2005-01-07

Corruption, Bias, Influence, Secrets and Non Disclosure!

Article 1: Mcconnell holiday with Wark discovered Article 2: Mcconnell under scrutiny for holiday Article 3: Wark under scrutiny for holiday Article 4: The Wark-Mcconnell Network under scrutiny Article 5: Further undisclosed Wark-Mcconnell issues Article 1
Jack McconnellKirsty Wark
The First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell's decision to take his family on a Spanish holiday with the television journalist Ms.Kirsty Wark came under scrutiny yesterday. The First Minister was criticised for accepting The BBC's 'Newsnight' presenter's invitation to spend 'New Year' at her holiday home in Majorca. Critics said it highlighted the 'cosy' relationship between 'The Scottish Labour Party' and certain sections of 'the media'. But a spokesman for The First Minister dismissed such speculation yesterday and said it was 'despicable' to insinuate that there was anything amiss. 'Freedom of information suppressed by secretive Holyrood', Hamish Macdonell, The Scotsman, 2005-01-03, Mo. Article 2: The row over The First Minister's family holiday at the Spanish villa of television presenter Ms.Kirsty Wark intensified yesterday after he was accused of failing to declare a previous visit in his parliamentary register of interests. 'The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party' questioned whether The First Minister had breached the parliamentary code of conduct, after his official female spokesman confirmed he and his family had visited Ms.Wark's holiday home in Mallorca in 2003, but did not consider it something which needed to be declared.
Under the 1998 Scotland Act, all overseas visits where costs are not 'wholly met' by the member have to be declared. The act also states that where a member receives a gift, or a 'benefit in kind' worth more than 250_GBP, it should also be declared.
However, The First Minister's official spokesman insisted that the stay in 2003 did not constitute a gift and was not covered by rules governing overseas trips.
'The Mcconnell family have stayed with the Wark family once before about two years ago', she said. 'There was no requirement to register this as a gift then, and there is not one now. 'The First Minister is aware of the code, but his view is that there is no requirement in this case', she added.
However, Mr.David Mcletchie, the leader of 'The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party', said the public would assume a free stay at a Spanish 'villa' was a gift worth more than 250_GBP,
David Mcletchie 'Consequently, it should be declared within 30 days in Mr.Mcconnell's register of interests. 'There are also rules governing overseas trips', he said. 'He now needs to explain why this previous holiday was not declared, since even if there was any ambiguity he should either have declared it anyway for the avoidance of doubt, or sought advice from the parliament. 'He should therefore publish any such advice immediately to clarify the situation and avoid the accusation that there is one rule for Jack Mcconnell if he stays with a prominent BBC politics presenter and another rule for every other MSP. 'It is time for him to give some answers'.
The First Minister is not alone in being accused of failing to declare overseas trips.
In 2004-12, Prime Minister Mr.Tony Blair faced demands to declare whether he had paid for an Egyptian holiday at a hotel complex run by a millionaire businessman, Gamal Omar, and his son Mohammed. The family is linked to the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, who in the past has put Egypt's security forces at The Prime Minister's disposal and provided him with flights to Cairo. The Prime Minister is already facing questions from the Commons' 'watchdog' over his failure to declare a holiday in France which was paid for by a 'French businessman linked to the tobacco industry'.
The row over The First Minister's visit to Mallorca was sparked earlier this week after the BBC's 'Newsnight' presenter was accused of a conflict of interests by inviting The First Minister and his family to spend 'New Year' at her holiday home. Opposition parties said the friendship threw into doubt Ms.Wark's ability to host political TV programmes -- including the Corporation's coverage of the UK General Election in Scotland. Ms.Wark has already dismissed as 'absurd' suggestions that her friendship with The First Minister interfered with her job. And a spokesman for The First Minister described concerns over The First Minister's holiday as 'ridiculous'. 