Former Northern Ireland secretary under scrutiny for over £ 144,000 a year | Business


Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith is under scrutiny for making £ 144,000 a year from companies with close ties to the region.

Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon earns up to £ 3,000 an hour as ‘outside advisor’ advising on ‘business development’ for Tory donor-owned hydrogen company that also runs a plant bus service in Northern Ireland.

The member interest register shows Smith is also working with a cruise ship renovator based in Newry, County Down, and the UK subsidiary of an Irish offshore wind company exploring expansion in Northern Ireland.

Smith’s three additional jobs were approved by the Business Appointments Advisory Board (Acoba), the parliamentary watchdog that oversees the business interests of MPs and public officials.

Acoba placed several conditions on its approval, including that Smith not lobby or have any contact with ministers and departments related to his clients. There is no suggestion that Smith broke parliamentary rules.

But activists and other lawmakers have voiced concerns, saying Acoba’s endorsement of Smith’s consulting firms “misleads belief,” and that existing rules need to be “significantly tightened.”

The Parliamentary Standards Committee, which advises the Prime Minister on ethics in public life, is considering recommending that MPs be banned from holding a second job as a political or parliamentary consultant, following the scandal surrounding MP Owen Paterson.

Paterson, another former secretary from Northern Ireland, said he would leave the Commons after criticizing his “blatant” lobbying on behalf of two Northern Irish companies.

Smith, a former chief whip, held the Northern Ireland file from July 2019 to February 2020, helping to restore the power-sharing deal after a three-year standoff. Just months after being sacked by Boris Johnson, he began accepting paid consulting assignments for companies linked to the region.

As of August 2020, Smith has declared payments of £ 60,000 per year for 20 hours of work – equivalent to £ 3,000 per hour – by Ryse Hydrogen, now rebranded as Hygen Energy. The company is owned by Jo Bamford, an heir to the JCB digger fortune who donated £ 75,000 to the Tories. The Bamford family and their companies have donated £ 8.7million to the Tories since 2002.

Bamford also owns the Bamford Bus Company, which took over the Northern Irish bus maker Wrightbus in October 2019, a few months after Smith started working as secretary for Northern Ireland. Smith said he met Bamford in January 2020, while still a minister, to discuss Wrightbus’ growth plans.

Wrightbus has contracts worth £ 12million and £ 66million respectively with Transport for London and the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure.

Since March, Smith has also been employed at a rate of £ 60,000 for 30 to 40 hours of work by cruise ship renovator Newry MJM Marine. The company was briefly linked with a purchase of the ailing Belfast Harland & Wolff shipyard, although MJM Marine reportedly abandoned his interest shortly before Smith began his role.

Since January, Smith has raised £ 2,000 per month to advise Simply Blue Management (UK), a subsidiary of Irish offshore wind company Simply Blue. A spokesperson for the company, which already has projects in the Celtic Sea and Scotland, confirmed that it is considering expansion in Northern Ireland. Its two founders incorporated Simply Blue Energy (NI) in June.

Richard Burgon, a Labor MP who is proposing a private member’s bill to ban parliamentarians from second jobs, said: Work? It is beyond belief that this was allowed and that it should be urgently reviewed.

“There is a simple way to prevent something like this from happening again and that is to prevent MPs from having second jobs.”

Tom Brake, former Liberal Democrat MP and director of the Unlock Democracy campaign group, said: “Acoba has endorsed these roles with indecent haste and conditions that will be very difficult to control. Who is the fly on the wall to check if MPs refrain from putting pressure on the government or using information obtained within the government?

“The rules must be changed to create a real firewall between the experience of ministers and their ability to use their knowledge and expertise to influence government. Anything less than five years will not suffice.

Stephen Farry, MP for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, said regulations on second-job MPs needed to be reformed. He said the party “believes in the highest standards of openness, transparency and good governance. We believe that the rules on external labor need to be considerably tightened and we look forward to engaging in this process. “

Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

The Bamford and MJM Marine companies have been approached for comment. Simply Blue declined to comment.


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