EXCLUSIVE: The very odd relationship between Jeremy Hunt and the British Council

Hunt….time to grin and bare it?

Revealed: how Hunt made millions via a disguised shelf  company

The Slog has established that Jeremy Hunt’s Educational Supplies company engaged in shelf-company subterfuge during crucial dealings with The British Council (in 2002), dealings that were central to his later accumulation of wealth via his company Hotcourses. Following the revelations about tax avoidance in last week’s Daily Telegraph, these revelations must continue to put pressure on the Prime Minister to dump the Culture Secretary.

During 2002, the British Council  – a quango notorious for back-scatching policies –  used an off-the-peg company as a major supplier. The company – Sheffield Data Serviceswas formed in something of a hurry by Hunt’s company Hotcourses. Shortly before this, Hotcourses had produced a website for the Council. It was described last year by contemporary educational practitioners as, “A mess, a joke, a complete disaster”. At the time in 2002, it attracted an enormous amount of criticism.

Yet the Council not only continued to work with Hunt’s company: it happily paid the fees into Sheffield Data Services. More oddly still, although this was not made public at the time, Hotcourses had only a 50% shareholding in this company. Over the next seven years, the Council’s relationship with Sheffield Data Services was richly rewarding for Jeremy Hunt. (And may have been for others involved – who knows?)

The British Council further muddied the waters of this relationship by insisting that ‘Sheffield Data’s’ contract should be with ‘Education UK’. But in reality, the Council paid the cheques into SDS….which oddly enough, was based nowhere near Sheffield: it was situate in West London…..at the same address as Hotcourses. After Hotcourses lost the Council business in 2009 (spookily, just as Jeremy became a squeaky-clean Minister) SDS stopped trading. It is now the subject of an order to be struck off at Companies House. But tucked away on page 23 of the 24-page SDS 2008 company report is the news that, in that year, Hotcourses provided ‘services’ to Sheffield Data of £1.45 million. But once Jeremy Hunt joined the Shadow Cabinet, this figure suddenly became £0.00.

Waydergo, Jezzer: that must’ve been one helluva special relationship you had with The British Council.

In August of that year, Hunt’s local consituency newspaper ran a story about allegedly dodgy dealings at Hotcourses. Brazen as ever, this is what current Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to the paper, later emblazoned on his website:

‘Your front page article on Friday 21st August suggested I was being forced to defend my involvement with the company I founded, with the implicit suggestion that there was something to be ashamed of. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am very proud that unlike many politicians I know what it is like to set up a company from scratch with no capital. That company now employs over 200 people, all of whom use their salaries to support their families and pay taxes.’

In the light of these Slog revelations, I wonder if the Minister of State for Media, Culture and Sport would now like to explain why neither he nor the British Council have anything to be ashamed of.

Throughout seven years of working with the British Council up until his final payday in 2009, Jeremy Hunt made a great deal of money from the circuitous relationship between his company and the Council. The Council costs the taxpayer over £200m a year, but survived the Osborne axe unscathed. Imagine that.

Imagine the irritation too, of The Language Business (for a while, a Hotcourses competitor) which in 2005 asked a Freedom of Information question about the Hotcourses/BC relationship, and received a reply quoting from a BC statement that owner David Blackie describes as “entirely false”.

When in Opposition, David Cameron vowed to close down cosy quangos with special relaionships, and bring a new cleanliness into Westminster politics.

But Jeremy Hunt is still in his job, and the British Council is still there.

Earlier this week, David Cameron said he would not associate himself with anyone who carried out “aggressive tax avoidance”, while George Osborne, the Chancellor, previously said he was “shocked” by the scale of tax avoidance by some of Britain’s richest people. The Telegraph piece of last week points out that his Hotcourses tax-dodge allowed Mr Hunt to reduce his potential tax bill by more than £100,000 because it was completed just days before an announced 10 per cent rise in the tax on dividends in April 2010.

But Jeremy Hunt is still in his job.

The 165 pages of emails to and from Newscorp are themselves physical evidence that the Culture Secretary lied to Parliament about full disclosure.

But Jeremy Hunt is still in his job.

On his website, the Culture secretary revels in his self-description as “a cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch”. Vince Cable was moved sideways for saying the opposite.

But Jeremy Hunt is still in his job.

The part-owner of Hotcourses now stands accused of being an integral part of the very tax-avoiding, close-to-the-wind business culture that both sides of the House have condemned.

