Dozens of MPs work as consultants and advisers earning thousands on top of their taxpayer-funded salaries
This article is the first in a series for NationalWorld’s #PartTimeParliament investigation, which launches Monday 8 November.
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More than 35 MPs have been paid to work as political consultants or advisors during the pandemic, despite several recommendations since 2008 that the ban on paid advocacy be extended to include all parliamentary consultancy.
Following an in-depth analysis of the register of members’ financial interests dating back to January 2020, NationalWorld can reveal that dozens of MPs have maintained one or more ‘second jobs’ as advisors and consultants.
Ban on paid political advocacy ‘should be extended to include consulting’
Owen Paterson has resigned as MP for Shropshire North following an explosive few days in Parliament which saw a slim majority of Conservative MPs vote to overturn the existing disciplinary procedure.
The vote came after a report found that Paterson had acted as an advocate for two firms paying him a combined total of more than £100,000 per year to act as a consultant.
However, following a furious reaction to the vote in parliament on Wednesday the government announced a U-turn on Thursday, followed by Paterson announcing that he would resign.
There is nothing in the rules currently which prohibited Paterson from taking on the consultancy work.
However, a number of reports from the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) have recommended that the ban on paid political advocacy be extended to include all political consultancy and advisory roles.
The CSPL first recommended a ban on all political consultancy and advisory work in a 2009 report which was put together in the wake of the expenses scandal, then again in a 2018 report titled MPs’ Outside Interests and most recently a report which came out just last week.
‘MPs should spend no time doing outside things, unless they benefit constituents’
Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, is employed by seven different firms to provide advisory or consultancy services, with a combined annual salary of £212,600.
Among his employers are a telecommunications security firm which has links to an individual named in the Pandora Papers leak, and a corporate intelligence firm.
Mitchell is paid £36,000 per year for 16 hours work every month by corporate intelligence firm Montrose Associates, which offers “strategic intelligence” to help business leaders with “political and reputational threats,” according to the firm’s website.
Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling took on a consulting role with Hutchison Ports in September 2020, through which he earns £100,000 per year for an annual hourly commitment of 364 hours, or 7 hours per week.
Daniel Kawcyznski earns £36,000 per annum, down from £72,000 previously, for his role as an adviser to a US-based mining conglomerate, the Electrum Group.
Andrew Bridgen has an advisory role with Mere Plantations, growers of Teak wood in Ghana, which pays him £12,000 per year in return for 96 hours work.
Tom Brake, a former MP and director of Unlock Democracy, said in many cases there’s “no benefit” to constituents when MPs take on other work.
He said: “For most second jobs that MPs take up, the only interest is a financial one for them. There’s no benefit for their constituents from them holding a series of directorships or consultancies. In fact the opposite is true. MPs will have less time to spend on doing their full time job of representing their constituents and legislating”.
He added: “My starting point is that MPs should be spending no time on doing outside things, unless they are clearly of benefit to their constituents or help them in their parliamentary work.
“But it is very difficult to see how for instance an MP, working for foreign companies as a consultant, promoting their interests, is of any benefit to that MP's constituents.”
‘This warrants close attention’
The 2018 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Evans, recommended that “MPs should not undertake outside employment as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, as this can lead to MPs having a privileged relationship with one organisation, and therefore bring undue influence to bear on Parliament”.
And in a letter to Chris Bryant, chair of the Committee on Standards, in October 2020, Lord Evans stressed again the CSPL’s recommendation that advisory and consultancy work should be banned, saying the matter “warrants close attention”.
He wrote: “MPs should not accept any paid work to provide services as a parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on parliamentary affairs or on how to influence Parliament and its members.
“MPs should never accept any payment or offers of employment to act as political or parliamentary consultants or advisers. This warrants close attention.”
Lord Evans described the current ban on paid political advocacy in the MPs code of conduct as “too narrow”, and that “whilst an MP cannot undertake paid advocacy on behalf of any specific cause, they can still be paid to advise private interests on how best to influence the House in relation to any specific cause”.
“We believe such activities should be prohibited by the Code,” Lord Evans wrote.
On Wednesday, prior to a vote on the motion to suspend Paterson as a result of the report, dozens of Conservative MPs put their signature to an amendment which sought to replace the Committee on Standards with a new Conservative-led committee that would look again at the case and reform the rules around MPs outside interests.
Of these 59 Conservative MPs, more than 10 have registered work as a paid political consultant or advisor since January 2020, including Andrew Mitchell, James Gray, Chris Grayling, John Howell, Steve Brine and Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Sir John Whittingdale, who the amendment specified should chair the new committee, has also registered work as a consultant or advisor since January 2020.
Sir John earns £12,000 for 72 hours work per year advising the Federation of International Polo, and a further £8,000 for 48 hours per year to advise the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society.
‘The murky revolving door’
Conservative MPs Laurence Robertson and Philip Davies have both earned significant amounts through work as consultants in the gambling sector.
Robertson took a role as a “parliamentary adviser on sport and safer gambling” with the Betting and Gaming Council, a lobbying group for the gambling industry, for which he earns £24,000 per year for an hourly commitment of 10 hours per month.
Davies, the MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, is employed by the National Pawnbroking Association as a ‘parliamentary adviser on Pawnbroking’.
He has provided advice ‘on responsible gambling and customer service’ to GVC Holdings, a global betting company now known as Entain which owns the bookmakers Coral and Ladbrokes among other firms.
Davies is paid £12,000 per year in exchange for five to 10 hours per month by the National Pawnbroking Association and received a one-off payment of £16,600 from GVC holdings in exchange for 44 hours work.
Companies and lobbying organisations within the gambling sector have previously been criticised for offering hospitality and donations to MPs who have then argued against reform in Parliament.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director of Clean Up Gambling, said: "The amount the gambling industry has spent on hospitality for MPs is an indication of how desperate they are to make some friends in Parliament. “
He added: “But putting supportive MPs on their actual payroll, and turning the gambling lobby into a career safety net for MPs who lose their seats, is yet another example of the murky revolving door that exists between politics and lobbying."
While many MPs have regular work as consultants or advisors, some earned money to top up their taxpayer-funded salaries through one-off jobs.
George Freeman was paid £5,000 by Aerosol Shield ltd, for 23 hours work over two months working on “technology consulting” to assist the firm with “the problem of cross contamination during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
James Gray received two payments of £550 each by media training firm Electric Airwaves to coach witnesses prior to appearances before the Public Accounts select committee, a body of MPs set up to scrutinise public spending.
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