'Fresh row as Mcconnell failed to declare previous stay with Wark ', Andrew Denholm, The Scotsman, 2005-01-06, Th Article 3 Ms.Kirsty Wark's 18 years as the presenter of General Election coverage in Scotland appeared to be at an end last night after senior BBC insiders said she had made a 'huge mistake' by going on holiday with The First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell. Last night, Ms.Wark was scheduled to present BBC2's flagship 'Newsnight' programme before handing over to 'Newsnight Scotland' -- which was to report on this holiday row in which she herself featured. It was clear the awkward situation was becoming too much for many senior executives at the BBC, who said Ms.Wark had been wrong to host The First Minister and his family over 'New Year' at her holiday home in Mallorca. The former director-general of the BBC, Mr.Greg Dyke, described this as a 'misjudgment' and a former BBC Scotland executive described Ms.Wark as 'damaged goods'. Although BBC Scotland's General Election coverage team has not yet been chosen, it is now thought to be unlikely that Ms.Wark will occupy her usual position as the 'Anchorman' of the late-night results programme, despite her insistence she has done nothing wrong. A BBC Scotland senior executive said she was being 'incredibly na�ve' to believe the holidays with The First Minister and his family -- who also spent time at Ms.Wark's Spanish retreat two years ago -- did not matter.
'It's been a huge mistake and it's a shame what is happening now, but they just shouldn't be going on holiday together', the source said. 'She is a great presenter with a sharp mind but that doesn't matter. It's all about people's perception'.
Another BBC insider agreed with this assessment but said Ms.Wark's network of influential allies might be able to save her from being dropped.
'The view in the BBC is that she won't be anchoring our election coverage. 'But she does have friends in high places, which means we could be wrong', the source said.
A former BBC Scotland executive who held a senior position in the corporation said Wark's choice of holiday companions had been a major mistake that could harm her career.
'Kirsty, especially, seems to be blissfully unaware of the damage this has done to her own credibility, but both her and Mcconnell seem to believe "We are important people so it doesn't matter"'. 'There might not be a conflict but she is in a position where people can say it's a conflict of interest. If you were an accountant or judge, you would not put your position in doubt. 'I don't think she could present the next General Election coverage for BBC Scotland, even if she wants to, because she is now "damaged goods"'.
Mr.Dyke raised questions about who paid for what on the holiday. He said:
'It's a hard issue. They've been friends for a long time. She went on holiday with him before and nobody noticed. Who pays? If she pays for the flights then he's in trouble. If he pays for his own flights ... I mean it's not a heinous crime. It's a misjudgment'.
Other BBC presenters appeared reluctant to back or criticise Ms.Wark publicly. One, who asked not to be named, said:
'It strikes me it's a bit "so what?"' This is almost a function of the small community we have in Scotland. We all know each other pretty well. 'I know Jack Mcconnell pretty well. I wouldn't choose to have a holiday with him, but ... I don't think it's a problem'.
At least one prominent figure did jump to Ms.Wark's defence yesterday -- but it was her friend and holiday guest, The First Minister.
'There has never been any question about Kirsty Wark's impartiality in the 20 or so years that she has been a broadcaster', he said. 'What we have is one family with a son and a daughter staying with another family with a son and a daughter in their house -- family friends for nearly 20 years; no question that there was anything wrong or anything has ever influenced either Kirsty Wark or I (sic) in our jobs. 'I think it would be a very, very sad day if politicians or broadcasters dropped their friends, dropped families that they were closely associated with just simply because of their positions'.
The First Minister declined to comment on Ms.Wark's job as General Election 'Anchorman', saying it was a matter for the BBC. It was revealed yesterday that Ms.Wark has interviewed The First Minister on at least three occasions: 1. On 1999-05-10, about tuition fees. 2. During the 2001 General Election as part of a panel of politicians. 3. On 2004-09-09, on smoking. In 2004-12, The First Minister commented on the BBC's decision to cut almost 3_000 jobs as part of a restructuring process that could see more programmes made in Scotland -- presumably by production companies such as 'IWC Media', the merger of Ms.Wark's firm, 'Wark Clements', with Ms.Muriel Gray's 'Ideal World Productions'. The First Minister said:
