GK Strategy wilfully ignores Paul Bristow MP’s breach of MPs’ Code of Conduct and cover-up

  1. Lobbying firm GK Strategy is at the centre of Paul Bristow MP’s breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct and subsequent cover-up, with sister-in-law Emma Petela a director there (see previous post). Nevertheless both Ms Petela and the company owners won’t comment about Mr Bristow‘s failings.
  2. Ms Petela has been aware of the issues since I first emailed her on 21 April 2020. There I sought comment, but to no avail. She ignored a second message dated 22 April 2020.
  3. I sent Ms Petela a third email on 21 May 2020. That day I received a response from Louise Allen for GK Strategy. Her response was inadequate, failing to deal with any of the issues. Ms Allen wrote: “In response to your email to my colleague Emma Petela, GK Strategy stringently adheres to the PRCA Public Affairs Board Code of Conduct. You can find a copy of the PAB Code on the PRCA website. Please contact Karen Wilkinson (karen.wilkinson@prca.org.uk) for information on the code and complaints process should you wish.”
  4. On 22 May 2020, I replied to Ms Allen and Ms Petela, again requesting a comment for the record from GK Strategy. Neither replied.
  5. On 1 June 2020, I sought comment from Robin Grainger and Luke Kennedy, the owners of GK Strategy Limited, according to Companies House records. Neither responded.
  6. As you can see, GK Strategy has been uncommunicative on Mr Bristow and the company, which is strange for a communications agency. Disappointing, too, when its website proclaims: “We believe that good communication can help build a better society. A more complex world demands more clarity in communication, not less. GK Strategy enables organisations to communicate clearly, transparently and credibly.”
  7. How can the public trust and have confidence in GK Strategy, when it wilfully ignores Mr Bristow’s breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct and subsequent cover-up, both linked to director Ms Petela and the firm?

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards allows Paul Bristow MP to avoid accountability over breach of MPs’ Code of Conduct and cover-up

  1. The office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (PCS) recently allowed an MP to avoid accountability over his breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct and subsequent cover-up.
  2. On 24 March 2020, I revealed that Paul Bristow MP, a member of the influential Commons health and social care committee, breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct – by failing to register a second lobbyist family member on the register of MPs’ financial interests.
  3. The missing lobbyist is the Tory MP’s sister-in-law, Emma Petela, who’s a director of lobbying firm GK Strategy, as well as co-chair of the PRCA Public Affairs Board, “the voice of the public affairs and lobbying industry”.
  4. On 20 March 2020, Mr Bristow finally registered Emma Petela in the register of MPs’ financial interests, under Category 10, “Family members engaged in lobbying the public sector on behalf of a third party or client”. There she joins the MP’s wife, lobbyist Sara Petela, who owns Mr Bristow’s former lobbying company, PB Political Consulting Ltd!
  5. It was my email to Mr Bristow on 19 March 2020 that prompted him the next day to finally register his lobbyist sister-in-law (see 2 April 2020 post).
  6. Right of reply is important. In my email of 19 March 2020 I‘d requested comment on the omission, along with another matter. The MP proved to be unaccountable, not responding to the request for comment. Nevertheless that email caused him to update the register accordingly. Pretty spineless.
  7. In other words, Mr Bristow performed a cover-up – just like Jeremy Hunt, when I emailed the then health secretary about his corporate reporting failings at Companies House (see 9 April 2018 post). Senior Tory MP Mr Hunt is now chair of the Commons health and social care committee. Birds of a feather, and all that.
  8. On 24 March 2020, I complained to PCS Kathryn Stone about Mr Bristow‘s breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct, referring to that day’s post. I then brought the MP’s cover-up to Ms Stone‘s attention, again on date of publication of the post (2 April 2020).
  9. On 7 April 2020, I received a response from a member of the office of the PCS, Gwen Harrison. It was marked “not for publication”. Therefore, I must paraphrase what she wrote. Ms Harrison noted Mr Bristow had amended his register entry. She then pointed out he’s a new MP, adding his non-disclosure was “relatively brief”. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, the official said she thought it unlikely the PCS would open an inquiry into the case. Ms Harrison did, though, suggest I could resubmit my complaint at a later stage, for the PCS to consider then.
  10. By same-day reply, I reminded Ms Harrison that Mr Bristow‘s omission was only relatively brief” because of my intervention! I repeated the timeline of events, showing the MP’s cover-up.
  11. Ms Harrison didn’t respond to that message or a chaser two weeks later.
  12. Another consequence of Ms Harrison‘s inaction is Mr Bristow‘s register entry is inaccurate and misleading.
  13. MPs are required to register any financial interest within 28 days. As I say, Mr Bristow at last registered his lobbyist sister-in-law on 20 March 2020. This means the register shows Emma Petela has been a lobbyist from a date within 28 days of date of registration. This is false: Emma Petela was working for lobbying firm GK Strategy, when Mr Bristow became an MP for the first time on 12 December 2019.
  14. Late registration is a serious matter – or at least is supposed to be. Late entries are clearly and prominently flagged as such on the register. It’s concerning, therefore, the office of the PCS is evidently happy for Mr Bristow‘s register entry to be inaccurate and misleading.
  15. This episode begs the question: how many other MPs, if any, is the office of the PCS allowing to avoid accountability over breaches of the MPs’ Code of Conduct and subsequent cover-ups? It also undermines trust and confidence in both the register of MPs’ financial interests, and its oversight.

