Company donation to Mark Spencer MP requires explanation

  1. On 13 April 2017, Mark Spencer, Conservative MP for Sherwood and an Assistant Government Whip, declared a cash donation of £2.15k on the register of MPs’ financial interests. It came from SJ Ankh Ltd, a local company; but the registered company number that Mr Spencer stated fails to match that on the Companies House register. The mismatch between company name and number requires explanation. Further, while £2.15k may not be a huge amount, here I show that Mr Spencer’s declaration on the register means we’re talking telephone numbers.
  2. Farmer Mr Spencer, who was first elected MP for Sherwood in May 2010, listed 9654867 as company number. Yet the registered company number of SJ Ankh Ltd is 10525122, according to Companies House records. While 9654867 is the company number of Bedfordshire Land Promotions Ltd.
  3. There’s something else about number 9654867, though. It’s the phone number for Sherwood Conservative Association (without prefix 0115, area code for Nottingham).
  4. Samuel (“Sam”) Ancliff is sole director of SJ Ankh Ltd, which is a new company. He’s “deputy chairman (membership)” of Ashfield and Mansfield Conservatives, too, says his Twitter biography (screen shot in Figure 1). On 4 May 2017, Mr Ancliff stood unsuccessfully in the local elections, as Conservative candidate for county councillor in Kirkby North, Nottinghamshire County Council. He came second, behind Labour’s John Knight.

    Figure 1. Sam Ancliff on Twitter at 9 May 2017

  5. Mr Spencer, who is Conservative candidate for Sherwood in the current general election, didn’t respond to requests for comment (emails). Neither did Sherwood Conservatives. Where’s the “strong and stable leadership”?
  6. Mr Ancliff, however, said in an email: “Besides that it is a [sic] clearly a simple admin error on someone’s part, I have nothing further to contribute to your blog.” Well, if so, who exactly made “a simple admin error,” and where?

BuzzFeed re-examines Give Us Time after my investigation

  1. On 29 April 2017, James Ball at BuzzFeed re-examined Give Us Time, a military charity founded in 2012 by Dr Liam Fox MP. This was after my recent investigation (see 20 April 2017 post).
  2. Special Correspondent Ball named and credited me. His report: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jamesball/liam-foxs-military-charity-has-still-helped-just-a-fraction.

Why won’t Tim Farron explain the donation he declared from a dormant company just prior to dissolution without filing overdue accounts?

  1. On 4 April 2016, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP declared a cash donation of £2k on the register of MPs’ financial interests. It came from BTP Advisers International Ltd (registered company number: 08522892). The Lib Dems in his constituency, Westmorland and Lonsdale, accepted the donation from the company on 31 March 2016, according to the Electoral Commission online database.
  2. BTP Advisers International Ltd was dissolved on 19 July 2016, after filing one set of accounts only – for a dormant company – made up to 31 May 2014, Companies House records show. It was incorporated on 9 May 2013 by its two directors, Sandra Lawman and Mark Pursey.
  3. Both have been politically active with the Lib Dems, and for a long time. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey said in an email that he was a party member, and had been “for the last 27 years.” He added: “I have no involvement in the party today beyond being a member and supporter. However, in the past, I have served as a local Lib Dem councillor, worked for the party, and volunteered to help on many of its campaigns.” Meanwhile, Ms Lawman’s profile on the website of Dudley Miles Company Services Limited (registered company number: 03208062), a company where she’s now a director, lists various roles as a Lib Dem activist (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Sandra Lawman profile on Dudley Miles Company Services Limited website at 27 April 2017

