Officials don't know how many people paid for help to get honours
Honours system is being brought ‘into disrepute’ after officials admit they have no idea how many recipients have PAID for help to get their awards, MPs warn
- Specialist firms charge clients up to £40,000 to help get a knight or damehood
- Hundreds of people named in Queen’s Birthday Honours List could be involved
- The Cabinet says it keeps no record on whether applicants have used a service
Whitehall officials have no idea how many recipients of honours have paid vast sums for help to get their awards, a Daily Mail investigation reveals.
The damning findings bring the entire honours system ‘into disrepute’, MPs have warned.
Specialist firms boast they can improve your chances of getting an honour dramatically, charging clients up to £40,000 to deliver even knighthoods or damehoods.
The awards for hundreds of those named in the delayed Queen’s Birthday Honours List on Saturday may be tainted by the involvement of the fixers.
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List was announced on Saturday – but Whitehall officials keep no record of whose award was made possible with the help of ‘fixer firms,’ who charge thousands of pounds
Applicants putting forward a candidate for an honour are required to tick a box on the entry form if one of the fixer firms has been used.
The Mail asked the Cabinet Office in a Freedom of Information request to reveal how many of those submitted for honours said they used the specialist services.
Officials admitted they did not record this data and had no idea how many had paid for help.
Campaigners said the honours system was ‘bankrupt’ and skewed against ‘ordinary’ people who could not afford huge sums to try to gain an advantage.
Food writer and former Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry was among the famous names to appear on the birthday honours list
Chris Bryant, chairman of the parliamentary committee on standards, called for urgent reform.
The Labour MP told the Mail: ‘The entire point of an honour is that it’s something that is awarded on merit with a degree of transparency – in reality, this is murkier than the River Nile. There urgently needs to be top-to-bottom reform to the entire honours system.’
He added: ‘I would have hoped that if you tick the box or it becomes apparent you have paid someone else to do your application for you, then you should be automatically ruled out of getting an honour.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, pictured in Parliament last month, has called for urgent reform to the honours system
‘The fact that they ask this question but don’t collate how many people do this just shows a complete disregard for keeping the honours system fair and brings the entire system into disrepute.’
The Mail revealed in July how one firm, Awards Intelligence, says it helps 200 people apply for honours a year, boasting of a 65 per cent success rate for clients – some of whom pay up to £40,000.
Another company, Right Angles PR, told author Barbara Taylor Bradford it could help her get a damehood for £80,000 – a request she rejected.
The firm also put together a 12-page document outlining a strategy for musician Calvin Harris to get a knighthood.
Son’s anger at ‘cash for honours’
One ‘cash for honours’ firm brazenly demanded endorsement for one of its OBE candidates from a knight of the realm who was suffering from dementia and barely knew the client.
Awards Intelligence was hired in 2013 to help Guy Parsons, a philanthropist and former senior partner at financial services firm KPMG, get an award.
The firm composed a letter from Sir John Read, former chairman of EMI and Trustee Savings Bank. The letter endorsed Mr Parsons and claimed the two men were long-standing friends.
Awards Intelligence then sent the letter to Sir John to ask him to sign it.
As, unknown to the firm, Sir John was suffering from dementia, the letter was passed to his son, Tony, who was furious about the attempt to involve his father. He said the letter contained inaccuracies and wrote to the Cabinet Office to complain.
The letter had claimed the two men went through school and the Navy together. They did both attend Brighton and Hove Grammar but were separated by an eight-year gap while Sir John joined the Navy in 1939. Mr Parsons was then just 13 and joined up four years later.
Officials said the department was aware of Awards Intelligence, but it was ‘not authorised by us in any way’.
Mr Parsons was awarded an OBE in the 2016 Queen’s Honours List. He died last year. His son, Philip, said he did not believe his father hired Awards Intelligence.
It advised the DJ to become an ambassador to charities because it was ‘beneficial in the honours process’.
There is no suggestion Harris endorsed the proposals.
A third company, Bayleaf Honours, charges £1,995 plus VAT for its services. It says its clients include ‘A-list showbiz and sports stars’ as well as charity workers and business leaders.
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said: ‘I am astounded they ask for this information then do not keep a record of it. By not doing so means that worthy applicants who cannot pay for help could be pushed to the back of the queue and no one would have any idea. It defeats the point of the honours system.
‘What if in one year everyone who paid for help was given an honour, and the Cabinet Office didn’t even know because it ignored the numbers?
‘It just indicates plainly that this is a completely bankrupt system.
‘Honours should be won on merit and when the Cabinet Office is being directly informed people are paying professionals to win their awards but are disregarding this information, then you just think, what’s the point?’
It is illegal to buy or sell honours or to pay to influence the decision makers and civil servants but there is no law against getting help with applications.
Transparency International policy director Duncan Hames said it gave the rich an unfair advantage.
‘Those who are awarded honours should receive them solely on merit, not as a result of the depth of their pockets,’ he added.
The decision to reflect the coronavirus battle in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List led to an unprecedented 4,000 public nominations.
In total, 1,495 honours were granted, including 414 for services during the pandemic.
Last night, the Cabinet Office said it had no plans to collect data on those who had paid for professional services for honours.
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