But still Jeremy Hunt is in his job.

So the only question left when it comes to the Cameron, Osborne, Hunt Troika is, which one of them is the biggest hypocrite?

64 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE: The very odd relationship between Jeremy Hunt and the British Council

  1. As you know I am rather close to this story. But a correction that you should be aware of is that while Hotcourses lost the contract to manage the British Council’s Education UK site a couple of years ago, it retained the contract to sell these publishing services. Jeremy Hunt’s company has thus had a monopoly of the sale of these services for the British Council since before the site was launched, and still has it. The original contract (before Sheffield Data Services) was with a specially constructed £100 company, Managing Director one J. Hunt, called Education Websites Ltd. In a bid to bury the trail, this company swapped names with another company, Remone Ltd, and then an application was made to have Remone Ltd (i.e. the duff company the British Council in fact contracted) removed from the register. I’ve written about it more than once (sorry folks) but here’s a piece on the subject I wrote 4 years ago. http://dblackie.blogs.com/the_language_business/2008/07/buried-by-time-travellers.html I hope that’s in order, John.


  2. Resign? Hahahahahaha

    These people will only resign if they’re clearly guilty of breaking the law, and even then it seems only certain laws count.


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  4. “Which one is the biggest hypocrite?”
    Nothing to choose between them I’m afraid………
    Did I mention the bit about straight bats?


  5. David
    As always, that input is massively appreciated.
    On reflection, part of me thinks Mr Rhyming-Slange should remain as Culture Secretary: he reflects our business/political culture perfectly.


  6. @JW:
    Meanwhile, 2,000 senior Civil Servants and quango bosses are avoiding tax by being paid – or paying themselves – through off-payroll companies.
    And that’s just the ones exposed so far. It wouldn’t surprise me one jot if HMR&C top-dogs are involved.
    I can’t say why, but I find this particularly disgusting and is precisely what I commented about yesterday: that this degeneration in ethical standards and honesty is part of much wider crises engulfing Britain’s political, public servants and commercial organisations. Whilst screwing John/Jane Doe for every last penny using every trick in the book. It reinforces my view that someone needs to take a chainsaw to these fascist parasites. From the Telegraph:

    “An investigation by Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, found this week that up to 2,000 public officials could have been using the technique to minimise their tax bills…” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9243173/David-Cameron-It-is-never-acceptable-for-civil-servants-to-avoid-paying-tax.html


  7. JW:
    I would hazard a guess that we are, and a whole lot more. Cameron has steadfastly defended him in the face of adversity. There’s good reason for it.


  8. @BT: I too find it particularly disgusting. The rot is to the core, it’s high time for a complete clear out. But, I fear there is no going back now.


  9. This is all rather murky, if not spooky (tap nose). Odder still, on one hand the BC contracts with berks like Berkeley here, while on the other providing an exclusive public teat for the Kinnochios.


  10. Hobson’s choice.Do you want a Labour party running the show,with McMaster’s suicide in 1997? That is how Labour works,it is a nasty mafiosa protection racket.Alternatively,you have new Conservatives,a curious mixture of old,legal offshore money(Dave et al.) and Hunt,new money,very close to the wind,but just about legal.The politicians reflect the country,n’est ce pas.


  11. First of all a health warning.be careful what you wish for. But ” vote nothing changes,don’t vote.everything changes.


  12. In line with the dodgey financial principles espoused by all 3 of these reprobates, I reckon each of them is the biggest hypocrite. Forgive my ignorance of the euphemisms but do references to “Colombian talcum powder” here and lambada dancing in an earlier post refer to nostril powder or Mandelsonian latin american activities?


  13. So now join up the dots and connect Hunt’s educational software distribution organisation with Murdoch’s aim to use his satellite and broadband infrastructure to establish a transmission channel into schools, colleges and universities worldwide to deliver on-line tuition, rather than front-of-class fleshware. And it all starts to come together……


  14. So, just how long do we have to wait to see something done about this? I for one will certainly not be holding my breath……


  15. This behaviour just cannot go on.With a bit of luck Cameron will be gone by the end of the year.Unfortunately ,there are lots of clones waiting to take his place.


