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Blair honours attacked as 'gongs for gaffes'


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By Christopher Adams, Political Correspondent

Published: December 31 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 31 2004 02:00

Tony Blair has been accused of bestowing "rewards for failure" on public officials at the centre of controversies including the visa affair that led to David Blunkett's resignation.

As Downing Street published a New Year's honours list that showered praise on workers in health, education and law and order, a political row erupted over three contentious awards.

A knighthood for John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office, a top honour for Doug Smith, the outgoing chief executive of the Child Support Agency, and a CBE for Richard Bowker, former head of the Strategic Rail Authority, prompted an angry response from the Conservative party. Sir John was the senior civil servant at the centre of a row over the fast-tracking of a visa application for the nanny of Mr Blunkett's former lover. The former home secretary quit when an inquiry found that, contrary to his denials, the application had been speeded up.

The Tories have said it "beggars belief" that the permanent secretary and other Home Office officials were unable to remember events surrounding the application.

Liam Fox, Conservative party co-chairman, said last night: "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."

Mr Smith resigned last month after controversy over a disastrous new computer system at the CSA. The agency, which has been mired in controversy since its introduction in 1993, came under fire over its failure to make absent parents pay maintenance for their children.

Mr Bowker has left the SRA, which the government said in July would be abolished as part of a shake-up prompted by ministers' concern over continuing failure on the railways.

Downing Street defended the honours for the three officials, saying awards were made on merit and it was important "to look at their whole career".

It added that Sir John had had a long and distinguished career as a civil servant and that the inquiry into the visa application found no evidence of a cover-up.


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