  4. Mr Pursey campaigned as a Lib Dem for the UK to leave the EU – he was a member of the Liberal Leave team, as its homepage at 20 June 2016 shows: https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20160620223359/liberalleave.org.
  5. Political donations above £2k must be disclosed by a company in the directors’ report within the annual report. This donation, of course, falls just under. Yet dormant BTP Advisers International Ltd didn’t even file its overdue second accounts, made up to 31 May 2015. It was then dissolved, of course, on 19 July 2016. How could a dormant company donate £2k to the Lib Dem leader?
  6. So I asked Ms Lawman and Mr Pursey in an email three questions about their company and the donation. On 6 March 2017, Mr Pursey told me in an email that the donation didn’t come from BTP Advisers International Ltd. Rather, it came from BTP Advisers Limited (registered company number: 07455523). That, he told me, “is an active company, and always has been.” Mr Pursey also asked where the donation was shown as from BTP Advisers International Ltd, despite the fact I’d explicitly referred to the register of MPs’ financial interests. I pointed again to Mr Farron’s entry there, providing the link; whereupon he replied in an email the same day: “Well then that’s wrong. I am [sic] no idea why that is what is down. I’ll ask them to change it.”
  7. Ms Lawman at Dudley Miles Company Services Limited didn’t respond to the original email.
  8. What does BTP Advisers Limited do? It’s a “multi-award winning communications agency working across international media relations, crisis management, political campaigns and legal disputes,” says the Twitter biography (@btpadvisers). Mr Pursey is founder and managing partner.
  9. Not everyone is a fan, however. In December 2011, for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Mr Pursey had boasted to an undercover reporter of BTP Advisers Limited’s PR work for the Rwandan government, including its creation of an internet “attack site” to counter accusations that the government had been involved in genocide: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2011-12-06/pr-firm-attacked-critics-of-rwandan-government. There the Bureau also reported his claim the company was working for the controversial government of Azerbaijan.
  10. In March 2013, meanwhile, The Sunday Times newspaper exposed BTP Advisers Limited’s role in the Kenyan presidential election, in particular orchestrating an alleged “dirty tricks” campaign against British diplomats, on behalf of eventual winner Uhuru Kenyatta: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lib-dem-defeats-our-man-in-kenya-830n0rs5vj5.
  11. On 21 April 2016, the Guido Fawkes website criticised Mr Farron for accepting the £2k donation from what it identifies as BTP Advisers because of the company’s PR work for “some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world”: https://order-order.com/2016/04/21/farron-bankrolled-by-disgraced-rwanda-spinners/. Guido Fawkes said nothing, though, about the actual company on the official record for the donation, BTP Advisers International Ltd.
  12. There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.
  13. On 7 March 2017, I emailed Mr Farron at parliament seeking an explanation for the discrepancy between his declaration on the register of MPs’ financial interests and what Mr Pursey had told me in emails the day before. Having heard nothing, I sent a reminder a week later. This time his office (no name disclosed) acknowledged receipt, on 17 March 2017, adding: “We are making enquiries and will come back to you in due course.” Again, nothing. So I sent a third email on 19 April 2017. At date of publication I haven’t had a response.
  14. Mr Farron’s declaration is unchanged on the latest register of MPs’ financial interests (that is, at 10 April 2017). Similarly, at date of publication BTP Advisers International Ltd remains as donor on the Electoral Commission online database.

Give Us Time: accounts hide provision of flights for founder Dr Liam Fox MP’s staff

  1. The most recent accounts for Give Us Time, a military charity founded in 2012 by Dr Liam Fox MP, hide in two ways its provision of flights for Dr Fox’s staff. First, the two staff members are included within the charity’s beneficiaries, but there’s no indication in the accounts that Give Us Time considers them as such – or why. Second, the flights represent an undisclosed related party transaction between the charity and Dr Fox, the international trade secretary. Yet there were no related party transactions, according to the accounts.
  2. On 21 March 2016, Brexiteer Dr Fox declared on the register of MPs’ financial interests a visit at the end of the previous month to the Balkan Jewel Resort in Bulgaria as part of a group holiday for military families organised by Give Us Time (registered charity number: 1152978). The cabinet minister was accompanied by two staff members, whose return flights to Bulgaria were paid for by the charity, his declaration shows. The accommodation for all three, meanwhile, was donated by the Balkan Jewel Resort.
  3. The charity has recently returned from another group holiday at the Balkan Jewel Resort (screen shot in Figure 1). Give Us Time “takes holidays donated by owners of holiday groups, hotels, holiday homes and timeshares, and matches them with military families in need of rest, rehabilitation and reconnection after tours of duty,” the “About Us” page on the charity website says.

