Helicopter rides and Polo tickets: Who has been donating to Norfolk MPs?

Norfolk MPs

Norfolk MPs Chloe Smith, George Freeman and Brandon Lewis - Credit: Archant

Free helicopter rides worth £18,000, pay of £5,000 for 23 hours work and a £17,000 donation from a private school - Norfolk MPs have declared a string of financial interests over the last two years.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis has received the most donations and gifts since 2019 of Norfolk's nine MPs. 

He represents the most deprived constituency in east England, but his register of interests shows a very different type of lifestyle. 

Mr Lewis enjoyed four helicopter flights, worth a total of £18,200, between May and September 2019, provided by property developer Gallagher Developments Ltd.

They include one helicopter ride from London to Yarmouth on September 6 2019, the day he attended an event in his constituency about Brexit. 

He has previously been criticised for his use of private flights, while the Government promotes an environmental agenda.

The former barrister was also given free tickets in September 2019 to the Royal Box at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor. The club's website boasts of the "exclusivity and prestige" of the Royal Box.

The Guards Polo Club

The Guards Polo Club where MP Brandon Lewis enjoyed free hospitality - Credit: The Guards Polo Club

Mr Lewis has also accepted donations worth a total of £123,500 since 2019, including £17,000 from a private school called Woodlands in Brentwood, Essex. The school has not responded to our request for comment.

Another £14,500 was received from a millionaire Russian banker called Lubov Chernukhin.

Her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin, was Russia's deputy finance minister in the 2000s and she is one of the Conservative Party's biggest donors. 

Theresa May and members of the cabinet - including Liz Truss - at the Goring Hotel, pictured with Lu

Theresa May and members of the cabinet - including Liz Truss - at the Goring Hotel, pictured with Lubov Chernukhin (circled) in April 2019. - Credit: @elizabeth.truss.mp/Instagram

Mr Lewis has not responded to our requests for comment, but defended accepting money from Russian donors last year stating: “I think they do (donate) because they see that a Conservative Party and a Conservative Prime Minister is the party that delivers for the United Kingdom.”

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He also accepted £20,000 from a property company called Residential Land Ltd in June 2019. The company states on its website that it is "prime" central London's largest private landlord. 

-Search our table to find out what financial interests your MP has declared 

£5,000 for 23 hours work

MPs also have to declare second jobs and paid for work. 

Under rules designed to prevent corruption, former government ministers must also seek guidance from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before taking on paid work within two years of leaving office.

When they don’t, they can be investigated. Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, a former transport minister, declared £5,000 for work he did for a health company called Aerosol Shield Ltd for 23 hours of consultancy work in June 2020.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

But he was investigated by ACOBA and has been reported to the Cabinet Office for not seeking their permission first for that and three other roles.

ACOBA chairman Sir Eric Pickles said on Friday: "The failure to seek advice is a breach of the government’s rules and the requirement as set out in the Ministerial Code."

MP Eric Pickles

MP Eric Pickles - Credit: PA

Mr Freeman apologised and said he had misunderstood the process.

He added: “In my experience Acoba is extremely thorough: in my case even requiring me to seek permission for my work supporting not-for-profit local regeneration projects." 

Late declarations

MPs have 28 days to declare financial interests and can be investigated by the commissioner for standards if they don’t do it in time.

The commissioner held an inquiry into Norwich North MP and Cabinet Office minister, Chloe Smith, last year for declaring donations she had received too late.

They included several thousands pounds worth of IT support given to her office by Norwich company Computer Service Centre.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North. Picture: Neil Didsbury - Credit: Archant

Ms Smith said: "Last year, I discovered some historic errors in my registration of interests, so I apologised and put them right as soon as possible.  

“I accepted full responsibility for the mistakes, but they did include issues that occurred in my absence on maternity leave some years ago.

“A brief inquiry last year recognised my apology, the mitigating circumstances and my constructive steps to put things right.”

Computer Service Centre has given Ms Smith IT support valued at £63,000 since 2018, which is ongoing until March next year. 

Christopher Cooper and Jeremy Clarke from Computer Service Centre

Christopher Cooper and Jeremy Clarke from Computer Service Centre which has provided tens of thousands of pounds worth of support to MP Chloe Smith - Credit: Nick Butcher

When asked why his company had provided so much support to Ms Smith, Jeremy Clarke, director of Computer Service Centre, said: “As a local business, we believe it’s important to support our local community and do our bit to help make Norwich and Norfolk a vibrant place to live and work.”

Help for Hancock

Meanwhile, in Suffolk, health secretary Matt Hancock declared the most donations and gifts.

A week ago, the West Suffolk MP faced questions over his shareholding in wastage firm Topwood Ltd after it emerged the company, owned by his sister, won key NHS contracts – one in England, and two in Wales.

He accepted £263,576 in donations, with the lion’s share for his 2019 leadership campaign.

His spokeswoman said: “All Mr Hancock’s interests are properly declared according to the transparency rules."

Greensill scandal ‘let us all down’

There is a renewed focus on MPs' financial interests after it emerged that former prime minister, David Cameron, lobbied ministers to allow a finance company called Greensill access to government support schemes. He owned share options in Greensill which could have been worth several million pounds.

But instead Greensill collapsed and the ex-PM's lobbying, including text messages sent to chancellor Rishi Sunak, has now been exposed. 

Mr Freeman said: “Like everyone else I have read the story of the Greensill saga with bewilderment that such a cosy and commercially beneficial 'revolving door' relationship between a banker, former prime minister and civil servants can possibly be allowed.”

He said the scandal had “let us all down”, adding that he had sacrificed shareholdings he held when he became an MP to “avoid any risk of a perceived conflict”. He said that had come at a “big personal financial loss”.

What do MPs have to declare?

MPs have to declare any information about a financial interest or benefit which could influence their work. 

An updated register of interests is published every fortnight, while the House of Commons is sitting, and remains on the register for a year after the interest has ended.

MPs have 28 days to register a financial interest.

They have to declare any employment and earnings, donations and other support received, gifts and hospitality, land and property they own, shareholdings over £70,000, and family members employed through parliamentary expenses.

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