6 Reasons why Hammond is Right on NICs

In the 2017 Budget Chancellor Philip Hammond raised National Insurance payments for some self employed people…

…and then a week later withdrew the policy. However, I still support it, as do the Resolution Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the CBI, the Financial Times…

The Chancellor has a problem that would be no different for Labour. The recent massive increase in self employment is bad news for the economy because it’s been about exploitation, not entrepreneurialism. As a result of big companies either insisting on self-employment in the ‘gig’ economy or even de-employing people (see UCATT’s recent report on this) some people’s rights are being restricted. But that’s not what Hammond’s change to NIC is all about.

Here are six reasons why the Tories were RIGHT to raise NIC for some self employed people and deserve Labour support:

– the big switch to (often bogus) self employment has cost government many millions in lost tax income because the Treasury no longer receives employer’s NIC (or higher employee’s NIC) from them

– last year the self employed got an automatic right to a state pension without being asked to contribute any more towards it

– most self employed people in the gig economy won’t be affected by the rise in NIC because their net earnings are under £16k

– a self employed person with a declared income of £16k probably has a real income of at least £20k because they can offset expenses against tax (which PAYE employees can’t)

– at 11% the self employed will still pay less NIC than employees (12%) (though yes, they have fewer entitlements) and they aren’t required to do auto-enrolment on pensions

– when Labour needed more money for the NHS we brought in a NIC rise with no controversy at all!

Self employment is very complex. It used to represent convenience for the artisan, opportunity for the entrepreneur, release for the hobbyist – no longer. Big business has benefitted from growing self employment because they reduce their NIC payments by outsourcing. Those obliged to go independent have seen their NI contributions fall even where headline pay is unchanged. Modern self employment raises huge challenges around benefits, training, career development and social mobility.

The Budget wasn’t about the rights of self employed people nor the abuse of the status, though they’re important. And nor (London colleagues please note) does any part of the tax system acknowledge London weighting. A review is looking at all these issues and I trust Matthew Taylor to consider them properly, not just in fiscal terms.

Labour’s challenge to the Budget should be about living standards, corporate taxation and Brexit impact. In particular, when the revised National Living Wage came in, only in 2016, it established that minimum wage legislation should raise the lowest paid up to the official poverty level by 2020 – this commitment was dropped in the 2017 Budget. The relatively minor adjustment on NICs is not where we should focus.

For the record, I’ve been self employed both as an individual and as a company.

The fact that the decision is a manifesto breach is incidental, a problem for the Tories, not for Labour; leaving the EU Single Market would be a bigger manifesto breach! It was a daft commitment but it’s what governments do. If Hammond argued ‘changed circumstances’ he’d be right. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, the NIC change is about tax justice.

Accountability and impact investing

An anonymous blog on the Nesta web site (25 Jan 2017) caused Tom some concern – here is his published comment. The original article is here.

This is a worrying article – not because of its content but because of its lack of rigour. First, it isn’t true that trust in charities is ‘going downhill’. A recent blog by NFP Synergy explains why one recent poll (unfortunately commissioned by the Charity Commission) was out of step with their own research. They concede that trust in charities can be volatile – even though it’s higher than that of most other public institutions (and a lot higher than financial institutions).

Second, there’s no crisis on senior pay in charities (unless you read the Daily Mail) though there is an odd reluctance by charities to explain why they pay what they do for posts which are demanding, responsible, big – and much lower paid than equivalents in other sectors.

But I won’t let these Aunt Sallies distract me.

Impact investors are either essentially charitable people who realise that impact investing is a more efficient use of resources; or they are essentially investors who want to achieve social as well as financial returns. Neither group is as naive as your anonymous blogger appears to believe!

Yes, there needs to be accountability and there needs to be strategy in impact investing. Yes, impact investing can be more impactful than charity work (and I’ve had a lifetime in charities). But it isn’t a choice between the two.

There are lots of good reasons for doing what this piece advocates – but they don’t include the main reason advanced here!

American business community rallies against Trump ‘fatwa’

Forget ‘Why those 7 countries?’ or ‘How can a country built by the sweat of immigrants do this?’: the Trump fatwa against refugees in general and Muslims in particular has seriously offended the American business community – and for all the right reasons.

