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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Construction, Finance And Gambling Companies Donate Most Money To MPs

MPs in the House of Commons (Alamy)

4 min read

The construction, finance and gambling industries are among the biggest political donors in the UK over the last two decades and are currently paying millions of pounds a year to MPs, according to a new study of more than two decades of political donations.

PoliticsHome was given exclusive access to a new report produced by think tank Autonomy and Aston University, that analysed the last 21 years of political donations. The findings underline existing concerns that individual industries have undue influence over Westminster, which has recently led to calls for tougher rules on political donations and MPs’ outside work.

The researchers found that companies in the construction and real estate sectors had donated well over £40m since 2002. That was followed by the wider finance and business services industries, which had both donated tens of millions of pounds more than other industries.

The figures did not include donations made by individuals who may have business interests – like those by the owner or chief executive of a company – only donations made by companies themselves, meaning the true amount of company-affiliated donations is likely higher. 

While the researchers found that the scale of the construction and real estate donations were in line with the scale of their contribution to the UK economy, they noted that “finance and business service companies are over-represented politically proportionally to their size”.

Over three quarters of the donations from construction and real estate went to the Conservative party, with the ruling party receiving the vast majority of donations from 16 of the 21 industries analysed. Only a small number – like healthcare or art & culture – had near parity between the Conservatives and Labour.

Gambling was the industry that donated and lobbied the most – giving relatively similar amounts to Labour and Conservatives despite its relatively small size. Gambling makes up just 0.2 per cent of national GVA (or gross value added, a term for measuring an industry or company’s contribution to a wider economy).

"Over the last two decades, British politics has been awash with lobbying cash from the finance sector, housing developers, the oil and gas industry and gambling firms,” said Will Stronge, report co-author and Autonomy’s director of research. 

“Their influence over politics runs deep and highlights how industries can gain access to senior politicians with relative ease, if they have the money to spend.”

“Politics in Britain is in desperate need of a clean up and tightening up our lobbying rules would be a good place to start.”

In light of the Autonomy research, PoliticsHome analysed the latest Register of MPs’ Interests and found that 29 MPs (all but two of whom were Conservatives) had paid outside work in the construction, finance and gambling sectors, with a combined annual value of £2.7m.

The vast majority of that was the finance sector (£2.4m), followed by construction (£302,000) and gambling (£31,000).

Seven MPs were earning £100,000 or more from that outside work, and several registered two or more days worth of outside work each week.

The highest earner on the list was former Chancellor Sajid Javid, who has a £600,000 a year advisory role for Jersey-based investment firm Centricus Partners. Javid is due to stand down as the MP for Bromsgrove later this year.

He was followed by Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis who earned £400,000 a year advising financial firms Civitas Investment Management and LetterOne Holdings and construction and housing companies Thakeham Homes and FM Conway. Across all his various outside roles, the former Justice Secretary logs nearly 15 hours of work each week on top of his duties as an MP, significantly more than most other MPs. Lewis also previously served as housing minister, and has been vocal about the need for planning reform.

Former COP President Alok Sharma earns £330,000 a year from two roles advising a Swedish bank and a private equity firm on “geopolitical and economic trends”, while backbencher John Redwood offers advice to investment firm Charles Stanley and EPIC Private Equity in roles worth £226,748 a year. Javid, Lewis and Sharma did not respond to requests for comment. Redwood told PoliticsHome he does not offer advice on UK matters to the firms in question, and was not aware of the firms ever making donations or lobbying Westminster.

Baroness Natalie Bennett, a Green Party peer who has been a vocal proponent for tighter rules around MPs’s second jobs, told PoliticsHome the research “starkly sets out how we get the politics a few people, and industries, pay for”. She added that stopping excess influence from certain industries “acting in the interests of the few, not the public good” was “essential to start to restore voters' trust in politics and politicians”, and called on parliament to reform the rules around donations and lobbying.

George Havenhand, senior legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, told PoliticsHome: “Much tougher rules on MPs’ outside interests – and robust, transparent safeguards to avoid donors exerting undue influence over politicians and government – would help to level the uneven playing field.”


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