Jack Mcconnell 'This is a great boost for the creative industries in Scotland and we now have an opportunity to retain more talent in Scotland, attract more talent and build a successful television production centre for the future'.
The BBC insisted last night, 2005-01-06, that no decision about Ms.Wark's role as election-night 'Anchorman' had been made and said any 'potential conflict of interest' would be dealt with by the General Election programme editor. This position will not be filled until the election is called but it is likely to be Mr.Alasdair Macleod, the editor of the parliamentary unit in Scotland. A spokesman for Ms.Wark said she would not be saying anything further on the matter -- to The Scotsman, 'Newsnight' Scotland or anyone else -- after earlier this week insisting that her friendship with The First Minister or anyone else had 'at no point interfered with my ability to do my job in a fair and objective manner'. Meanwhile, the BBC's 'Newsnight' website contains a response to an apt question from a BBC News On-line user that suggested to Ms.Wark there was a conflict of interest between the extent of her influence in Scotland and her role as a political journalist. She replied somewhat coyly:
Kirsty Wark 'What is influence and how is it conducted, I don't know. I don't take part in public life in Scotland so my influence is of no real worth. I may be deemed or seen as being influential but what I can affect in Scotland I'm not really sure'.
'"Naive" Wark on the brink of losing key election anchor role', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2005-01-07 Article 4 Ms.Kirsty Wark has intimate links with 'The Scottish Labour Party' and many of its senior supporters. Donald Dewar She was a close family friend of the late First Minister Mr.Donald Dewar and even shared a garden with him when they were neighbours. It was First Minister Mr.Dewar who appointed her to the panel to choose the design of the Scottish Parliament. She was impressed by Mr.Enric Miralles -- the eventual winner -- and they were said to have become close friends. Enrique Miralles Amid mounting claims of 'cronyism', it was Ms.Wark's television company, 'Wark Clements' -- set up in 1990 with her husband Mr.Alan Clements -- which was chosen to make a documentary about the building of 'Holyrood'. There was outrage when Ms.Wark and the BBC refused to hand over all the film shot during the making of the documentary, called 'The Gathering Place', to 'The Fraser Inquiry' into the handling of the construction. The counsel to The Inquiry, Mr.John Campbell, QC, who questioned her, was a friend -- she had been a bridesmaid at his wedding. Despite this, however, Mr.Campbell made his displeasure at her refusal to hand over the tapes abundantly clear. Ms.Wark was backed up by her colleague, then controller of BBC Scotland, Mr.John Mccormick, who insisted handing over the tapes would clash with the BBC's policies. Mr.Mccormick has since left the BBC and recently took up a post as Chairman of 'The Scottish Qualifications Authority', an appointment made by 'The Scottish Executive'. Another friend of Ms.Wark, Mr.James Boyle, is currently chairman of 'The Scottish Executive's' cultural commission. He previously worked at the BBC and was also on the board of 'Wark Clements', when he was paid 21_000_GBP as a consultant, according to company documents from 2003-04. He also previously chaired 'The Scottish Arts Council', which includes Glasgow City Council Lord Provost Elizabeth Cameron on its board. Liz cameron The First Minister's wife Bridget is 'Glasgow City Council's Director of Cultural and Leisure Services'. Bridget Mcconnell She is also a member of 'The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) board' in Scotland, chairwoman of 'Vocal', the influential local government cultural body, a fellow of 'The Royal Society of Arts' and a member of the board of 'The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama'. She appeared to have a very public falling out with Mr.Boyle after commission 'sources' said she and council officials should stop interfering in cultural issues. However, Ms.Mcconnell and Mr.Boyle are still thought to be friends and were seen together at a one-man-show by former 'Number Ten Spin Doctor' Mr.Alistair Campbell in Glasgow last year 2004. Another Mr.Boyle, Mr.John Boyle, the former Motherwell FC chairman and millionaire businessman, is another close friend of Ms.Wark and Mr.Clements, with strong links to 'The Scottish Labour Party'. He has a house on Mallorca not far from Ms.Wark's holiday home. Mr.Boyle, who is