MP takes advisory role at hydrogen company – at £3,000 an hour
Last updated Aug 18, 2020

Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, has been appointed as an external advisor to a hydrogen company at a rate of £3,000 per hour.

He has been warned by a government advisory committee about the potential for a perceived conflict of interest with his former role as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

However, the committee concluded that the appointment was not a conflict, so long as Mr Smith does not lobby on behalf of the company or advise on government contracts for two years after he was sacked as Northern Ireland secretary in February this year.

Mr Smith previously did one month’s consultancy work for Ryse Hydrogen Ltd in July, and was paid £15,000 plus VAT for 15 hours’ work. Now, he has been appointed on a year-long arrangement of 20 hours across the next 12 months – and will be paid £60,000 plus VAT.

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Ryse Hydrogen CEO Jo Bamford also owns Wrightbus, a Northern Irish bus production company which has a relationship with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in government. As former Northern Ireland secretary until February this year, Mr Smith sought advice from the Office of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments about a potential conflict in taking the new role.

In his response, Lord Pickles told Mr Smith:

“The committee considered that, as you met with Mr Bamford whilst in office to discuss the Wrightbus takeover, its growth plans and how NIO could support, there is a risk that this appointment may be perceived as a reward for actions taken in office.

“However, you did not meet with Mr Bamford until after the Bamford Bus Company’s takeover of Wrightbus; the NIO played no role in the takeover; and it confirmed there were no police, regulatory or contractual decisions taken by you whilst in office that affected RHL. It is particularly relevant that although Mr Bamford has said publicly that he will be seeking government funding in relation to a hydrogen bus fleet, this was not within your ministerial portfolio and you make no relevant decisions in office.

“Therefore, the risk this appointment was offered as a result of decisions made for actions taken in office is low.”

The letter warned Mr Smith not to use any information gained during his time as a minister in order to benefit the business, and that he is not allowed to lobby the government on behalf of the business or advise on contracts with the UK government or Northern Ireland executive for two years from the end of his appointment as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Mr Smith’s role with the company is expected to be advising on its development and expansion. The letter from Lord Pickles states that Mr Bamford has publicly “expressed a desire to gain government funding to aid in the development of a new fleet of hydrogen buses for the UK”.

Sarah Clarke, policy and communications manager for campaign group Unlock Democracy, said:

“Politicians should remember that they are in Parliament to represent their constituents, not to pursue second jobs. Companies can employ sitting MPs as a way of buying access and influence, which is why many members of the public are rightly sceptical of the practice.

“MPs can follow a simple rule to make sure their dealings are above board: if they take a paid second job, it should be because it helps them become a more effective MP and improves the work they do for their constituents. A job in the House of Commons should not be work experience for a corporate career.”

Neither Mr Smith nor Ryse Hydrogen responded to the Stray Ferret’s request for a comment on his appointment.