History sheds an interesting light on the Culture Secretary’s ethics

Typing error Hunt

The international education site The Language Business alleged late last year that Jeremy Hunt had benefited from contract deceptions in relation to work done by his company for the British Council. The story seems to stack up.

Once again, The Slog is indebted to a reader source for pointing out this site to me. It is written by an accredited partner of ie connect.com, a leading university international educational consultant whose site attracts some 10,000 hits per day. The post went up two days before Christmas, and thus sank without trace because, as usual, most hacks were celebrating the Saviour’s birth through the medium of alcohol.

The piece is about the British Council. And Minister for Oiling the Newscorp Media & Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The Council is the only quango to operate commercially out of UK diplomatic premises worldwide, and the only government sponsored organisation to collect commercial contracts overseas for itself without having to see them offered elsewhere. It short, it has the sort of monopoly that would render Rupert Murdoch’s underwear moist.

For some time now, one of the Council’s suppliers has been Education UK, with which Jeremy Hunt has had dealings.

It turns out that Hunt really is passionate about all things educational – which is commendable because, along with political ethics, it’s a main driver of cultural improvement.

In 2001 the British Council put it about that the contract for the Education UK website had been won by Hotcourses Ltd, whose CEO and majority shareholder was Jeremy Hunt.

The site was condemned at launch as a disaster in January 2002, and so the  British Council was forced to announce with all haste that they had contracted a “consortium” of Hotcourses, UCAS, CSU and Yahoo. Otherwise, you see, they’d have been caught red-handed hiring an incompetent supplier without competitive tender. A supplier run by Jeremy Hunt.

The flaw in the Council’s damage limitation was that  it wasn’t true: the contract had gone to Education Websites Ltd with a share of the profits going to the British Council. That contract categorically stated that CSU and UCAS had no involvement in the project, and Yahoo’s involvement had also disappeared.

A year later, in answer to a Freedom of Information enquiry from another supplier The Language Business, the British Council said there had been no change to this contractual arrangement. But here’s the interesting bit: this too was a deception. For later in 2004, the Council switched the contract again to Sheffield Data Limited.

Sheffield Data was a £100 company owned 50% each by Hotcourses and UCAS. And still involving Jeremy Hunt.

So this is the bottom line: a ‘new’ supplier company was found, the Council lied about its status and contract, covertly swapped contractual arrangements in 2004, and then lied about that too. And that’s a tricky fraud to organise without that supplier’s CEO being involved.

The net result is that our Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport enjoyed a seven year monopoly on selling the monopoly activity of the British Council. So buy one get one free, then. Which is why The Slog suggests that the honeymoon between Jeremy Hunt and Rupert Murdoch is the result of a marriage made in Mammon.

Footnote: none of the quangos mentioned here were harmed in the making of Draper Osborne’s cuts. Well I never.