Tories criticise Whitehall's 'gongs for gaffes' awards

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The Independent Online

A senior civil servant at the centre of the "nannygate" affair which forced the resignation of David Blunkett has been granted a top award in the New Years Honours list.

John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office, was knighted just days after a report said civil servants in the department were unable to remember events leading to the fast-tracking of a visa for the nanny of Mr Blunkett's lover.

Conservatives accused the Government of rewarding failure as Doug Smith, who resigned as head of the crisis-hit Child Support Agency, was made a Commander of the Order of the Bath, despite a string of failures at the agency.

Richard Bowker was made a CBE months after stepping down from the Strategic Rail Authority. Ministers have since announced the abolition of the organisation.

Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative co-chairman said: "This honours list is part of a picture: if you fail or mess things up in Tony Blair's government, you get rewarded. Crime is out of control, immigration is a shambles, our railways are in a mess and the Child Support Agency is in chaos. And what happens? Top civil servants at the Home Office, the Strategic Rail Authority and the Child Support Agency all get gongs for their gaffes."

The awards came in an honours list headed by Olympic sports stars, celebrities and business leaders. Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic gold medallist, becomes a Dame, as does Tanni Grey-Thomson, who secured two golds at a the Athens Paralympics. The rower Matthew Pinsent, who became one of only five athletes to win gold at four successive Olympic Games, when he led Britain's coxless fours to victory at Athens, is knighted.

There are knighthoods for Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, Derek Wanless, the former NatWest chief executive who has provided two reports on the NHS, and Alan Jones, chairman of Toyota in the UK.

Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools who has recommended major reform of the exams system, is also knighted. Downing Street said the list "reflects and pays tribute to the outstanding achievement and service right across the community and the nation as a whole."

A spokeswoman said: "The key aim has been to reward those who work and serve at the sharp end - people who really change things, who give all, who have given outstanding service in difficult situations."

But No.10 was forced to defend honours for Mr Gieve, Mr Smith and Mr Bowker. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, said: "You have to look at their whole career."

Challenged about Sir John's knighthood, the spokeswoman said Sir Alan Budd's inquiry into the visa affair had concluded there was no cover-up.

She said: "If you look at the actual Budd inquiry, Alan Budd said he'd received full co-operation from the Home Office and its officials and that he did not believe there had been any attempt to have a cover-up. John Gieve has had a long and distinguished career as a public servant, working in the Department of Employment and the Treasury as well as the Home Office." Asked about Mr Bowker's award, the spokeswoman said: "Awards are given on merit. I'm not going to get into a discussion on the performance of the Strategic Rail Authority."

Showbusiness honours go to Eric Sykes, Anna Massey, and John Sullivan, writer of the TV hit series Only Fools And Horses. In the world of music, The Who vocalist Roger Daltrey and "hit man" producer Pete Waterman figure in the list.

Honours also go to Michael Foale, the first Briton to walk in space, to the golfer Colin Montgomerie, and to veteran broadcaster Alan Whicker.

John Shepherd-Barron, 79, who installed the world's first ATM almost 40 years ago, has been appointed an OBE for services to banking, while Paul Lamplugh, who founded the Suzy Lamplugh Trust with his wife Diana after their daughter's disappearance in 1986, was made an OBE. Stephen Jakobi, founder of the pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, was also appointed an OBE. General Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of the general staff, was promoted to a Knight Grand Cross, while Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the family division of the High Court, was elevated to a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire.

The Prime Minister's list includes honours for Alan Booth, the Scarborough Town Crier, Muriel Hart, the 80-year-old accompanist to the Brighton Orpheus Choir, Fed Adams, a hospital porter in Scarborough, and James Frapwell, 86, who has been secretary of an association for former comrades in the Desert Rats since 1947.

Downing Street said 45 per cent of the awards were nominated or supported by the public. Nearly one in three awards recognise community work.