On the first working day after the President signed the order, the hundreds of thousands who took to the world’s streets were joined in spirit by the corporate realm. Google and Apple complained that the (irrational and hysterical) ban was not in the interests of companies that fished in global talent pools, whilst Microsoft spoke up for its 76 employees who could be stopped from travelling or returning to the US. Ford, whose CEO was fresh from an Oval Office meeting, condemned the measure as ‘against our values’ and Starbucks announced plans to retaliate by recruiting 10,000 migrant baristas worldwide over the next 5 years. Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook spoke for many:

‘We [USA] are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here’.

JP Morgan Chase, Netflix, Nike, Blackberry and the proprietors of both Twitter and the New York Times were quick to denounce the President’s action, as did many others. They included Goldman Sachs, whose alumni make up a significant portion of the Trump team, and Blackrock, the world’s largest private investor, whose CEO had been in line for a top job had President Clinton been at the helm today. The stock markets stuttered in response as businesses, half of them created by immigrants or their children, queued up to comment.

This issue goes further than what’s good for business. When Mark Benioff of Salesforce took to Twitter to quote scripture in opposition to the ban he was well outside the normal comfort zone of the corporate world. However, it’s clear that, in this era of constant scrutiny by Instagram and Twitter, and the softer values of the upcoming Millennial generation, businesses who claim to operate by sound values actually need to demonstrate this every once in a while. In that sense, the immigrant ban is opportune. It allows them to stand together, avoiding the risk of being picked off by sniper fire (to use an unfortunate analogy). Their stance is a statement of values with which the majority of Americans can identify (remember that Trump lost the popular vote) and, of course, companies that had become used to hiring the best talent from wherever in the world they could find it certainly didn’t want to lose that right.

And it wasn’t just in America, either: In Britain the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce both joined the chorus. The CEO of Anglo-Dutch Unilever, Paul Polman said on Twitter that the

‘Inherent worth and dignity of every world citizen [is] being challenged in US at the moment’.

With those words he spoke for us all, not only for migrants and justice but for decency, fair play and common sense. These are the values of the best of business.

Book review: Nick Raynsford

Tom reviews ‘Substance not Spin’ for Order, Order, the magazine of former Members of Parliament:

img_0082If you’re looking for a ‘kiss and tell’ story of indiscretions from the heart of government, look elsewhere. In ‘Substance not Spin’ Nick Raynsford has produced a serious and essential guide to how to do government – and how not – a must read for every future minister. It’s the 21st century complement, perhaps, to Gerald Kaufman’s seminal tome.

The book is a good read too, with an easy style and an eye for detail which never palls; housing, planning and infrastructure are Nick’s passions (no surprise there) and through these issues he draws lessons for all involved in government. At times he rides the waves of success but too often, not least in his own estimation, the failures too. He dissects with scalpel-like precision the reasons why ambitions fail to materialise in Government.

Those ambitions were key to Labour’s progress over the last 20 years, not least our frustrated aims to build homes, either for rent or sale; to keep housing benefit under control; to deliver major infrastructure programmes on time and on budget (too many examples of this here) – and even to track smaller projects from conception to delivery. Having nine ministers responsible for housing policy over 13 years was a recipe for disaster; whilst no one ever decided that housing was a low priority for Labour our actions, unfortunately, speak louder.

Dare I mention HIPS or the reorganisation of fire and rescue? There’s a whole chapter named ‘Wasted opportunities’.

Yet there were successes too: we have a Mayor for London because of decisions taken on Nick’s watch, and the pleasure he gets from describing the rebirth of the once-failed Hackney council is tangible. He was engaged in the latter as a charity activist in the housing world, through various government roles to being a post-ministerial London backbencher.

Nick was never loud: I’ve known him 25 years and he is ever polite, engaged, intelligent and passionate – in a very English way. He worries about getting things done and if we can learn from his book about riding the competing currents of politics we will be better equipped to get things done in future – if Labour ever gets the chance.

My only niggle with an otherwise excellent piece of work is with the editor, not the author: Brentford, my present home, is not in Essex (p176) – that’s Brentwood!

Measuring Social Impact

Tom wrote the following for the CBI Good Business web site, published 1 November 2016. The article was inspired by a day conference organised by the British Standards Institute on whether there should be a British Standard on impact measurement:

A debate rages about the measurement of social impact. Charities need to demonstrate impact to funders, commissioners, donors, media and government, whilst businesses who value their social and environmental responsibility are being asked: ‘just how responsible are you?’

