants.

Nearly one fifth of consultant posts in emergency departments were either vacant or filled by locums in 2012. There are also major problems in training enough doctors in emergency medicine.

What we found amazing is that neither the Department nor NHS England has a clear strategy to tackle the shortage of A&E consultants.

With many hospitals struggling to fill vacant posts for A&E consultants, there is too much reliance on temporary staff to fill gaps.

– Margaret Hodge

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Renting Buckingham Palace 'could make more money'

Buckingham Palace could be used to make more money for repairs Margaret Hodge, Public Accounts Committee chair has said.

Hodge also spoke of repairs needed at the royal residence, such as the boiler which has served the palace almost as long as the Queen and should be replaced due to the increasing costs of running it according the sixty-year-old appliance.

MPs: Gagging orders 'reward failure'

Public bodies "reward failure" so they can "avoid attracting unwelcome publicity" by making would-be whistleblowers and failing chief executives sign gagging orders, the head of a group of influential MPs said.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Margaret Hodge said whistleblowers were "vital" if tragedies like Mid Staffordshire and Baby P were to be avoided.

It is vital that people feel free to speak out to help prevent terrible tragedies or even deaths, and protecting the reputation of an organisation, such as the NHS, at the expense of public safety is unacceptable.

A confidentiality clause in a compromise agreement is not meant to prevent legitimate whistle-blowing - but people who have been offered, or accepted compromise agreements have clearly felt gagged.

– Margaret Hodge

Read more: MPs 'deeply concerned' about whistleblowing

BBC Trust 'regrets licence fee payers were let down'

A BBC Trust spokesman said the PAC's work had "helped inform" the corporation's plan to simplify the way it was run which were announced last week.

We greatly regret that licence fee payers were let down by this episode. They are entitled to expect that their money is spent wisely. Since 2009, the trust has worked successfully with the executive to drive down senior manager pay; and we support Tony Hall's speedy action to impose a cap on severance payments in the future.

We have already announced measures that address the committee's call for more rigorous scrutiny of the BBC's performance and clarify the Charter's requirement that the BBC Executive manages the BBC while the trust represents the licence fee payer.

As part of implementing these measures, we will pursue the committee's recommendation that the trust and executive record and communicate decisions properly so that audit concerns raised in the PAC report are addressed.

In addition, the trust's scrutiny role will, in future, be much more transparent, so that licence fee payers themselves can judge how well the BBC is run.

BBC payoffs 'total £25 million'

The Public Accounts Committee has said that 150 senior managers of the BBC have between them received payoffs totalling £25 million.

George Entwistle
Former Director-General George Entwistle was given a £470,000 payoff after 54 days in the job. Credit: PA

Chairperson Margaret Hodge said they were "dismayed to find that many of these individuals received 'sweeteners' in their severance packages that were far larger than the sums to which they were contractually entitled."

The MP also accused the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, of "sitting on its hands" while the pay-offs were being made.

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MPs: BBC payoffs down to 'culture of cronyism'

A committee of senior MPs has accused the BBC of putting "its reputation at risk" in handing over excessive payoffs to senior staff.

Margaret Hodge
Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge cited "a failure at the highest levels" of the BBC. Credit: PA

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said some of the justifications for the pay-offs had been "extraordinary".

She said there was "a failure at the highest levels of the BBC to challenge payments to senior managers and what appears to have been a culture of cronyism that allowed for the liberal use of licence fee payers' money".

'Greater transparency' needed from Duchy

An estate run by Prince Charles needs to modernise and provide "greater transparency", the chair of an influential committee of MPs has said.

Labour's Margaret Hodge, who heads up the Public Accounts Committee, wants the Treasury to investigate the Duchy of Cornwall to see if it has an "unfair advantage" over other businesses in its tax payments.

The Duchy enjoys an exemption from paying tax even though it engages in a range of commercial activities.

This tax exemption may give it an unfair advantage over its competitors who do pay corporation and capital gains tax.

The Treasury should examine whether the Duchy's tax exemption creates an unlevel playing field.

The transparency of the Prince of Wales' tax payments is limited by the fact that income tax and VAT are reported only as a combined total.

These figures should be disclosed separately, so we can understand precisely how much, and at what rate, income tax is paid by the Prince.

– Chair of the public accounts committee Margaret Hodge

Hodge: Major firms should be stripped of tax privacy

Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, said major corporations should be stripped of their right to full privacy over their tax affairs.

Chair of the public accounts committee Margaret Hodge. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive

She told the Independent new rules should be brought in forcing companies to make a full disclosure to MPs in closed sessions, which would allow their arrangements to be scrutinised.

Mrs Hodge told the newspaper: "We could have a committee of MPs overseeing them in private, the same way that the Intelligence and Security Committee operates. That has operated very effectively. There has never been a leak."

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