Telegraph front page: inquiry into Sir Bob Neill MP

  1. The front page of the Daily Telegraph today (22 June 2020) has an exclusive story about Sir Bob Neill MP, “MP faces scrutiny over hotel development” (screen shot in Figure 1). The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has opened an inquiry into Sir Bob, the newspaper reports.

    Figure 1. Daily Telegraph front page (22 June 2020)

  2. The full report is the lead on p.12: Daily Telegraph 22 Jun 2020.
  3. The Telegraph examines one of the senior Tory MP’s other jobs – that with The Substantia Group. There the paper acknowledges I was the first to expose Sir Bob’s failure to declare he was on the payroll of a firm Substantiabehind a luxury hotel development in his constituency, when lobbying the local council for it (see 10 June 2020 post and references therein).
  4. Meanwhile, last week I revealed a problematic disclosure on Sir Bob‘s entry in the register of MPs’ financial interests, one relating to another job (see 17 June 2020 post).

Sir Bob Neill’s problematic disclosure on the register of MPs’ financial interests

  1. Sir Bob Neill is a busy man. He’s Tory MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, and has been continuously since 29 June 2006. Sir Bob is also chair of the influential Commons justice select committee, and held that role in the last parliament, too. Oh, and he‘s a member of the joint committee on the national security strategy. But the former minister has other jobs as well.
  2. Hitherto I’ve written extensively about his paid role at The Substantia Group (see 10 June 2020 post and references therein). Here I reveal a problematic disclosure on Sir Bob‘s entry in the register of MPs’ financial interests, one relating to another job.
  3. I refer to the interest the senior MP registered on 18 July 2014, and which remains on the latest register: “Director of Camden Park Ltd, 145-157 St John St, London EC1V 4PW; a consultancy.”
  4. There are three problems with that registered interest.
  5. First, the company name appears to be incorrect. Companies House records show Sir Bob isn’t and has never been a director of Camden Park Ltd. The MP was a director of Camden Park Consultants Ltd, though. As I say, was a director.
  6. Second, Camden Park Consultants Ltd was dissolved on 13 December 2016, having been incorporated on 8 July 2014.
  7. Third, I understand MPs are required to register within 28 days any change in their registrable interests. Sir Bob surely should have updated his entry in the wake of his decision to dissolve Camden Park Consultants Ltd, therefore.
  8. When asked for comment, Sir Bob said in an email: “Camden Park was set up by myself and my co-director, a longstanding legal friend, with a view to doing some work together at some future point. That never came to pass and the company never traded at all.”
  9. The MP continued: “My c-director [sic] dealt with its registration and its dissolution. Your point about the name is, with all due respect, one of semantics. It is quite clear to anyone that Camden Park Ltd of 145-157 St John Street London EC1V 4PW, a consultancy and Camden Park Consulting [sic] Ltd of the same address registered at the same time, is one and the same, especially as a quick check would show that I have not been a director of any company with a similar name. I am sure that you will agree that it would take rather a perverse stretch of the imagination to suggest otherwise.”
  10. He finished: “It has indeed been dissolved and I am grateful to you for pointing out that I have been needlessly declaring an interest that I did not have to. I have asked for the register to be corrected.”