    Figure 1. Give Us Time tweets about recent group holiday at the Balkan Jewel Resort in Bulgaria at 13 April 2017

  4. Something not on the website: Give Us Time began as a collaboration between Dr Fox and Afghan Heroes (registered charity number: 1132340), the notorious failed military charity (see para 32 in my 6 January 2014 post). Dr Fox was a patron of Afghan Heroes, quitting when regulator the Charity Commission announced in December 2013 that it’d opened a statutory inquiry into the charity. That inquiry continues.
  5. Dr Fox’s staff were with him on last year’s group holiday in Bulgaria as “representatives” of Give Us Time, according to his declaration on the register of MPs’ financial interests.
  6. A few weeks ago, Give Us Time published its latest trustees’ annual report (TAR) and accounts, made up to 30 September 2016. Thus both cover the year Dr Fox and two staff members went on the charity’s Bulgaria group trip. Nevertheless neither record the fact that Give Us Time had paid for flights for Dr Fox’s staff.
  7. When I queried the omission, Rupert Forrest, public contact for Give Us Time, said in an email: “I do not believe it is necessary to break out the two flights in the annual accounts.” In response, I asked him to tell me where exactly the value of the two flights is reported in the itemised breakdown of the costs of charitable activities, in note 7, “Activities undertaken directly,” on p.9 of the latest TAR and accounts (screen shot in Figure 2). That is, under which item?

    Figure 2. Note 7, “Activities undertaken directly,” Give Us Time accounts made up to 30 September 2016

  8. The flights, he replied, were part of a group booking, which in turn is included within “Travel and accommodation expenses for beneficiaries.” Thus Dr Fox’s two staff members are classified as beneficiaries, but there’s no indication in the accounts that Give Us Time considers them as such – or why.
  9. The other way in which the charity’s provision of flights for Dr Fox’s staff is hidden is via an undisclosed related party transaction. Yet there were no related party transactions, according to the accounts: see note 12, “Related party transactions,” p.10 of the latest TAR and accounts (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Note 12, “Related party transactions,” Give Us Time accounts made up to 30 September 2016

  10. How did Give Us Time engage in an undisclosed related party transaction? Founder Dr Fox is a related party because he “has significant influence over the reporting entity” (see International Accounting Standard 24 Related Party Disclosures (IAS 24): http://www.iasplus.com/en-gb/standards/ias/ias24). Thus Dr Fox’s receipt, in his name, from Give us Time of return flights to Bulgaria for two staff members is a related party transaction – an undisclosed related party transaction.
  11. When I requested a comment on the undisclosed related party transaction, Mr Forrest said in a one-sentence email: “Give Us Time’s accounts have been prepared in accordance with the Charities SORP.” (The Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator issue the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) for charities, guidance on their financial accounting and reporting: http://www.charitysorp.org.)
  12. Give Us Time’s response on the undisclosed related party transaction is clearly inadequate because it fails to explain the charity’s statement in the accounts that there were no related party transactions.
  13. The trustees are collectively responsible for Give Us Time’s actions, including its financial reporting. Founder Dr Fox isn’t a trustee, and so can’t be held directly accountable for the unacceptable lack of disclosure in the latest accounts related to his involvement with the charity.
  14. What’s worse, before preparing the most recent accounts, Give Us Time knew that there had been legitimate media interest in the return flights to Bulgaria for Dr Fox’s staff following his declaration: see the BuzzFeed News investigation into the charity, published on 31 July 2016: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jamesball/liam-fox-faces-questions-over-charity-he-set-up-to-help-mili.
  15. Give Us Time’s intended beneficiaries are “military families in need.” The actual beneficiaries, however, include Dr Fox’s two staff members – something hidden in the accounts.

