- EXCLUSIVE: A Conservative peer has donated £8,000 to Boris Johnson’s party while his firm claims thousands of pounds in furlough payments.
- Lord Wharton helped Johnson become Conservative leader and Prime Minister and was made a peer by Johnson in 2020.
- His company made the donation while claiming up to £10,000 a month in furlough aid from the government.
- Johnson’s government controversially appointed Wharton as chair of the independent universities regulator earlier this year.
- An “urgent investigation” is required, campaigners say.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A Conservative peer, who was put in charge of regulating universities by Boris Johnson’s government, has donated £8,000 to the party while claiming thousands of pounds through the furlough scheme at the same time.
Lord James Wharton is the sole director of GBMW Ltd, a consultancy firm he established after losing his seat of Stockton South in the 2017 general election.
Electoral Commission records released on Thursday show GBMW Ltd gave the Conservative Party £8,000 in March 2021.
His entry of registered interests says the company provides “strategic and management advice, and [runs] his private offices.”
At the same time, data released by HM Revenue and Customs shows GBMW Ltd was claiming furlough money from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Figures show claims of between £1 to £10,000 per month made by GBMW Ltd from December 2020 to March 2021, the most recent point to which the data is available.
The scheme was presented by the UK government as a means to encourage firms who would otherwise be unable to retain staff during the pandemic, to do so.
However, the most recent set of accounts published at Companies House for GBMW Ltd show the firm had £186,216 in reserves at the end of June 2019, and employed two staff.
In February, The New European reported Wharton had set up a buy-to-let property business, JRF Housing, with the firm purchasing a £65,000 flat in Seascale and an £83,000 house in Stockton-in-Tees.
Anneliese Dodds MP, chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “James Wharton’s career has gone from strength to strength since he helped Boris Johnson become Prime Minister. First a seat in the Lords, then a crony job. And the Conservative Party gets a four-figure cheque from his company.
“As ever with the Conservatives, it’s a case of one rule for them and their chums and another for everyone else.”
Lord Wharton was appointed to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson in August 2020 after being Johnson’s campaign manager in the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election.
In February 2021, Wharton was controversially appointed as the chair of the Office for Students by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
In a pre-appointment hearing, Wharton told Members of Parliament’s education committee that he would be retaining the Conservative whip in the post, which comes with a salary of £59,000 a year for two days a week.
He said: “I can absolutely assure the Committee that I recognize the crucial importance of the regulator being independent. I intend to uphold that and, where it comes into conflict, my first duty will be ensuring that that independence is given paramount importance and upheld.”
At the time, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green, called for an investigation into Wharton’s appointment. She wrote to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, warning that “the higher education sector and the wider public will be deeply concerned that this is simply another example of cronyism”.
“Is continuing to take the Conservative whip while in post consistent with the seven principles of public life, particularly his ability to make objective decisions?” she asked.
Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “This would appear to be a clear breach of the spirit of the furlough scheme. It also clearly undermines the independence of Wharton’s role as a regulator. This needs an urgent investigation.”
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told Insider: “Justifiably, the government cast a wide net to catch everyone who could be affected by this coronavirus crisis. But recipients should keep in mind that this money ultimately comes from taxpayers, and support should only be sought if it’s really needed.”
Insider has contacted Lord Wharton for comment.