Revealed: senior Tory MP was paid £2,000 a month by lobbying firm

Bim Afolami ran a group calling for Rishi Sunak to overhaul the UK’s regulatory system

A senior Tory MP has been criticised for failing to declare he was paid £2,000 a month to chair a pressure group lobbying Rishi Sunak.

Bim Afolami, a former vice chair of the Conservative party, declared in the register of interests that one of his private clients was a public affairs firm, WPI Strategy. But he did not mention that they were paying him for his work running the Regulatory Reform Group of MPs.

As chair of the group, Afolami has written to the prime minister calling for regulators to be better held to account, and pressed Sunak for change at prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons.

It comes after the former Tory cabinet minister Liam Fox was also criticised for lobbying the prime minister on behalf of a business group that pays him £1,000 an hour.

MPs are in general not permitted to carry out paid lobbying that could deliver financial benefit to clients.

However, Afolami appears to have made use of loopholes allowing parliamentarians to carry out paid advocacy if they are a member of an association that is carrying out the lobbying, or if the work would benefit a sector as a whole rather than a specific company.

Both Afolami and Fox appear to have kept within the rules through these exceptions.

Afolami launched the Regulatory Reform Group, an organisation of MPs, earlier this year, and brought up its work in the Commons in February, without mentioning that he was paid by WPI for his work with the group.

Speaking at prime minister’s questions, Afolami said: “I thank the prime minister for supporting the launch of the new regulatory reform group. Will he commit to working with our group on two specific areas: first, to improve the accountability and responsiveness of our regulators to stakeholders and parliament; and secondly, to improve the economic potential in key growing areas of the economy, such as financial services, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing?”

In April, Afolami also launched a report for the group suggesting that a “lack of democratic oversight of regulators is holding back UK productivity and economic growth”, with the author listed as an economist at WPI Strategy, with editorial control from MPs on the group. The report was funded by one of WPI’s clients, Pension Insurance Corporation, which is on the advisory council of the group and contributed a foreword.

Afolami declared on his register of MP’s interests that he is paid £2,000 a month to give “professional advice with respect to property management, mediation services and legal and financial matters” through a family partnership, listing his sole client clients as WPI Strategy. But he did not link this work to his role as chair of the Regulatory Reform Group and acknowledged to the Guardian that he may not have registered his interests correctly.

Labour said it was “yet another report of a Conservative MP leveraging his privileged position in parliament” while being paid by a lobbying company.

“Government policy should be based on what is right for the country,” said Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour party. “Only Labour has a plan to clean up our politics by banning second jobs for MPs once and for all.”

After being asked by the Guardian about his payments from WPI, Afolami said he had contacted the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which advised that he had not registered his role as chair of the Regulatory Reform Group under the correct category of members’ financial interests. “I am in the process of updating the entry, and the entry will be published at the next scheduled opportunity,” he said.

Afolami said: “I spend two days a month in my capacity as chair of the Regulatory Reform Group. This is an independent group of parliamentarians who have come together to improve the overarching regulatory framework in the UK so that it boosts consumer outcomes and UK competitiveness.

“I approached WPI Strategy to help provide secretariat services to the group given their experience in running similar initiatives such as the Covid Recovery Commission. They advised me that Pension Insurance Corporation, an existing client of theirs, would be able to provide some business insight into the project.

“I was keen for the group to produce an initial report, which the Pension Insurance Corporation kindly agreed to support and indeed wrote a foreword to. To be clear, editorial independence was strictly controlled by the parliamentarians.

“Given the time I spent on the project as chair, I asked WPI if they would be willing to contribute to my costs, which they did. I fully declared payment for this. However, for the avoidance of doubt, I have amended my declaration accordingly with the registrar.”

A spokesperson for WPI Strategy said: “We were asked to provide secretariat services for the Regulatory Reform Group including research, project management and communications support.

“Our client, Pension Insurance Corporation (fully declared on the lobbying register), who do a huge amount of work in the purposeful finance space, kindly agreed to fund the RRG’s report and contributed a foreword. To be clear, editorial control rested wholly with the parliamentarians. Bim ended up spending a significant amount of time on the project and asked if we could contribute to his costs, which we agreed to.”

• This article was amended on 4 May 2023. Bim Afolami was a vice chair of the Conservative party, not a “deputy chair” as an earlier version said.


Rowena Mason and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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