All organisations impact upon others. It’s rational to expect that social and environmental claims should reflect an organisation as a whole. Although big corporates will rush to demonstrate their positive impact through corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity, community engagement and philanthropy, just one oil spill, prosecution or product recall can change perceptions.

The heat of the current debate is not whether but how impact measurement is made. How do you compare reducing carbon footprints with creating apprenticeships? Or time spent listening to children read with pro bono legal advice? Can a common system of impact measurement cope with all of these activities?

People are striving to say ‘yes’. One way is to monetise impacts – what are they actually worth?  When a company donates an employee’s time to a charity should we count the hours at the actual salary rate, the cost to the company or a commercial rate? Or an independently calculated agreed sum? This is a common question within CSR circles, but is an hour really an impact measure? No, it’s an input.

What’s an apprenticeship worth? A company creates two identical apprenticeships with a net investment of £10,000 each; one goes to a long term unemployed ex-offender, one to a bright school leaver. The true social impacts, including lifetime savings to the state as a result of that individual gaining skills and employment, are vastly different.

Here’s a parallel: GDP is a recognised, long established and monetised assessment of a country’s worth that tells you nothing about the values, culture and degree of liberty that its people enjoy.

Clearly, simple impact measurements are less meaningful than complex ones; and calculations which become tiresome, long-winded and costly are both unattractive to organisations and open to challenge. Even more to the point: smaller organisations, charities or businesses, are less likely to have the skills necessary to make the objective and detailed comparisons that universally comparable impact measurement demands.

To achieve its goals an organisation must know what changes its activities make happen. Change and impact can be both quantitative and qualitative, sometimes impossible to monetise meaningfully. However, enhanced employee engagement, generated by a company with a purpose beyond the purely commercial, can be measured over time and is a prize worth having.

There’s a danger that standardised impact assessments will strike many as ‘not for us’; smaller players might use a low cost, ‘rough and ready’ assessment like Measuring the Good whilst others complain that a growing impact measurement industry offers unproven value for money.

So internal impact measurement is vital to achieving social and environmental goals. External impact assessment can be standardised but only to a degree, not least because different stakeholders make contrasting demands. Truly objective, universal standards that retain utility are problematic; and measures which accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative miss the point.

A Meaningful Profession: ICRS

On 15th September 2016 Tom was a platform participant at the first major debate sponsored by ICRS (Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability), hosted by the RSA and chaired by the RSA’s director Matthew Taylor, in the presence of over 100 CRS/CSR professionals.

160915-icrs-rsa-group-2-small

L-R: Claudine Blamey (ICRS), Lee Elliott Major (Sutton Trust), Beth Knight (EY), Matthew Taylor (RSA), Tom, Mariano Maratino (Indeed)

The debate was on the future of the CRS profession; at present the vast majority of people who work in CRS and CSR are graduates based in London and the South East. In Tom’s comments he pointed out that (at 62 years old) he was one of only 6 per cent of his generation to go to University whereas today the goal is for half of all 30-year olds to have a university standard (NVQ4) education. The panel agreed that there was a need for more apprenticeships and non-graduate opportunities, too.

Below are the thoughts that Tom put together when considering his remarks.

In an age of austerity, society and business have to engage better together. Why? As statutory government services are cut and charity incomes flatline a gap in community capacity has emerged, threatening the way we help the most vulnerable people, promote good health, celebrate cultures and support community cohesion. Businesses that take a broader view of how to protect the interests of their employees reap the benefits: greater employee engagement, more opportunities for innovation and partnership working and genuinely earned reputational gains are on offer.

At the same time a switch in business from shorter term to longer term thinking and planning can, for example, turn environmental challenges into opportunities. This then, is the business case: there is growing evidence that the Company Citizen is better placed to achieve sustainability in the triple bottom line – yes, including profit – than is the more predatory model so often but unhelpfully defined as the archetypal business.

160915-icrs-rsaIf an engagement programme can include using the surplus skills of business to, say, increase the capacity of the voluntary sector, better equipping them for survival and growth under their own terms, then a double whammy is achieved. No more will senior corporate executives have to admit that they have ‘no idea’ what life is like for people living within a mile of their plush HQ.

To deliver these goals and values, especially around employee engagement, a company needs a mission, a values-led philosophy, a sense of purpose broader than filling spreadsheets or making widgets. The spark to ignite this may come from Corporate Responsibility professionals, often found in the Human Resources department, a growing band of natural partnership workers, capacity builders and outward lookers. Promoting graduate qualifications is, of course, welcome; but it isn’t the only way forward.