Tom Tugendhat acknowledges errors in company accounts

  1. Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, has acknowledged errors in his company’s accounts, and says he’s submitted corrected accounts to Companies House.
  2. The senior Tory MP, whose seat is Tonbridge and Malling, is sole director and owner of Lashkar & Co Ltd.
  3. The latest accounts for Lashkar & Co Ltd are made up to 31 July 2019. Filed on 24 Feb 2020, these are identified at Companies House as “accounts for a dormant company”.
  4. Further, the accounts state: “The company has not traded during the year or the preceding financial period. During this time the company received no income and incurred no expenditure and therefore no profit and loss account is presented in these financial statements.”
  5. Meanwhile, the register of MPs’ financial interests shows Lashkar & Co Ltd received £100k on 7 February 2019 from “Charles M Songhurst”, for 120 hours of “team management advice” work.
  6. The date of receipt is during the year reported in the latest accounts. Yet Lashkar & Co Ltd was “dormant” and “received no income”, according to those accounts.
  7. When asked for comment, Mr Tugendhat said in an email on 9 June 2020: “Lashkar & Co Ltd had been dormant since 1 August 2015. During the year ended 31 July 2019 trading re-commenced. The corporation tax return were [sic] completed on the basis that the company was dormant until 31 January 2019 and the company started trading again from 1 February 2019.”
  8. The MP continued: “Unfortunately whilst the accounts of the company were prepared correctly in terms of income and expenditure and the balance sheet was correctly stated as at 31 July 2019 the statement on page 2 of the accounts filed with Companies House was incorrect. The dormant company declaration had been erroneously carried forward from the previous year and not updated to reflect the cessation of the dormant sate [sic] of the company.”
  9. The company meets the requirements to have its accounts prepared under Financial Reporting Standard 105 (FRS 105) and also does not require audit. Thus the accounts that can be legitimately filed with Companies House are very brief. Only a balance sheet is necessary and very limited notes to the accounts are required – namely the number of employees.”
  10. The accounts available at Companies House will be amended by filing a revised version of the accounts so that the dormant status comment is removed.”
  11. Thank you for pointing out the unintended error. The correction has now been submitted and should be updated by Companies House shortly.”

Sir Bob Neill MP changes job title at The Substantia Group

  1. On 8 June 2020, Sir Bob Neill MP became a “senior adviser” to The Substantia Group, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests. There he also now discloses his previous job title at Substantia, “non-executive chairman”. Hitherto the senior Tory MP simply listed the role as “consultant”.
  2. Another change in Sir Bob’s entry is he now says what Substantia does: it’s a “property and business consultancy”.
  3. Substantia has been paying the former minister £1k per month since 1 December 2016 “for providing strategic consultancy advice”. The MP spends “6 hours per month” on this other job.
  4. On 31 October 2019, I revealed that Sir Bob publicly supported a redevelopment project involving Substantia in his constituency. He’s been MP for Bromley and Chislehurst continuously since 29 June 2006. The MP appears to have breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct – by failing to declare a relevant financial interest in a letter to the chief planning officer of Bromley Council. Sir Bob wrote to the council to support the planning application.
  5. Local news website News Shopper reported my exposé (see 14 November 2019 post).
  6. Sir Bob chaired the influential Commons justice select committee until the general election in December 2019. He continues in that role.

Owen Paterson MP not in breach of MPs’ Code of Conduct on Covid-19-related tweets

