A Conservative Lord has donated £8,000 to the Tories while claiming thousands of pounds in furlough cash

james Wharton donation conservatives
James Wharton

  • 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.

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The Conservative Party received tens of thousands of pounds from non-existent companies

Boris Johnson Conservative Party donations
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

  • EXCLUSIVE: The Conservative Party accepted tens of thousands of pounds from companies that had been struck off, an investigation by Insider has found.
  • Tory politicians, including one currently serving government ministers, received the donations.
  • Political parties are obliged to carry out checks on any company offering them a donation.
  • Labour is calling for the Electoral Commission to launch an urgent investigation.
  • “This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Conservative Party pocketed nearly £30,000 from companies that were no longer trading at the time the donations were made, an analysis of Electoral Commission records and Companies House data by Insider has found.

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, UK political parties can only receive donations from actively trading companies and they are obliged to carry out permissibility checks on all donations from companies.

However, Insider’s investigation has found four donations from three companies that official records show were either dissolved or in the process of dissolution, with two of the donations received by currently serving government ministers.

Following Insider’s findings, the opposition Labour party called for an official investigation into the donations.

Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “This just doesn’t pass the smell test. The Conservatives need to explain why it seems they pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from companies that only existed on paper.

“The rules are clear: political parties must check that companies making donations are carrying on business in the UK. The Electoral Commission must launch an urgent investigation to find out what’s happened here – and any breaches of the law should be punished fully.”

Two donations received by a government minister

conservative party

The first donation identified by Insider was to Wendy Morton, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, from a company called Unionist Buildings.

Companies House records show that Unionist Buildings was struck off the register on 17 January 2017, following an application, filed on 21 October 2016, by its directors.

However, Electoral Commission records show Morton’s local association received £6,000 from Unionist Buildings on 2 June 2017, less than a week before the 2017 general election. The donation was accepted on 5 June 2017.

Nearly three years after Unionist Buildings was struck off the register, Morton declared a further £4,000 received by her local Conservative association from Unionist Buildings and registered on 9 January 2020. Her entry also contains the £6,000 donation from 2017.

At the time Morton received the £4,000 donation in January 2020, she was a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Unionist Buildings, who did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Morton did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication either.

Donations were received from dissolved companies

theresa may
Former Prime Minister Theresa May

Another donation was received from a company whose sole director was Conservative minister Charlotte Vere.

Vere is a Conservative life peer and a junior minister in the Department for Transport.

Companies House records for the firm Conservatives In, established to support the Remain vote in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, show it was struck off the register on 2 May 2017 following an application, filed on 3 February 2017, by Vere, the company’s sole director from June 2016 onwards.

On the application which Vere signed on 10 January 2017, she declared that “none of the circumstances described in section 1004 or 1005 of the Companies Act 2006 […] exists in relation to the company”.

Section 1004 of the Companies Act 2006 states that a company may not apply to be struck off if it has, “at any time in the previous three months […] traded or otherwise carried on business”.

But Electoral Commission records show that less than three months prior to this, Conservatives In gave £9,754.98 to the Conservative Party’s central office. The donation was made on 22 December 2016, the day after Vere was appointed a government whip in the House of Lords.

Vere’s entry on the register of ministers’ interests in November 2019 disclosed that her husband, Mike Chattey, is the head of fundraising at the Conservative Party. He has held the position since 2009.

Baroness Vere did not respond to a request for comment.

A company listed as a donor denies knowledge of donation

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Companies House records for the firm Stridewell Estates show it was also struck off the register in November 2016, following an application for striking off made in August 2016.

Over three years later, the Conservatives accepted a donation of £10,000 from Stridewell Estates.

A spokesperson for Stridewell Estates told Insider that the entry on the Electoral Commission’s website “must be a mistake.” She said “no payments were made from this company after it was dissolved. It is very possible that the company that donated has been recorded incorrectly.”

The spokesperson was unable to provide further details by the time of publication.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Stridewell Estates.

“This just doesn’t pass the smell test”

boris johnson brexit

Insider referred all of these donations to the Conservative Party. A spokesperson for the party said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them.”

The party did not seek to claim that any of the donations did not occur.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “Political parties can only accept donations over £500 from permissible sources. This includes companies who are registered and incorporated in the UK, and who carry on business at the time they make donations.

“We carry out our own permissibility checks on donors, though the legal responsibility lies with the parties to ensure that they only accept money from legal sources. Should there be evidence that the rules have been broken, we would consider it in line with our Enforcement Policy.”

Campaigners say there needs to be a stronger set of regulatory requirements for parties to ensure that they are receiving donations from permissible sources.

Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “It is high time that political parties be placed under a proper legal obligation to do thorough background checks on the origins of donations and the Electoral Commission be given robust powers to penalise them when they fail to do so.

“The public need to have confidence that electoral finance is squeaky clean and there aren’t any loopholes that would allow illegal or foreign donations which might skew our electoral process.”

Read the original article on Business Insider