The Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen has today finally reacted angrily to allegations against him made in the Times last Saturday. In an article in today’s Northern Echo, he states that “the whole thing is utter rubbish”.
So, that clears that up then.
Blaming the Labour Party
Well, with a few loose ends as it turns out. First of all, he insists that “This nonsense was first concocted by the Labour Party because they have nothing positive to offer about anything”. Which is a little odd, as the Times’ investigations reporter, Billy Kenber made the allegations. Maybe he’s in the Labour Party. We don’t know.
Kenber states that one Richard Upshall, director of the company Askaris Technology Ltd recently lost an appeal against a judgement in a case brought against the company for VAT fraud. Houchen was mentioned twice in the judgement as he advised Askaris Technology via a company, RU Licit, of which he was then a director.
But Houchen is able to explain everything: “The truth of the matter is that I was introduced to a company in 2015 who were looking for legal support – a whole two years after an issue occurred between that company [Askaris Technology] and HMRC. I didn’t provide any legal advice but introduced them to a barrister who could advise them.”
He goes on to say that he has never had any connection with Askaris Technology, which appears to be true. What he omits to mention is that this does not extend to its owner Richard Upshall, whose business interests are described in a Gazette Live article in 2016 as follows,
“Richard Upshall’s CV – at the moment – is a bit of a marathon. Take a deep breath….. Executive Chairman of OES Oilfield Services Group, Executive Chairman of Askaris Information Technology, Executive Chairman of RU Consulting Limited, Executive Chairman of RU Listening Limited, Executive Chairman of RU Active Sports Services Limited, Executive Chairman of RU Hungry Limited and Chairman of RU Licit Limited.”
Notice then, that already in 2016, he is described as chairman of Houchen’s company RU Licit, as well as RU Active, of which Houchen was also a director, according to Companies’ House records. And we can’t help but wonder why so many of these companies contain ‘RU’ in their name. But, of course, that’s Richard Upshall’s initials.
It begins to look as if Houchen has been a bit careless in his explanation, offering up the truth but not the whole truth. But then to be fair, the statement issued to the press is the work of his PR team. And his team has been less than fastidious in another respect here, which is the allegation that “this nonsense was first concocted by the Labour Party”. Now if that is indeed the case, then they should be able to provide the evidence of it.
Ben Houchen allegations first published
In fact, the first allegations made against Ben Houchen came in a series of articles published in 2020 in Tees Valley Monitor, then in North East Bylines. Neither publication is connected to the Labour Party. So the PR team may find that the search for such evidence is a fool’s errand.
Of course, you might expect the reporter at the Northern Echo, in the interests of balanced reporting, might have asked someone from Labour for comment, given the fact that the whole episode is being blamed on them. But that doesn’t seem to be way things are done at the Echo nowadays.