  1. On 1 April 2020, I revealed that ex-cabinet minister Owen Paterson MP failed to declare relevant financial interests when retweeting Covid-19-related tweets from Randox (testing) and JCB (ventilators). There I suggested the senior Tory MP may have breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct doing so. In fact, he hasn’t – but only because MPs are required to declare relevant interests on certain occasions only! An MP’s tweets, or any other social media postings, are exempt.
  2. The relevant chapter of the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members is chapter 2, “Declaration of Members’ Interests”: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmcode/1882/188205.htm. The first sentence of para 2 says: “The declaration of interests ensures that Members, the public and others are made aware at the appropriate time, in proceedings of the House and on other occasions, of any interest relevant to those proceedings or to the actions or words of a Member.”
  3. Para 7 of chapter 2, “Occasions when declaration is required”, lists the occasions. As you can see, an MP’s tweets, or any other social media postings, don’t appear there. Therefore, Mr Paterson hasn’t breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct.
  4. Nevertheless let’s return to the first sentence of para 2 of chapter 2: “The declaration of interests ensures that Members, the public and others are made aware at the appropriate time, in proceedings of the House and on other occasions, of any interest relevant to those proceedings or to the actions or words of a Member.” I told the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in an email that I find that sentence problematic.
  5. It’s unclear to me that “other occasions” there only refers to the occasions listed in para 7 of chapter 2. In other words, the “other occasions” requirement isn’t qualified. Therefore, “other occasions” in para 2 of chapter 2 could reasonably be interpreted as simply occasions not “in proceedings of the House”.
  6. The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said the “other occasions” in para 2 of chapter 2 only refers to the occasions listed in para 7 of chapter 2.
  7. I believe that key first sentence isn’t drafted as carefully as it should be. This ambiguity is unsatisfactory.
  8. Further, Mr Paterson’s Twitter biography is clear: he tweets as the “Conservative MP for North Shropshire”. Thus his tweets are the MP’s “actions” and “words”.
  9. There’s something else about the first sentence of para 2 of chapter 2: its reference to “the public”. This again seems relevant given the MP’s tweets are public.
  10. For the avoidance of doubt, the former cabinet minister failed to declare relevant financial interests when retweeting Covid-19-related tweets from Randox (testing) and JCB (ventilators). Yet the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members gives Mr Paterson a free pass to do so! Something to remember when reading MPs’ outputs on social media.
  11. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s advertising regulator, rightly requires celebrities to be “open and honest” with their audience when paid to endorse products and services on social media. So-called influencers must make clear ads are ads: https://www.asa.org.uk/resource/influencers-guide.html. It says something when the public can’t rely on MPs to be similarly open and honest about their financial interests when posting on social media.

Paul Bristow MP finally registers lobbyist sister-in-law Emma Petela

  1. On 24 March 2020, I revealed that Paul Bristow MP, who’s a member of the influential Commons health and social care committee, appears to have breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct – by failing to register a second lobbyist family member on the register of MPs’ financial interests.
  2. The missing lobbyist is the MP’s sister-in-law, Emma Petela, who’s a director of lobbying firm GK Strategy, as well as co-chair of the PRCA Public Affairs Board, “the voice of the public affairs and lobbying industry”.
  3. The latest register of MPs’ financial interests, as at 30 March 2020, shows Mr Bristow has finally registered Emma Petela under Category 10, “Family members engaged in lobbying the public sector on behalf of a third party or client”. There she joins the MP’s wife, lobbyist Sara Petela, who owns Mr Bristow’s former lobbying company, PB Political Consulting Ltd!
  4. Mr Bristow registered Emma Petela on 20 March 2020, according to the parliamentary register. In other words, before I published my exposé on 24 March 2020.
  5. Nevertheless, as I made clear in the story, I emailed the MP twice requesting a comment. The first time was on 5 March 2020, with the second on 19 March 2020. As I said in the story, it was the second request for comment where I asked about Mr Bristow‘s non-disclosures in relation to Emma Petela. As I also said in the story, the MP or his office didn’t respond to the second request for comment before a reasonable deadline (17:00 on 23 March 2020). In fact, he didn’t respond at all.
  6. The timeline is clear, therefore. My second request for comment prompted Mr Bristow to finally register lobbyist sister-in-law Emma Petela.

Owen Paterson MP fails to declare relevant financial interests on Covid-19-related tweets

  1. More on ex-cabinet minister Owen Paterson MP and his other job at Randox Laboratories Ltd (see previous post).
  2. On 28 March 2020, Mr Paterson retweeted a tweet from Randox of the same date announcing the firm is “partnering with the government to develop a new coronavirus testing programme in which NHS staff will be first in line” (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Owen Paterson MP retweets Randox’s tweet dated 28 March 2020 about its Covid-19 testing

  3. As you can see, there the senior Tory MP failed to declare a relevant financial interest – namely his other role with the clinical diagnostics company. Mr Paterson’s Twitter biography doesn’t reveal the information, either. That simply says: “Conservative MP for North Shropshire” (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Owen Paterson MP: Twitter biography at 29 March 2020

