Andrew Kersley tracks the public sector deals awarded to companies that have MPs on their payroll

Ten companies received more than £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic while employing Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs as advisors or non-executive directors, Byline Times can reveal.

This includes one company that was awarded hundreds of millions in contracts despite the Government previously being advised to put a three year hold on awarding it any contracts due to allegations of “recurring professional misconduct”.

The data, sourced by Tussell, covers the period from January 2020 to December 2021 and gives an insight into the public contracts awarded to firms that are advised by MPs.

Responding to the investigation, opposition figures warned that the data was further evidence of a “cash-for-access culture” in Government.

The second-largest beneficiary was ‘big four’ accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY), awarded £378.6 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and December 2021. During this period, the company was employing Conservative backbench MP and former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who was paid £30,000 as a consultant in return for up to five days of work each year.

Allpay, a payment solution company, received £79.9 million in Government contracts. It employs backbench Conservative MP Bill Wiggin as a non-executive director, paying him £4,000 a year for only 10 hours of work.

Transport company Abellio (which is wholly owned by the Dutch Government) received £18 million for contracts, while employing former Cabinet Minister Damian Green as a consultant. Abellio paid the Conservative MP £40,000 for 24 hours of work a month.

Former Conservative Leader and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith received £20,000 annually until November 2021 for 30 hours of work a year as an advisory board member to healthcare digital healthcare giant Tunstall Healthcare. Between January 2020 and his departure, the company received £14 million in Government contracts.

HR software and outscoring service MHR received £9.5 million between May 2021 and December 2021, while it was paying Conservative MP Ruth Edwards £5,000 a month for 16 hours of work.

Law firm Weightmans LLP received £2.5 million in Government contracts between January 2020 and January 2021, during which time backbench Conservative MP Robert Neill served as a consultant, earning £15,000 a year for six hours of work a month.

Sigma Pharmaceuticals, taxi company Veezu, and law firm Herbert Smith Freehills all received less than £1 million in Government contracts during the pandemic, while employing Conservative MPs Steve Brine and Alun Cairns and Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey as paid advisors.

A spokesperson for Veezu said: “Veezu is awarded public sector contracts through a standard and regulated procurement process. Many of the contracts in the private hire operator sector are invariably ‘framework’ agreements of which Veezu will be one of a number of suppliers.” 

The total figure also includes £619 million in contracts awarded to the healthcare firm Randox since the start of 2020, formerly and controversially advised by ex-Conservative MP Owen Paterson.

Randox has insisted that Paterson had no role to play in these contracts, though the Government ‘lost’ the minutes of a meeting held between Paterson, Randox and then-Health Minister Lord James Bethell at the outset of the pandemic. Paterson resigned from Parliament in November over the scandal surrounding his private sector lobbying.

Seven of the MPs employed by these companies had previously served in government. Overall, the 10 companies received £1.1 billion in Government contracts during the pandemic while being advised by MPs.

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Power and Impropriety

Despite receiving such a bounty in contracts, EY has a chequered history. The company is currently reportedly facing a £1 billion lawsuit for its alleged failures during audits of UAE healthcare company NMC Health, as well as an investigation over its audit of UK hedge fund London Capital Finance.

Prominent campaign group Spotlight on Corruption called on EY to be banned from bidding on public contracts for three years in November 2020 due to “recurring professional misconduct”.

Just last summer, EY was fined £3.5 million for failures in its audit of transport firm Stagecoach’s East Coast Rail franchise in 2017, which would go on to collapse and be forced to be renationalised the next year.

His job with EY was also far from the only consultancy role taken on by Andrew Mitchell. The Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, who lost his role in Government as Chief Whip in 2012, earned £155,600 from consultancy jobs last year. He has since left two of the roles, including the one at EY, after his multiple extra jobs became a subject of controversy in November.

Indeed, the second jobs of MPs have been in the spotlight after former MP Owen Paterson was found to have breached parliamentary rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of two private firms. A public backlash occurred after the Government attempted to defend Paterson – leading to his resignation from Parliament.

There is no evidence that any of the companies mentioned have won Government contracts as a direct result of lobbying on behalf of individual MPs. However, it does show the intermingling of the private and public realms, of the sort that caused such an outcry in the Paterson case.

Fleur Anderson, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said Byline Times’ findings were “a further reminder of the cash-for-access culture the Tories have established at the heart of Government”.

“Labour would ban MPs having paid consultancy and directorship roles and set up an independent integrity and ethics commission to ensure government always works in the interests of the British public,” she added.

Aside from Veezu, none of the other MPs or companies responded to Byline Times’ requests for comment.

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