Every manager should be a corporate responsibility worker, every company decision subjected to social impact assessment, every worker a champion for their community, fostered by the family of the Company Citizen. No more will ‘green teams’ of dedicated employee volunteers, encouraged by managers to use their voice for the environment, conclude ‘But we’re changing nothing’. We should boast not of hours volunteered but of change made.

Something is missing here. 99 per cent of businesses and half of private sector employees are excluded from this scenario: the SME sector. Whilst we define SMEs as having fewer than 250 employees in truth the median is in the 6-10 category. They have no HR departments and as for Corporate Responsibility their response is often ‘We’re not Corporates, this isn’t for us’. Yet they’re the closest to those voluntary services on the ground, the lifeblood of the community in which Company Citizens live.

By bringing SMEs together in local networks to share resources, perhaps alongside their larger cousins, capacity issues can be addressed and meaningful engagement generated to the advantage of all: society, employees and companies themselves. It can be done; the barrier to it happening is the wrong sort of thinking, hiding the path to win:win opportunities.

Brexit means MORE need for Responsible Business

(This article appears on the CBI Great Business Debate web site)

EU BrexitOver coming years, at least until Britain has established a new global role following the ‘Brexit’ referendum, the spotlight of public scrutiny will fall on business more than ever before. Its ‘licence to operate’ will have to be more obviously earned, whilst thoughts that business was somehow above the tawdry world of (small ‘p’) politics will have to be reassessed. Brexit is changing everything.

Big business was clear about where it stood on Europe: international trade requires maximum market access with minimum trade barriers so access to the single market was the obvious compromise. Smaller companies were more equivocal and less loud but not overwhelmingly pro-Brexit.

Yet business failed to convince enough people that their profits and voters’ jobs shared a common cause in ‘Remain’; polls show that business leaders’ opinions have no more credibility than those of politicians or red top journalists. Overseas investors in the North East wrote to employees, begging them to back ‘Remain’ in areas which subsequently returned large Brexit majorities.

And whilst the City, the FTSE community and big business generally were seen as pro-Europe the leafy home counties – where the captains of those very industries live – voted ‘out’. Did they not believe their own rhetoric?

There’s more.

Two groups emerged as pariahs during the referendum campaign: immigrants and, less predictably, ‘experts’. Anyone who knew what they were talking about was, bizarrely, not to be trusted. Leaders of multinational corporations suffered three-fold: they associated with Johnny Foreigner, they were experts and their interests were perceived as alien because of their size, distance and lack of a uniquely British focus.

Business was blamed for recruiting foreign labour at the expense of native British, with some employers cynically only advertising vacancies abroad or in another language, such as Polish. Since the referendum Muslims have borne the brunt of an unleashed tide of racism; Eastern Europeans, even families who arrived as refugees before the EU existed, have found themselves abused for the first time. Employers must work hard to prevent such neanderthal attitudes poisoning the workplace.

A sense of powerlessness, alienation from the establishment, contributed to the Brexit vote: inflated top salaries, growing levels of working poverty and multinationals’ optional approach to taxation all represent just that. Business must address these issues.

Our country must rebuild. Most intellectual leaders are still stunned by the unexpected and irrational nature of the June 23rd decision. Leading politicians have jumped ship rather than take responsibility for the decision they advocated: business must not do the same. Business has to find a new identity, less distant, a more human approach to the bottom line, one that promotes inclusivity not just in the workforce but alongside others in local communities.

This story is not over: social and economic conditions could get worse before they get better. Certainty and stability are gone, for how long?

The phrase ‘better together’ has never been more true; even if together we are to turn our backs on the biggest single market in the world and on 40 years of social and environmental progress. Business must be part of ‘together’ without being arrogant or lofty; our future depends on the Company Citizen stepping up to the mark.

(Picture from FreeDigitalPhotos.net Stuart Miles)

An Engagement Matrix: The CSR to Mission Continuum

On 1 July 2016 the Cabinet Office, in association with Legal & General, hosted an all-day open conversation on the future of ‘mission-led business’ in which Tom participated.  Tom facilitated a discussion on What can ‘Mission-Led Business’ learn from the world of CSR? and this is the second of two notes on the issue which he wrote as a result and submitted to the review.