  16. Don’t bank on it – a law was passed by Cameron & Co that a Parliamentry term would last for 5 years .


  17. I personally can’t see anything being done about it, and if what we read is true, Tony Liar returning to mainstream politics, things will only get worse, if that’s possible…


  18. @PhilE: With respect to the “talcum powder” Yes, Cocaine. Chipping Norton (where most of the reprobates reside) is better known as “Tooting Norton”


  19. As has been noted before – the establishment see themselves as a tight knit CLUB >/b> whereby they work and play together with disregard to the mere plebs who are just an irritation to their troughing ambitions.
    Only a dose of 5 dozen writhing serpents will confine these parasites to a screaming


  20. …suffer in this life first ….(several decades at best)..
    or an ETERNITY of PUNISHMENT as was written many centuries ago by the Wise men of Hastings in the Domesday Book.


  21. From Jeremy Hunt’s Wikipedia entry;

    “Hunt was elected at the 2005 General Election, after Virginia Bottomley – a former member of the Board of Trustees of British Council – was created a Life Peeress.”


    “Hotcourses has subsequently (to it’s founding in 1996) provided financial support to Hunt’s parliamentary office”

    Right. All completely above board.


  22. kfc, Is it thought to be still going on?

    As much as I loath the Cameronites, I suspect a very large number of people now in their 40’s and over indulged in illicit substances in the past.


  23. Thanks to the British Council, British universities, colleges and schools have financed Hunt’s political career. That was only possible because of the monopoly powers enjoyed by the British Council, itself financed by the British taxpayer. Neat or what?


  24. I’m not convinced the peruvian’s really a hanging offence these days.
    Posh boys in their thirties would be shockingly abstemious if they didn’t partake once in a while.
    I reckon the NI angle is sharper ansd scarier for Cameron. Coulson is set to appear before Leveson in a few days, I wonder if the Sheridan trial will be sub-judice?


  25. How on earth did a tory manage to pull off a coup like that, in 2002, deep in the middle of a labour government?

    It’s all very wierd indeed.


  26. When are you going to start taking Common Purpose seriously, John?

    And how can you write a blog on the British Council and not manage to mention the troughing Kinnochs? Their British Council-employed son was kicked out of Moscow, was he not, after some shenanigans?

    Corruption is endemic and rife throughout the political spectrum, and it matters not which party is in office.


  27. @BT – have you not kept up? These arrangements have ‘saved’ the taxpayer money, because the quangos / whoever have not had to pay employers’ National Insurance. It’s all been done in the best possible cause and anyone who derides it is obviously an enemy of the state and will have to be dealt with accordingly.


  28. Really? Does Branson know about this? Virgin Education has a certain ring to it. Ooops, is that a poor choice of word…..?


  29. That would be fascinating – Branson and Murdoch would be like two ferrets fighting in a sack, billions of public money at stake and not a penny in tax getting paid.


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  32. Paul – in 2002 Hotcourses was identified as flavour of the hour by the British Council, and Mr Hunt was not publicly political at all. It all arose as a result of the “Prime Minister’s Initiative”, meaning that Tony Blair wanted to be associated with an increase in international students coming to the UK, and handed a few mill to the BC to knock something up. Hotcourses promised a profit sharing arrangement with the BC, and money gets the BC excited. Profit sharing was written into the contract with “Education Websites Ltd” but subsequently dropped in the contract with “Sheffield Data Services Ltd”. Does that answer the question? Money.


  33. Except that the obsure methods of payment are for the salaries of the people running the quangos and some top Civil Servants. So I guess employers’ NI conts are still being paid for the workforce.
    To me, the very notion that Civil Servants are abusing the tax system for personal gain is completely unacceptable and it should result in serious disciplinary action against them. But it won’t, such is the deep level of corruption in Britain’s Establishment today. We are sliding into an abyss.


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  35. It comes as no real surprise, just another piece in an ever uglier puzzle. One comment above was asking something like, what is David Cameron doing (or thinking)… having these people on his team…? But really… it’s been one after another on Cameron’s team who has turned out to be pure poison. As with all other things, it can’t just be the bottom tiers that are rotten through, the whole house has got to go.


  36. I find all this most depressing, as the worst that will happen is that he will lose his position. Will everything be ok without him in that job?…. Briefly…

    Until next time.

    Until next time.

    The revolving door keeps on spinning. Where is the hope? Look at the latest election… Oh goody, we have faith in Labour now do we?

    The public purse is a surplus labelled with good intention but existing without ownership. Its plunder through greed is expedited by stupidity.

    We must take away the power of government to borrow without direct permission of the electorate.


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