Jake Berry MP’s avoidable conflict of interest

  1. Jake Berry MP’s second job as a paid consultant to a multinational law firm means that it’s unclear, at the very least, in what capacity he spoke at a recent real-estate event in Manchester sponsored by the same law firm. The MP, a self-proclaimed champion of transparency, hasn’t replied to requests for comment on what I consider to be his avoidable conflict of interest. Nor has the law firm.
  2. Mr Berry is Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen. He’s a solicitor, who, according to his personal website, “specialised in housing and development law” before entering parliament in 2010. On 10 November 2016, Mr Berry spoke at a real-estate event at the National Football Museum, Manchester. Here’s a newspaper preview: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/property/more-effort-needed-drive-provide-12156570.
  3. The breakfast meeting had two sponsors: law firm Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP and bank NatWest. The MP has a second job – as a paid consultant to, er, Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP. It’s been paying him £2 500 per month since September 2016, Mr Berry’s entry on the register of MPs’ financial interests shows.
  4. The newspaper preview fails to mention the MP’s second job. An unfortunate omission. I’ve asked Mr Berry in emails in what capacity he spoke at the event. Was he there as MP for Rossendale and Darwen – or as an employee of Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP?
  5. At date of publication I haven’t received a reply. Nor have I heard from Holly Carty, business development coordinator at Squire Patton Boggs (UK) LLP in Manchester. Ms Carty tweeted about the event on her official work account (@HACarty).
  6. Mr Berry’s failure to respond is particularly disappointing because he’s a self-proclaimed champion of transparency: www.jakeberry.org/transparency. “If you have any questions or would like any further details please do not hesitate to contact me,” he says on that page.
  7. It’s unclear which Mr Berry spoke at the real-estate event in Manchester last November. Yet he had an actual, potential, or perceived conflict of interest due to his second job. This conflict of interest risks undermining trust and confidence in the MP, as well as MPs generally. What’s worse, his is an avoidable conflict of interest.
  8. There’s no suggestion that Mr Berry has done anything illegal.

The Leaver who can’t leave Vote Leave

  1. Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, is one of an endangered species – a Labour MP who campaigned for the UK to get out of the EU. He in fact went further, becoming a director of Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign. And there the MP, er, remains as a director, according to his entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests at 31 October 2016.
  2. Yet over at Companies House the picture is different. Mr Stringer resigned as a director of Vote Leave on 30 June 2016, a week after the EU referendum, filings show. So which is right?
  3. Companies House. On 10 November 2016, the Brexiteer MP told me in an email: “The Commons Registrar appears not to have received my earlier declaration that I was no longer a director and I have now emailed the Registrar asking for the record to be amended.” Leaving isn’t easy.

MPs’ hidden staff

  1. The register of MPs’ staff is always incomplete at any time because not all staff with parliamentary passes are included. Those holding passes for less than three months – so-called short-term passholders – aren’t registered. There’s potential for abuse because such individuals are hidden from the public record. Staff members actually on the register are required to declare lobbying or outside interests. But we aren’t even aware of the existence of some of those working for MPs.
  2. Remember Mr Downing who’d worked “earlier in the year” for Grant Shapps MP at parliament (see previous post). I couldn’t find him on archived copies of the register of MPs’ staff for earlier this year. So I asked Mr Shapps’ parliamentary office for the exact dates to ensure I was looking at the appropriate version of the register – if it was available. Luckily I found one – but Mr Downing wasn’t there, which I didn’t understand. He should surely have been present on the register then, I thought.
  3. But no, according to Philippa Wainwright, Assistant Registrar in the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at the House of Commons. The dates for Mr Downing indicate that he’d been a passholder for less than three months at the date of the register. And so-called short-term passholders aren’t registered, she said in an email.
  4. Where does it say this on the parliament website? Er, nowhere. In particular, this fact isn’t disclosed in the documentation with the register itself, which is strange. This fact should surely be explicitly stated so that the public is aware that the register is always incomplete at any time.
  5. Why are short-term passholders not registered anyway? Ms Wainwright, who is responsible for the register of MPs’ staff, explained in an email: “The staff register was set up in the mid-1980s following a report to the House by the Select Committee on Members’ Interests. In that report (its first report of session 1984-85, HC 408) the committee recommended that ‘the requirement to register be limited to those with permanent passes’. The report, including that recommendation, was subsequently approved by the House.”
  6. The exclusion of short-term passholders is the second way I’ve found the register of MPs’ staff to be open to potential abuse. Previously, I exposed the problems, actual and potential, arising from the fact that it’s solely the responsibility of the staff member to make appropriate disclosures on the register. The registration form to declare relevant interests requires that individual’s signature only. There’s no formal requirement for the MP to validate in any way the information disclosed (see my 15 February 2016 post).
  7. The level of disclosure required in the staff register of interests is poor,” said the Guardian in March 2015: www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/05/300-staff-working-for-peers-and-mps-have-lobbying-interests-analysis-reveals. The newspaper was referring to the inadequate disclosure of lobbying or outside interests by MPs’ staff. The Guardian is wrong: it’s worse than that. Some of those working for MPs are legitimately hidden from the public record.