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Friday, June 28, 2024

Raking in the cash

The Guardian reports that companies linked to Conservative donors have collectively received £8.4bn in public money since 2016, more than 150 times what the party has received in support.

They say that government spending and political donation records reveal that key contributors have given £53.7m to the Tory party since January 2015, while controlling firms that have received billions in government and NHS contracts over eight years:

An anti-corruption charity has called for a ban on parties accepting donations from companies with public contracts, which would bring the UK in line with the US and other countries in Europe.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said: “The British public are understandably still angry that so much money from the public purse ended up with the friends and donors of the Tory party.”

There is no suggestion that the individuals or companies named have broken the law or committed any wrongdoing. But the analysis shines a light on the high value of contracts handed to political donors, and raises questions about the risk of conflict of interest.

The donors include:

* Frank Hester, whose company The Phoenix Partnership has received £427.7m from the NHS and Department for Health since 2016 and who has donated £15.3m to the Conservatives since 2023. The businessman, mired in a row about comments condemned as racist and misogynistic, gave the Conservative party £5m in January.

* JCB Service, which donated almost £3.3m between May 2017 and September last year. Companies within the same corporate grouping have directly received £566,161 between April 2016 and April this year.

* Richard Harpin, who has donated £2.7m between May 2016 and March 2024, including a donation from a company he has significant control over: Growth Partner LLP. His firms Harmony Bridge Limited and Liberty House (Hull) Ltd received a combined £730,980 from Homes England between May 2019 and August 2021.

* Dr Selva Pankaj, who has donated £727,000 to the Conservatives since November 2015. His company FP(GB) LTD (formerly known as Fortress Properties) received £4,733,336 from Homes England between November 2020 and August 2023.

The list of donors receiving public money includes many developers and property industry firms. Since 2016, 124 donor-linked companies have received more than £1bn from Homes England, the body that funds new affordable housing. A Guardian analysis of donations last year found that at least 10% of donations received by the Conservative party since 2010 had come from people or companies linked to the property industry.

The figures are almost certainly an underestimate, because transparency thresholds for donation declarations and government spending mean that not all information is made public. The Guardian used public spending receipts provided by the government procurement data provider Tussell.

Previously, any political donation over £7,500 had to be reported and published by the Electoral Commission. Since January 2024 the reporting threshold has been raised to £11,180.

Some donors, such as Frank Hester, may have started donating money after their companies were awarded contracts in the public sector. Others will have been donors before their companies were paid by the government.

A separate analysis by the Labour party shows that £4.5bn in contracts were awarded to Conservative-linked firms without competitive tender during the pandemic.

Interestingly, Labour's response to this research stops short of promising to implement the call for the UK to do what the US and many of its key allies in Europe do and ban political parties from taking donations from companies (and their bosses) that bid for public contracts.

Presumably, that is because they don't want to cut off any possible funding sources when they are in government.
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