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LONDON — A U.K. government minister has apologized after POLITICO found she used House of Commons facilities to host a private dinner for a business group which donates money to her local party — without flagging her financial links.
Energy Minister Amanda Solloway sponsored the event in June last year on behalf of Businessfore, an “unincorporated association” with ties to a City insurance firm. Businessfore had given £15,000 to her local Conservative grouping just six months earlier.
House of Commons rules state that MPs using taxpayer-funded facilities are expected to declare any existing financial links with the groups they are hosting, and flag such events in advance with parliament’s standards watchdog.
But while Solloway included the donation on the register of MPs’ interests, parliamentary records show she did not then highlight the connection when agreeing to host the dinner for Businessfore on the Westminster estate.
Responding to a series of questions from POLITICO, Solloway — a business minister at the time of the event, and now both an energy minister and a government whip tasked with party enforcement — said: “Many thanks for pointing this admin error out, we are now in the process of looking into this and rectifying the record.
“The event was to encourage more women to develop an interest in politics and have a networking event.”
She added: “My sincere apologies, there was no deliberate attempt to mislead the record.”
But Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds responded: “Rules around donations are in place for a reason. It’s not good enough for senior Conservatives to simply ‘forget’ to declare thousands of pounds in donations when arranging what looks an awful lot like privileged access to ministers.”
The event consisted of a reception and meal, with attendees given the opportunity to meet MPs and peers as well as the then-Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey.
Solloway — whose local party received a further £20,000 in donations from Businessfore in January of this year — was pictured speaking to attendees at the event, alongside Conservative MP Kelly Tolhurst, whose local party has also received donations from the group.
Tolhurst, who did not sponsor the event and said all her donations had been registered correctly, said the event was a “networking” opportunity for women in the business community to gain an interest in politics.
Businessfore has donated over £180,000 to the Conservative Party since 2016, according to the U.K. Electoral Commission. But its status as an “unincorporated association” means it is not required to detail the source of its funds or publish its accounts.
Data from the Electoral Commission — which lists basic information about unincorporated associations which have given more than £25,000 in a single year — shows insurance firm Kerry London Limited serves as the registered address for Businessfore.
Kerry London has previously donated to the Conservatives and is also listed in the House of Commons records as a sponsor of the Businessfore dinner. Kerry London did not respond to questions about its relationship with Businessfore by the time of publication. There is no suggestion either firm has broken any rules.
Transparency groups have warned that the use of unincorporated associations makes it harder to scrutinize donations flowing into British politics.
Daniel Beizsely, research consultant at Spotlight on Corruption said MPs should be “rigorous” about declaring their links or risk “undermining the reputation of parliament and further eroding the public’s trust in politicians.”
He added: “This is especially crucial when candidates are being financed by opaque unincorporated associations which have been identified by expert bodies as a potential entry point for overseas donations.”
This article has been updated to correct Kelly Tolhurst’s job title.