currently in Australia, bought a 1_million_GBP share in 'Wark Clements' and was on the board of the company in 2003-04, according to the latest accounts filed with Companies House. He has made substantial donations to 'The Scottish Labour Party', including one of 20_000_GBP in 1999. Mr.Boyle is close to millionaire businessman Mr.Willie Haughey, the boss of 'City Refrigeration Holidays', who is chairman of 'Scottish Enterprise Glasgow' and a major donor to 'The Scottish Labour Party'. In 2003, the former Celtic director gave 330_000_GBP to the party. He sits on the board of 'Scottish Enterprise Glasgow' with Ms.Wark's husband. Muriel Gray The influence of 'Wark Clements' increased when the firm merged with Ms.Muriel Gray's 'Ideal World Productions', its leading rival in Scotland, to become 'IWC Media'. 'Web of friends at heart of power', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2005-01-07 Article 5: BBC television presenter Ms.Kirsty Wark spent two nights at The First Minister's official residence at 'Bute House' in Edinburgh, it was revealed last night, further inflaming the row surrounding their close friendship. The 'Newsnight' presenter and her husband stayed at 'The First Minister's' home on two occasions, in 2001-12 and 2002-10. The revelation comes less than 24 hours after Senior BBC Scotland insiders said she had made a 'huge mistake' by inviting The First Ministerto her holiday villa in Mallorca. Senior BBC Scotland executives strongly suggested that Ms.Wark's 18 years as presenter of General Election coverage in Scotland had come to an end. The row over The First Minister's visit to Mallorca was triggered when she was accused of a conflict of interests by inviting The First Minister and his family to spend 'New Year' with her there. Opposition parties said the friendship threw into doubt Ms.Wark's ability to host political programmes. It then emerged that The First Minister had not declared in the parliamentary register of interests a visit in 2003. A source close to The First Minister confirmed last night that Ms.Wark and her husband had stayed at 'Bute House' in 2001-12 and 2002-10.
'"Bute House" is The First Minister's official residence, but it is also his private residence and it is a benefit in kind. He pays tax on it to 'The Inland Revenue' -- that is an agreement that has been in place since 1960', the source said. 'Because it is his private home he can invite who he wants to stay, and Kirsty Wark and Mr.Clements and their family are old friends. There is nothing untoward in this'.
Mr.Bill Aitken, Chief Whip of 'The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party', said:
'There is nothing in itself wrong with people being given hospitality in "Bute House" but these visits show once again the close relationship between Kirsty Wark and Jack Mcconnell. 'This re-inforces why he should be declaring any holidays he has taken with them in his register of interest and putting that information into the public domain. 'All that is happening is that suspicions are being raised that there is even more yet to be disclosed'.
A spokesman for BBC said:
'This is an entirely private matter and we won't be making a comment. 'It is too early to discuss who will be presenting the General Election coverage'.
The revelation came at the end of another day of pressure for The First Minister and Ms.Wark. 'The Conservative & Unionists' called for 'The Standards Commissioner' to make a ruling on whether 'The First Minister' should have declared his two holidays at Ms.Wark's holiday home. 'The Scottish National Party' renewed calls for The First Minister to make a statement to Parliament next week. 'The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party' Chief Whip, Mr.Bill Aitken, stopped short of making a formal complaint to 'The Scottish Parliament's Standards Committee', but is to write asking for clarification on hospitality involving stays with friends overseas. Mr.Brian Monteith, 'The Scottish Conservative & Unionist' MSP for 'Mid Scotland and Fife', said 'the Kirsty Warks of this world' were needed to apply the strictest of public tests to politicians. He said:
'If Kirsty Wark won't resign from 'Newsnight' she should be sacked -- or moved to programmes where her friendship with The Mcconnells does not compromise either party'.
'TV presenter "spent two nights at First Minister's official home"', Andrew Denholm, The Scotsman, 2005-01-08 Previously on this Blog: Freedom of Information causes Secrets, 2005-01 New Law: Freedom of Information -- Authorities must be 'open', 2004-05 Govt. Deletes E-mails 11 Days Before Freedom of Information, 2004-12 Links: Parliament Live Holyrood Inquiry

