Julian Smith’s three jobs give cause for concern

Julian Smith by Number 10 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the middle of the Greensill scandal, the latest declaration of MPs’ financial interests was released. This list details what donations MPs have received and where else they can get income. On this latest entry, it was revealed that Julian Smith (MP for Skipton and Ripon) had taken a third job, receiving £60,000 a year to work at MJM Marine Ltd.

This puts Smith’s earnings up to £144,000 a year, in addition to his £81,932 salary as a member of parliament. This is among the highest of all MPs, and places him as the most lucrative earner from Yorkshire. Smith’s other two jobs are:

  • £60,000 a year for 20 hours at Ryse Hydrogen Ltd
  • £24,000 a year for 12-24 hours at Simply Blue Management

There is also something particularly peculiar about Smith’s employment. All three companies are either based in Northern Ireland or do substantial business in the region. It cannot be disputed that this is connected to Smith’s former role as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Smith’s position in Northern Ireland

While in his cabinet role, Smith had more power than most normally would, because Northern Ireland’s devolved administration at Stormont was in a political deadlock. As such, Smith was very hands-on in his role, not only in helping restore the balance of power at Stormont, but in his involvement with local businesses.

During his time in office, Smith may have helped to facilitate acquisitions for both MJM and Ryse Hydrogen. In August 2019, MJM acquired the “iconic Belfast shipyard” Harland & Wolff, and it seems as though Smith was aware of their tender before it was publicly announced.  

A similar situation occurred with Smith and Ryse Hydrogen. In September 2019, Smith was “under pressure” to save Wrightbus, a regional bus company that had gone into administration. On 30 September, Smith said the following in the Commons:

“My experience in Northern Ireland from the two major issues I have been working on recently with regard to the economy – Harland and Wolff, and Wrightbus – is that the administration companies have been working very well with all stakeholders.

“On the matter of low emission buses and bus technology, Wrightbus is second to none in leading-edge bus technology, which is why I remain confident that we can get to a better position than we are currently in and we can protect jobs.”

Then, on 11 October, Wrightbus found a buyer: Ryse hydrogen. Records from the Northern Ireland Office show that, on 30 January 2020, days before Smith was sacked from the NI office, he also met with Jo Bamford who is the executive chair of Ryse. Bamford is also the son of Lord Anthony Bamford, JCB boss and one of the largest Conservative party donors.

Freedom of Information:

I submitted a freedom of information request to the Northern Ireland Office to ask for more information on the meeting. They replied that:

“The information you have requested is exempt under section 35(1)(a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act, which protects the formulation of policy and communications between Ministers. Disclosure would weaken Ministers’ ability to discuss controversial and sensitive topics free from premature public scrutiny.

“These public interests have been weighed against a strong public interest that policy-making and its implementation are of the highest quality and informed by a full consideration of all the options. Ministers must be able to discuss policy freely and frankly, exchange views on available options and understand their possible implications.

“The candour of all involved would be affected by their assessment of whether the content of the discussions will be disclosed prematurely. If discussions were routinely made public there is a risk that Ministers may feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another. As a result the quality of debate underlying collective decision making would decline, leading to worse informed and poorer decision making.

“This could potentially damage the Government’s policy-making process for economic investment, which remains ongoing. Taking into account all the circumstances of this case, we reached the view that, on balance, the public interest favours withholding this information at this time.”

All that we can tell is that Smith helped to facilitate two significant business transactions for two large employers in Northern Ireland while secretary of state. Now, he is being paid £120,000 a year between the two of them.

If this is not a cause for concern, I’m not sure what is.

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