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Friday 8th
posted by Morning Star in Features

SOLOMON HUGHES reports on the competing sugar firms that are putting money into Tory pockets as they attempt to shape what kind of Brexit we have

RIVAL corporations are battling to define Brexit. The battle space is Tory bedrooms and Tory necks.

At the October Tory conference in Manchester the party sold advertising space on its conference passes, so every delegate carried a paid-for message from a corporation.

The back of the passes went to a US nuclear firm called Fluor, which wants Westminster government contracts. The lanyard — that’s the ribbon round your neck that holds the security pass — said Tate & Lyle Sugars. The sugar firm paid the Tories about £15,000 to put its brand on Tory necks.

That was one move in the sugar wars over Brexit. Another was revealed in the latest register of MPs’ interests, which shows that rival firm British Sugar Plc gave Victoria Atkins MP and her husband “four nights’ hotel accommodation during the Conservative Party conference,” costing £1,120 (at £280 a night, a much more luxurious room at the Manchester Tory conference than your Morning Star reporter had).

Atkins was elected MP for Louth and Horncastle in 2015 and became a junior Home Office minister in November, so she looks like an up-and-coming Tory.

The competing sugar firms are putting money into Tory pockets as they attempt to shape what kind of Brexit we have.

British Sugar makes its white crystals from British-grown sugar beet. Tate & Lyle uses imported cane sugar. British Sugar benefits from EU tariffs on sugar imports. The firm has been telling Tory MPs that it can deal with some lowering of tariffs but fears “dumping” of surplus South American cane sugar would be too much for itself and the sugar beet farmers. By contrast, Tate & Lyle is pushing for as low a tariff as possible.

Tate & Lyle already has strong Tory links. Up until 1997 it was a regular big Tory donor (it also gave small amounts to Labour in 1995 because it was impressed by Tony Blair).

Brexit Secretary David Davis had a long career at Tate & Lyle, which might influence his view of the EU. When Davis first became an MP in Parliament in 1987, he also became a member of the Tate & Lyle board, though he left the firm soon after.

However, Tate & Lyle is not quite the same British firm that Davis used to work for. It was sold in 2010, becoming part of the American Sugar Refining (ASR) Group.

ASR is part of the vast sugar empire of the Cuban-American brothers, Alfy Fanjul and Pepe Fanjul. While Tate & Lyle is pushing for a “free trade” Brexit in Britain, the Fanjul brothers are regularly accused in the US of relying on huge US sugar subsidies.

They are also regularly accused of labour abuses in the plantations where their Florida and Dominican sugar cane is grown.

So how should MPs try to balance lower prices against potential lost jobs? What way should a patriotic Tory turn? Who has British interests more in mind, the British-owned British Sugar or Tate & Lyle, which is owned by the Cuban-American Fanjul Brothers?

This difficult question does at least mean Tory MPs get free hotel stays and the Tory Party gets valuable sponsorship cash.

The foster care profiteers

FOSTERING has become big business, with private equity firms making big profits from this vital social service. When social services become profit centres, Tory MPs are close behind.

So East Worthing Tory MP Tim Loughton has a new job working for the National Fostering Agency, one of the bigger private companies in the fostering business.

Loughton says in the latest register of MPs’ interests that he will be working on the side for the National Fostering Agency’s quality and safeguarding committee. He will get £15,000 a year for three hours’ work a month or about £400 an hour.

A typical foster carer would get about £23,000 a year, but they would be working a little more than three hours a month.

Loughton was children’s minister in charge of government policy on fostering from 2010-12, so he’s useful for the National Fostering Agency.

Fostering is an absolutely essential social service. Lots of families help look after kids. They do it out of love, but it is paid-for work.

Because money is involved, lots of big companies and private equity investors have got into the business, charging local authorities for arranging fostering.

The latest accounts of the National Fostering Agency show the firm had a £69 million turnover and made a £3.8m profit in 2016.

Its highest-paid boss, probably chief executive Iain Anderson, gets £319,345 a year — again, a good deal more than a foster carer gets.

If you look on the National Fostering Agency’s website it is not clear that this even is a private company, but it is a profit-making firm.

Inspection reports show the National Fostering Agency does a generally good job and all the foster parents and social workers involved doubtless really help kids in need, but the company is still taking a profit out of a vital social service.

The investigators at Corporate Watch, whose research is often behind important headlines, looked at the fostering firms in 2015.

They found that the private equity firms behind the National Fostering Agency do well. The National Fostering Agency was owned by one private equity firm, called Graphite Capital, until April 2015.

Corporate Watch calculated that Graphite Capital took £14.4m out of the National Fostering Agency through a complicated system of