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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Telecommunications Company Endorsed By Oliver Dowden Donates More Than £40,000 To Tory Northern Research Group MPs

3 min read

Exclusive: A telecommunications business endorsed by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has now donated more than £40,000 to Conservative MPs exclusively belonging to the Northern Research Group (NRG).

In 2021 alone, IX Wireless, a company with only one employee, dished out £40,500 to MPs representing constituencies in Wales, the northwest, northeast, Yorkshire, the Midlands and Scotland.

Previous reports detailed that 11 MPs accepted donations from the Preston-based broadband provider.

However, a newly released register of MPs' interests shows that in the past four weeks an additional four parliamentarians - Paul Howell, Karl Mcarthey, Robbie Moore and Mary Robinson - received a total of £9,500 from the firm.  There is no suggestion that the donations breach parliamentary rules.

PoliticsHome has learnt that NRG treasurer and MP for Carlisle, John Stevenson, has been liaising between members of the group and IX Wireless to determine which MPs should be offered donations.

According to sources, many NRG members have a limited if any understanding of IX Wireless’ aims and are not even in direct contact with the business.

Instead, Stevenson is thought to have offered MPs the chance to independently vie for a donation, with those who successfully state their case standing to gain thousands for their offices.

So far Mark Jenkinson, James Daly and Simon Fell have received the largest sums at £3,500 each.

Most other recipients have received £2,500, with the lowest donation amount being £2000.

IX Wireless is tied to Tory peer and former MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, who is a director of the company Cohiba Communications Limited, which owns more than a 70 per cent stake in IX Wireless.

The company says it provides gigabit-capable broadband services to homes and businesses across the north of England and has expertise in “planning and liaison with local authorities”.

In 2019 the business participated in the government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme, which sees eligible homes and businesses receive vouchers to help cover the cost of installing gigabit broadband.

In June this year, at an online launch event for an IX Wireless project based in Blackburn, Dowden described the company's work as a "game-changer". 

The Culture Secretary said: “Project Gigabit is the levelling up game changer. Northern towns and cities are getting gigabit first in a big boost for the region and it means people will be able to run a business from anywhere.

“They will be able to move to places that were previously in that box of ‘left behind’ but are now affordable and attractive places to move to and raise a family.

“The work you are doing is a central part of our recovery from coronavirus and our bid to build back better from the pandemic."

Responding to news that a further four Conservative MPs have received donations from IX Wireless, Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds told PoliticsHome: “Another day, another revelation that yet more Conservative MPs have been receiving money from IX Wireless – and still a wall of silence as to what that money is for. 

“We need to know why a company controlled by a Tory donor is funnelling cash to backbench MPs in certain parts of the country, and what it is expecting to get in return.

“Voters have a right to know what is going on. There can’t be one rule for high-ranking Conservatives, and another for everyone else.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: "We are working with the telecoms sector to deliver the gigabit broadband the country needs, and ministers regularly support events of this nature with businesses large and small.

"This company is delivering faster broadband to a Northern town, and better connections are a crucial part of levelling up which is why we welcome what they and others are doing. The Secretary of State has received no donations personally from IX Wireless, nor does he have any personal connection to the company."

IX Wireless have been contacted for comment.

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