 

As part of our discussion on Mission Led Businesses for the Cabinet Office, at Legal & General on 1 July, I spoke of a matrix of CSR activity. ‘Traditional CSR’ is towards the left and bottom of the matrix and ‘mission-led business’ towards the upper right.

1606 CSR matrixThis chart shows that CSR activity is divided into three qualitative categories and takes place at three different tiers of organisation; the chart is populated with examples of CSR activities though many others exist. (You could argue for more than three levels but three makes my point).

Traditional CSR activity tends to start on the shop floor (bottom left on the chart), with ad hoc fundraising such as Red Nose Day activity, recruiting sponsors for a charity walk or a cake bake. In its simplest form this activity may not involve management at all, unless permission is needed. Successful activity may lead to a broadening of engagement, perhaps into employees organising some voluntary activity between them in their own time, or a slight deepening. That would be perhaps when the employer matches the first number of pounds employees raise voluntarily or, as in the example given, makes payroll giving available. At this stage payroll giving would be independent of any other community engagement strategy.

The three boxes at top left, centre and bottom right all represent a further deepening of the company’s commitment to community engagement, so the CSR activity becomes more meaningful. For example, payroll giving might be actively promoted by management as part of a broader communications and engagement strategy, perhaps favouring a charity with which it shares a common mission or interest (such as construction with Shelter). In the category of Time & Talent employees are given paid time off to volunteer with ‘good causes’, typically up to three days per year, with various levels of organisation and promotion in operation. And Head & Heart comes into play with, at its most basic, a message of care and inclusion through the procurement of fair trade tea, coffee and sugar in the workplace.

At a yet more sophisticated level we see employers nominating key employees to carry out specific good work in the community using their professional skills. This has the effect of both creating capacity in the recipient charity and broadening the skills experience of the employee and the activity is clearly integrated into the mainstream of company operation. Cynics may argue that volunteering in paid time is not volunteering at all: but think of it as the company volunteering its time and skills to the good cause, not the individual.

Often such exercises can have the additional benefit of helping employees develop soft, interpersonal skills where that would be helpful in their work. ‘Sustainable purchases’ would mean that not only were tea and coffee bought with reducing negative impact in mind but cleaning materials and raw materials too, with a view to minimising pollution and environmental damage and maximising sustainability.

The top right hand corner is the pinnacle: all of this social and environmental activity is included in the company’s mainstream operations, and the values and mission of the company are reflected not only in its shop floor and boardroom but also in HR, procurement, transport and supply chain policies. For example, Boots has recently adopted the ‘Drop the Box’ approach to ensure that people with criminal records are not arbitrarily removed from consideration for recruitment – and they insist that companies in their supply chain do likewise. Adoption of Social Value Act criteria across a broad spectrum of activity would be in this box, too.

Finally, the activity that starts in the bottom left of the matrix cannot happen unless a ‘spark’ ignites the idea within the workforce. But the real value to the company comes in the move up the arrow, towards the top right – and this migration cannot happen in a sustainable way without the active and involved leadership of the company’s leaders, informed and guided in turn by their company mission.

This process only works when the company has both a workforce ready to engage and an leadership that is informed and enlightened.

There’s more about this in Chapter 6 of my book ‘Welcome to GoodCo’.

What can ‘Mission-Led Business’ learn from CSR?

On 1 July 2016 the Cabinet Office, in association with Legal & General, hosted an all-day open conversation on the future of ‘mission-led business’ in which Tom participated.  Tom facilitated a discussion on What can ‘Mission-Led Business’ learn from the world of CSR? and this is the first of two notes on the issue which he wrote as a result and submitted to the review.

 

In 1955 the phrase ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ first appeared in academic literature and the mid 1970s saw the first despairing claim that the acronym ‘CSR’ had lost its meaning and authenticity.

It’s true, as the CEO of Dollar UK wrote for the CBI’s ‘Great Business Debate’ blog in June 2016  that ‘some cynics still insist that CSR is at best an act of empty corporate philanthropy, and at worst a smokescreen used to hide a multitude of corporate sins’. Mr Howard says that Dollar ‘see CSR as a central function that underpins the ethos of the whole company’ — but surely that should be much more than just encouraging employees to undertake ‘bake sales and sponsored runs’ and allowing them half a day per year of paid volunteering time, as he does? It’s also about being a responsible trader. Dollar is a finance company whose major subsidiary, Money Shop, was last year ordered to return to low income customers £15M which it had not been entitled to take from them. That’s not responsible lending or responsible business. But I know a ‘smokescreen’ when I see one.

