Government Announces £26 Million Funding for Firm Owned by Tory Donor
The owner of the company belongs to a family that has donated millions to the Conservative Party in recent years, reports Sam Bright
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Department for International Trade (DIT) Secretary Kemi Badenoch has today announced £26 million in Government-backed funding for Wrightbus – a company owned by Conservative donor Jo Bamford.
The DIT and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are today hosting a Green Trade and Investment Expo in Gateshead, reportedly “bringing together UK businesses and global investors to capitalise on commercial opportunities triggered by the UK’s quest to reach net zero”.
The flagship funding announced by Badenoch is an £18 million Green Trade Loan for Wrightbus – which specialises in hydrogen-powered buses – alongside an £8 million Green Bank Guarantee for the firm, supported by an 80% guarantee from UK Export Finance (UKEF). In other words, the Government is underwriting 80% of £26 million in commercial support for Wrightbus, stating that it will help the firm to “export its cutting-edge zero emission buses to new export markets.” These are expected to include Australia and Germany.
On making the announcement, Badenoch said that: “It’s fantastic to see Great British companies like Wrightbus take full advantage of the opportunities exporting opens up… I am proud the Government is supporting British firms to go further, exporting their cutting-edge clean technology to new markets, cutting emissions and boosting jobs across the United Kingdom.”
However, there is evidently a potential conflict of interest in both the Government’s financial guarantees, and its vocal support for Wrightbus.
The firm’s owner, Jo Bamford, has personally donated some £75,000 to the Conservative Party since 2019. Jo Bamford is the son of Lord Anthony Bamford, owner of JCB, with the family’s net worth estimated at £4.3 billion by the Sunday Times. The Bamford family has been one of the most prolific donors to the Conservative Party in recent history, having given more than £12 million to the party in recent years both personally and through their corporate interests. Lord Bamford also donated to the Vote Leave referendum campaign.
Lord Bamford, awarded a peerage in 2013, has been a personal backer of Boris Johnson in recent history – financially supporting his 2019 Conservative leadership bid and signing a letter alongside 21 other big Tory donors, calling on the party not to oust the former Prime Minister. Johnson recently hosted his wedding at the Bamford’s Daylesford Cotswold estate, subsidised by the family to the tune of £23,000.
In April this year, Johnson opened a new JCB plant in India, calling it a “living, breathing incarnation of the umbilicus between the UK and India”. During the 2019 General Election campaign, Johnson used a JCB tractor to plough through a wall of polystyrene boxes forming the word “Gridlock”, its front loader carrying the Conservative election slogan: “Get Brexit Done”.
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There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Bamfords or Wrightbus – nor any evidence that they used their party political connections to secure these funding guarantees from the Government. However, these conflicts of interest were not declared by the Government, when the funding was announced. Indeed, the official procurement guidance warns of the potential damage to the Government’s reputation even from reasonably perceived conflicts of interest – i.e. if there is a potential conflict of interest in the awarding of funding, even if this financial or political interest is not acted upon.
A UKEF spokesperson told Byline Times that, “Any UK company can apply for and access UKEF support provided they meet exporter eligibility requirements, UKEF’s credit risk criteria and other due diligence requirements including compliance and climate change. The decision to provide support for Wrightbus has been reached in the normal way based on these objective criteria.”
It was announced last year that Jo Bamford was hoping to raise £1 billion for a hydrogen investment fund – aiming to speed up the development of this clean energy source. However, there have been questions raised about the efficacy of hydrogen power in recent months, with a new study by the journal Joule finding that, in terms of heating homes, hydrogen was less efficient and more costly than alternatives like heat pumps.
There is also a degree of irony in Kemi Badenoch extolling the benefits of the Government’s net zero carbon emissions targets, given that she declared during the summer’s Conservative leadership contest that she would consider delaying the UK’s 2050 mission for net zero, if she became prime minister.
This is not the first time that Government investment has been directed towards a firm owned by a Conservative donor. Byline Times revealed last year that the Government had invested £12.4 million in a company owned by a Conservative Party donor for the research of flying taxis.
Wrightbus has not responded to our request for comment.