  4. When asked for comment, Mr Paterson said in an email the next day (30 March 2020): “I have been a consultant to Randox since August 2015 and my earnings have always been properly declared in the Register of Members’ Interests in accordance with Parliamentary rules.”
  5. I told the MP by same-day reply his response was unsatisfactory. There’s a difference between registration of interests and declaration of interests. His disclosures in the register of MPs’ financial interests are his registered interests – not declared interests, as he says.
  6. The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members is clear on the difference between registration of interests (chapter 1) and declaration of interests (chapter 2). Para 2 of chapter 2 states: “The declaration of interests ensures that Members, the public and others are made aware at the appropriate time, in proceedings of the House and on other occasions, of any interest relevant to those proceedings or to the actions or words of a Member. The requirement to declare an interest complements the registration requirements and applies from the time the House first sits after the Member is elected and to almost every aspect of a Member’s parliamentary duties. It covers a broader range of interests than registration.”
  7. Thus my original question remains unanswered (“Why did you omit to declare the relevant financial interest?”).
  8. In the same email, I raised a second issue. After receiving my first email, Mr Paterson retweeted a tweet from The Jockey Club dated 29 March 2020 about the Grand National, the UK’s biggest horse race of the year (screen shot in Figure 3).

    Figure 3. Owen Paterson MP retweets The Jockey Club’s tweet dated 29 March 2020 about the Randox Health Grand National

  9. Randox Health is the “official partner” of the Grand National: indeed, the horse race’s official title is the Randox Health Grand National. Also, the clinical diagnostics company is the “official healthcare partner” of The Jockey Club, which is the largest commercial group in British horseracing (see 21 July 2018 post). The Jockey Club owns Aintree Racecourse, where the Grand National – sorry, Randox Health Grand National – was to take place on Saturday (4 April 2020), until it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
  10. Yes, The Jockey Club tweet doesn’t name Randox. Nevertheless Randox is commercially linked to to both the Grand National and The Jockey Club.
  11. The same question arises, therefore. Again, I asked: “Why did you omit to declare the relevant financial interest?”
  12. At date of publication the former cabinet minister hasn’t responded to the second request for comment
  13. Even after my second email, on the same day (30 March 2020) Mr Paterson again failed to declare a relevant financial interest on Twitter.
  14. The MP retweeted a Covid-19-related tweet from digger manufacturer JCB of the same date announcing the business is “poised [to] start production of #ventilator housings at one of its Staffordshire-based factories, joining a national effort to combat the ventilator shortage” (screen shot in Figure 4).

    Figure 4. Owen Paterson MP retweets JCB’s tweet dated 30 March 2020 about its manufacture of ventilator housings for Covid-19 patients

  15. On 9 January 2020, Mr Paterson registered a donation of £7k from JCB, the register of MPs’ financial interests shows. Yet he didn’t declare the interest when retweeting JCB’s tweet.
  16. JCB has been a major Tory donor for a long time.
  17. The senior Tory MP appears to have breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct by failing to declare relevant financial interests when retweeting the Covid-19-related tweets from Randox and JCB.
  18. At date of publication Mr Paterson hasn’t responded to the third request for comment.

Has Owen Paterson MP got COVID-19?

  1. On 19 March 2020, former cabinet minister Owen Paterson MP tweeted: “As I am displaying some of the symptoms of #coronavirus, I am now isolating at home. I will still be working on emails and on the telephone. The latest advice on staying at home is available here.”
  2. The Conservative MP for North Shropshire can’t be sure he has coronavirus (COVID-19) without being tested.
  3. Randox Laboratories Ltd, a clinical diagnostics company based in Northern Ireland, manufactures a COVID-19 test. It’s “the only test in the world that can identify the lethal strain and differentiate between other non-lethal variants with the same symptoms,” according to the firm website.
  4. As well as being an MP, Mr Paterson has other jobs. One of these is as paid adviser to… Randox Laboratories Ltd.
  5. The ex-cabinet minister has been a “consultant” to the business from 1 August 2015, the register of MPs’ financial interests shows. As of 20 April 2017, Randox has paid him a handsome £8.3k per month “for a monthly commitment of 16 hours”.
  6. Many NHS workers are angry because they can’t currently get tested for coronavirus – something that’s presumably not a problem for Mr Paterson given his role at Randox.
  7. The Tory MP should arguably disclose his relevant financial interest on his communications about the dreaded virus. Mr Paterson is personally benefiting from the COVID-19 outbreak.