Some 16 months ago Mark Simmonds, then MP for Boston and Skegness, resigned as Foreign Office minister for Africa and caused a huge stir in the media.
As reported here his reason for going and standing down as an MP last May was because he found the new restrictions on Parliamentary expenses ” intolerable” and his £110,000 a year income -including employing his wife as secretary- and he couldn’t afford a second home in Central London.
“The allowances that enable members of parliament to stay in London while they are away from their families – my family lives in Lincolnshire in my constituency – does not allow me to rent a flat that could accommodate my family. So I very rarely see my family and I have to put family life first and every single parent listening to this will hopefully understand,” he told the BBC.
As this article shows he had done well out of the previous expenses system selling his Putney home in south London for £1.2m ( which taxpayers covered his mortgage interest payments)in 2010 to buy a 7 bedroom listed abbey in Lincolnshire with a swimming pool and 15 acres of parkland. His Lincolnshire home appears to have been put on the market now for £1.2m but recently withdrawn.
Now in the rush of documents released in the last days of Parliament the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments – which vets ministers and senior civil servants appointments for possible conflict of interest -has disclosed that since he left the ministry he has had permission to take no fewer than ten jobs.
I have an article in Tribune this week on this.
The ten jobs are Adviser to Bechtel, an international civil engineering company; honorary vice president of Fauna and Flora International; non executive director, African Potash; senior strategic adviser to the private health company, International Hospitals Group; managing director, Kroll, a risk strategy company; chief operating for Counter Extremism project; chairman of the advisory board for Invest Africa; strategic adviser to First, an international organization; non executive deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and chief executive officer of his own company, Mortlock Simmonds Ltd, a commercial property firm based in Mayfair, London. All but one are paid.
Three of the firms, Bechtel, Invest Africa and the International Hospital Group, he met while he was a minister.
According to ACOBA all the meetings were so the minister could understand their work.
ACOBA say of Bechtel: “ Mr Simmonds did meet Bechtel, as the company wanted to explain what its activities were around the world and to see how best it could use its UK-based expertise in developing markets. However, they also noted that Mr Simmonds was not involved in any departmental policy, the award of grants or regulatory work affecting Bechtel, and that the FCO had no concerns with this appointment.”
However the companies do find his job as a former Africa minister very helpful. As Kroll’s chief executive officer, Emanuele Conti, put it: ” His unique blend of experience gained in business and politics over many years will further strengthen our capabilities in Africa.”
Similarly African Potash Executive Chairman Chris Cleverly said, “His significant political experience, particularly within Africa, will be invaluable as we continue to roll-out our integrated fertiliser operations, finalising the current agreements we have in place and negotiating future contracts.”
(Incidently another non executive director is former Labour Cabinet minister, Lord Peter Hain)
Invest Africa, as its limited access website shows it is a global private members club for institutions, private equity and wealthy family clients, who want to invest in Africa. Speakers at private events include Cherie Blair, Bob Diamond, former Ceo of Barclays and the King of Ashanti, a wealthy Ghanaian investor. It also organises private business visits to Africa with the help of the Foreign Office.
Simmonds also has previous connections with the private health industry. Before he became a minister he was an adviser to Circle Health, a private health company. He also took up to £50,000 a year from his own company.Circle Health walked away from running Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon.
The former minister is prevented from lobbying any government ministers or departments until August next year. After that he is free to lobby as many of his former ministerial colleagues as he likes.
What does this say about British politics. Nothing he has done is illegal and he has obviously been scrupulous in telling ACOBA about all his job offers or they could not be easily traced.
However to my mind this seems to be symptomatic of the state of British politics at the moment where for some MPs it is just another business career . A different way to make a lot of money and garner valuable contacts and connections. And probably becoming so common place at the top that some people won’t even see it worth reporting.