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

All they had to do was to follow normal procedures. McConnell's own party has been banging on about Open Government and has introduced the Freedom of Information Act, so it's particularly ironic.

Some people might think that nothing untoward has been going on, and that it is all a simple misunderstanding. However, that is not a matter for them, but for the voting public to decide - and not after the fact, we all should have the right to the facts beforehand.

If it was an oversight in te first instance, the fact that they got away with it seems to have led them to believe that there was no need to disclose anything - power corrupts, and they seem to think the rules don't apply to them.

The fourth article provides a glimpse of what else might be going on -- perhaps this simple holiday non-disclosure is just the tip of a large and ugly iceberg?

1/08/2005 05:56:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think McConnell was defending the wrong thing! He seems to think the implication was an "affair" with Wark, and has missed the point completely!

I know that if I was a nonlabour politician, I would not trust Wark's interviewing nor the BBC's influential coverage.

As the general election is only a few months away, an unbiased media is essential. This couldn't have come at a worse time for the BBC. Wark will have to go now.

1/08/2005 06:00:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Scotsman 12 Jan:
"When controversy over Wark Clements surfaced in April last year, Mr McConnell was asked for his views about the BBC?s failure to hand over to the Holyrood Inquiry material from a documentary made by the company about the building of the parliament.

The First Minister said then he believed the tapes should be handed over but added that he would not be willing to take action to force Wark Clements or the BBC to hand over the tapes.

No-one questioned Mr McConnell?s approach at the time, but Lord Fraser stepped in earlier this week when he found out about the friendship between the First Minister and Wark. The Tory peer, who conducted the inquiry into the Holyrood debacle, said he was "dismayed" to find out, because it cast doubt over the extent of Mr McConnell?s efforts to get the tapes released.

Yesterday, opposition politicians seized on this issue and warned that the First Minister should have declared his interest before answering any questions about Wark?s production company.

David McLetchie, the Scots Tory leader, said that Mr McConnell should have told parliament that he had a personal interest in the issue because of his long-standing friendship with Wark.
"When he refused to back my call for parliament to force the tapes to be handed over, he should have told the parliament about the relationship with Ms Wark and Mr Clements. Then we could all have judged his lack of action in the light of all the facts."

Mr McConnell was unavailable for comment yesterday on the issue of his holiday with Wark.

Indeed, the First Minister went further and refused to answer the questions of any journalist on any issue other than the relocation advisory service, which he was opening in Glasgow yesterday morning.

In an extraordinary step, Mr McConnell?s media advisers told journalists they would not be able to ask the First Minister about anything else and the First Minister simply refused to speak when anyone tried to solicit answers from him about the so-called "villagate" affair.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP?s deputy leader, kept up the attack on the First Minister, saying: "Jack McConnell can resolve this matter now by admitting he has made a mistake and by taking the opportunity to set the record straight.

"Burying his head in the sand is not the way to resolve the issue. We need the full facts from him now if we are to close this matter once and for all and move on to more important issues."

In another development that will come as an embarrassment to the First Minister, his holiday arrangements were brought up in the House of Commons yesterday in questions to the Advocate General. Annabelle Ewing, the SNP MP for Perth, asked why there was an apparent discrepancy between the rules for the Prime Minister - who declared a holiday at Sir Cliff Richard?s holiday home last year - and the First Minister, who did not declare a similar holiday with Wark over the New Year.

