We do not believe Howard Beckett has broken any law or is misusing members money but we do think transparency is missing about many key decisions involving him and his former business associates. It is worth reminding readers of his previous professional links. There are growing calls for further investigations into how companies that offer paid services to Unite members have been chosen to benefit from contracts with the Union – as several have close links to the Assistant General Secretary.
As readers well know, Beckett and his former business partner Marcus Bemrose made a significant amount of money after selling their solicitors law firm BBH to Thompsons Solicitors for £2.69m in 2011. Beckett has refused to disclose how much of that money went to him personally, however, land registry records show that he could afford to buy a new London pad for £600,000. This was paid for in cash with no mortgage.
Aside from this flat, as well as another in the Wirral, Howard Beckett also still owns, with Bemrose, a large building that has been split into offices called Eastham Hall. This is estimated to be worth £900,000. While Eastham Hall is the base for multiple companies, there are a few that have caught many members’ attention. Firstly, Unite Home Services is operated out of the building by Marcus Bemrose and offers union members “the best deals in equity release, mortgages and conveyancing”. Despite this service being offered by Beckett’s business partner of more than twenty years, Beckett has said that he “does not and never has had any personal financial interest” in the firm.
He also denies any connection with Your Tax Refund, which is operated by Kate Lonsdale and supports clients in submitting tax repayment claims. The Unite website says that members are “entitled to a consultation with Your Tax Refund to see if [they] are eligible for a tax refund”. Kate Lonsdale is also a former employee of Beckett and is supporting his candidacy.
There is no suggestion that Beckett, Lonsdale or Bemrose are breaking any laws.
Members expect commercial partners of their union to be selected on the basis that they offer the best service at the best possible price. The close relationship between Beckett and his former colleagues means that many members think that, just as with the scandal of the Aloft hotel, there are reasonable grounds to ask for an independent investigation into these companies’ appointments.
Whether the Unite Executive and leadership has the stomach to take these matters as seriously as they should, and look into the issue, remains to be seen.