Today
Sun 5 December 2021

Sascha Lavin catalogues the corruption stories that have plagued the Government since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister

A week-long series of scandals involving MPs and their second jobs has been used as evidence to suggest that an era of sleaze has returned to British politics. However, the current lobbying crisis is by no means the first corruption story to consume this Conservative Government.

Corruption, cronyism and ‘chumocracy’ have become synonymous with Boris Johnson’s premiership, ever since Byline Times and others began tracking the slew of contracts awarded to mates of the Conservative Party in early 2020.

Yet, when asked about these scandals, Johnson told journalists yesterday that the UK is not “remotely a corrupt country”. The Prime Minister added that, “I think what you have got is cases where, sadly, MPs have broken the rules in the past, may be guilty of breaking the rules today. What I want to see is them facing appropriate sanctions”.

Here are 11 of the biggest data-driven stories so far, that show how corruption is entrenched in Westminster – and not just a case of a few bad apples.


£3 billion Conservative-linked COVID contracts

An investigation by Byline Times and The Citizens revealed that, by March 2021, firms with links to Conservative Party donors had been awarded £1 billion in COVID-related contracts and a further £2 billion worth of contracts had been granted to associates of the party.

Staggeringly, some 11.4% of the Government’s total spending on COVID-19 contracts has been directed to firms owned by Conservative friends and donors.

£8.2 million in donations; £881 million in contracts

Our calculations show that, for every £1 donated to the party by the Conservative-linked winners of COVID contracts, an average of £110 was regained from the value of the deals.

In response to this story, Labour’s Rachel Reeves told Byline Times that “the lack of transparency around the Government’s contracting process has badly damaged public trust in procurement”.

£121.7 million increase in profits for Tory contract winners

We have also revealed that 12 firms with links to the Conservative Party, awarded COVID contracts, have recorded an overall 57.1% increase in profits in their latest annual accounts. In total, these firms have increased their profits by comfortably more than £100 million.

These lucky companies have fared better than most small businesses during the pandemic; 61% of small business owners have experienced serious financial concerns over the last 18 months.

COVID contract winners donate £615,000 to Conservatives

The Conservative Party also appears to have benefitted from the prosperity of firms linked to the party. We showed in June that firms awarded £400 million in COVID-19 contracts had subsequently donated more than £600,000 back to Boris Johnson’s party.

VIP companies 10 times more likely to win COVID contracts

The spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, found that ministers set up a ‘VIP fast-lane’ early in the pandemic to offer preferential treatment to private sector suppliers with links to politicians and officials. These companies were 10 times more likely to be awarded Government work and, in some cases, due diligence was not carried out before handing out the contracts.

One in 10 suppliers (47 out of 493) channelled through the high-priority lane obtained contracts, compared to less than one in a hundred (104 of 14,892) of those processed through other channels

MPs earn £6 million from second jobs during pandemic

MPs have been raking in additional income from second jobs during the pandemic, while most ordinary people have struggled.

One of the highest earners has been former Prime Minister Theresa May, whose £81,932 annual MP’s salary is small change compared to the £1.9 million she has earned in two years on the speaking circuit.

A quarter of top Conservative donors received a title or peerage

The Byline Intelligence Team and The Citizens revealed in September that a-quarter of Conservative donors who have given more than £100,000 to the party hold a title or an honour.

Additionally, peerages and honours have been granted to 11 of the Conservative Party’s 20 biggest donors since 2010 – those who have donated more than £1.5 million to the party. 

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16 Conservative allies given paid ‘independent’ roles in Government

Matt Hancock’s appointment of university friend, Gina Coladangelo, to a non-executive director role of his department was not a one-off. Non-executive directors are supposed to provide independent oversight of Government departments, but openDemocracy found that 16 people in these positions were found to have close links to the Conservative Party.

Byline Times revealed last December, for example, that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner – also a former Conservative Party vice-chair – had been appointed as a non-executive director of the Department for International Trade. He was appointed alongside Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative MP and a senior figure in the Vote Leave EU Referendum campaign.

Other Government non-executive directors include Ben Goldsmith, Conservative donor and brother of minister Lord Zac Goldsmith; Gisela Stuart, co-chair of the Vote Leave campaign; and Nick Timothy, a former advisor to Theresa May and a Telegraph columnist.

Conservatives received £2 million from donors with Russian links

Since Boris Johnson came to power in July 2019, £2 million has been donated to the Conservative Party by individuals with Russian links, an investigation by Sunday Mirror revealed, adding to fears about Russian influence in UK politics.

The 2020 Intelligence and Security Committee ‘Russia Report’ found that 14 Government ministers had received funding from donors linked to Russia, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak.  

Property developers donated £18m to the Conservatives

In addition, a-quarter of the Conservative Party’s donations have been made by property developers since Johnson became Prime Minister. This marks a sharp increase from his predecessors – previously ranging from 4% to 12%.

Recently, the new housing secretary Michael Gove received a £100,000 donation from a German property developer.

£11.6 billion in contracts awarded to registered lobbying firms 

Almost a-third of companies listed on the Government’s statutory lobbyist register have been awarded public sector contractssince the register’s inception in March 2015, Byline Times and The Citizens have revealed.

Government lobbying has been firmly in the news recently, and not just due to the Paterson scandal. Former Prime Minister David Cameron was found to have lobbied Government ministers and officials on behalf of Greensill Capital – a firm that has since collapsed.

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