Whilst the idea of mission-led business may be relatively new, the concept of designing a business around a social purpose in a way that complements, rather than undermines, conventional ideas of business success is not. The Quaker giants of the 19th century did it and Unilever is doing it now. Society needs the power of responsible business to complement the public and third sectors in their work. But whilst a host of social enterprises, B Corps and others are being created the real challenge is to learn from 60 years of CSR in mainstream business and distil what is good about it; in order to inform the process of retrofitting mainstream business with broad social and environmental missions.

A company’s mission can be wide ranging, encompassing both strict business terms such as ’to provide supportive, non-exploitative personal loans at affordable prices’ (Dollar UK please note); to the eradication of collateral damage, like ’to operate in a carbon-neutral way’. Such a company will come to have ‘responsibility’ running through it like Blackpool Rock in respect of engagement with its employees, customers, environment, neighbours, supply chain and the law. The benefit that accrues from this is ‘purpose’.

When a company has mission and purpose it can create value in qualitative as well as monetary terms. A sense of purpose from engagement with the company mission is known to be linked to greater employee productivity, loyalty and length of service; to reduced sickness time lost and greater informal ambassadorial activity; and to enhancing the company’s reputation.

The person with conscience should not ‘give up’ on business being a force for good, led by its mission. It has to become such, for we will struggle to survive if it isn’t. But the business person should not decline a broader degree of responsibility either: there is a very good, even conventional case which argues that being a business for good makes good business, whilst there is little long term reason to stick with the superficial and optional conventions of rudderless CSR activity alone.

10 Years of Buxton Dome

As the University of Derby celebrates ten years since it moved in to that wonderful building, the Buxton Dome, Tom reflects with the Buxton Advertiser on his contribution to securing it.

160705 ten years of DomeBuxton’s long term economic future was secured by the University’s rescue of the Devonshire Dome, said former MP Tom Levitt, who was instrumental in bringing the project to fruition.

But twice it hung in the balance and he was forced to tour cabinet ministers’ offices and Parliament in late-night lobbying to win support for the ground-breaking idea.

Speaking as the University plans to celebrate ten years since the Buxton campus opened in 2006 Mr Levitt recounted the behind-the-scenes drama which included fighting Whitehall’s ‘kiss of death’ – a referral to the Treasury just two weeks before the deadline.

‘Something had to be done for the local economy’, said Mr Levitt, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University in 2011 partly for his role in the project.

‘You can’t just rely on tourism and the Buxton Festival to power the local economy. The University, first of all, is a wonderful use of the building asset but it is also a year-round injection into the local economy. I do this it was absolutely crucial to the economic sustainability of the town.

‘As it is a University it brings prestige with it as well. The Dome was not just saved, it was saved for the people. Anyone can just walk in and there are things going on for the public. It’s not just the architecture and the money but the culture as well.’

But originally the idea was just about a merger between the University and the former High Peak College at Harpur Hill – which nearly didn’t happen.

‘It was one of the first mergers of its kind and was quite ground-breaking,’ said Mr Levitt, who now works as a consultant bringing charities and businesses together.

‘The main reason for the merger was that the Hospitality and Catering courses at High Peak College were world class but weren’t getting access to world markets because it was only a Further Education college.’

The Higher Education minister of the day, Baroness Blackstone, originally turned the merger down but Mr Levitt and the institutions’ two principals at the time spent two hours in her office arguing the case.

‘Tessa Blackstone eventually sighed and said: ‘All right – it’s up to you’.’

‘At that point it wasn’t about using the merger to save the Dome but that soon came up,’ said Mr Levitt.

At first the NHS agreed to sell the building for a peppercorn amount, but for moths there was silence – until the bombshell dropped that the building was going onto the open market.

Mr Levitt led another delegation to Whitehall, asking the the Health Minister Yvette Cooper to slap a public interest condition on the sale – ‘I didn’t even know if that was possible,’ said the ex-MP.

Another reprieve was granted but with a deadline to make the financial package work only weeks away the news came that it would go ahead – if the Treasury agreed.

‘The kiss of death is ending something to the Treasury,’ said Mr Levitt, who cornered the Chief Secretary to the Treasury during a late-night vote in Parliament, spending an hour and a half to convince him to give the green light.

‘Thirty-six hours later he rang to say we’d got it,’ he said.