Ms Ewing asked Lynda Clark, the Advocate General, whether she was aware of any discrepancy in the rules. She replied: "No."

1/12/2005 11:53:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Friday Jan 14:"JACK McConnell broke the rules governing the conduct of parliamentarians when he failed to declare his holidays with Kirsty Wark, according to the MSP who drew up the regulations.

Mike Rumbles, a Liberal Democrat MSP and former convener of the Standards Committee, said the First Minister was damaging the reputation of Holyrood by refusing to declare his holiday with the Newsnight presenter in the official register of members? interests.

He said the rules had to apply to all MSPs and warned that members did the parliament a "disservice" if they failed to abide by them."

1/14/2005 12:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Jim Dyer, Holyrood's Standards Commissioner, has been asked to examine the First Minister's links to Wark by David Black, an architectural writer and vociferous critic of the Holyrood building project.

Mr Black is specifically concerned with the circumstances surrounding the documentary series, The Gathering Place, which Wark's company, Wark Clements, made about the Holyrood building. But his letter to Dr Dyer is wide-ranging enough to encompass criticisms of Mr McConnell over his links with Wark.

In the letter, Mr Black wrote: 'In light of recent statements by Mike Rumbles MSP and Lord Fraser, I believe it is vital that the Standards Committee fully investigates the circumstances surrounding the documentary The Gathering Place, which the BBC is scheduled to transmit in the near future'.

Under the MSPs' code of conduct, Dr Dyer will determine the admissibility of Mr Black's complaint. He will decide whether or not it warrants further investigation. If so, he will then prepare a report for the Standards Committee on his findings.

The central issue is whether Mr McConnell should have declared his two holidays with Wark at her villa in Majorca in the official register of members' interests.

The First Minister has repeatedly refused to do so, claiming his holidays were purely private arrangements between two families which did not need to be declared."

1/17/2005 11:29:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The confusion over the value of Wark's hospitality in Majorca to the First Minister deepened yesterday when Alan Clements, Wark's husband, admitted that the couple do charge friends to live in their villa -- but only for exclusive use.

Mr Clements said that friends paid between �400 and �500 to use the house but he stressed that he would never ask for money from those who shared it with him and his family, as the McConnells did.

He stated: 'We never, have never and would never charge friends for staying with us'.

And he added: 'Even if we did charge them, which we don't, there were ten people in the house at New Year so, even if the value of the property is �500, his [Mr McConnell's] share doesn't come near to the value of �250'. "

1/17/2005 11:30:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill means BBC will be forced to hand over Holyrood tapes

HAMISH MACDONELL


LORD Fraser will use new powers being introduced at Westminster to force the BBC to hand over material to his inquiry into the Holyrood fiasco, it emerged yesterday.

The Tory peer said he would use the Inquiries Bill, which will give new powers to inquiry chairmen, to force the BBC to hand over the untransmitted tapes from the documentary series, The Gathering Place.

Lord Fraser has kept his inquiry open because he has yet to see the tapes of interviews with the main players in the Holyrood project.

Two of these involved the former First Minister Donald Dewar and the project?s architect Enric Miralles, both of whom are now dead.

The Tory peer said he hoped the legislation would come into force in time for him to demand the tapes, which the BBC has refused to hand over.

Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald asked the Deputy Justice Minister, Hugh Henry, to clarify if, under the new law, the Fraser Inquiry would compel the release of the tapes.

He later confirmed that both the BBC and IWC Media, who are producing the documentary, would have had to release the tapes.

Last week, Lord Fraser confirmed that his inquiry, although it has published its report, remains open.

"Margo MacDonald is spot-on," he said. "If this law had been there, I wouldn?t have had any trouble.

"I?d have been in court in a day and that would have been the end of it."

A BBC spokesman said the corporation had a policy of complying with legal orders.

2/07/2005 09:01:00 pm  

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