A new Tory MP who founded a tech and healthcare lobbying firm prior to his election in December has been criticised by transparency campaigners after handing the business over to his wife.
Paul Bristow, who was elected to represent Peterborough last year, set up PB Consulting in 2010.
The multi-million-pound business specialises in helping private tech and healthcare companies influence law-makers and boasts a string of US-based clients.
On January 9, Bristow transferred the company to his wife Sara Petela, with whom he shares a home and who is on maternity leave.
Parliament’s code of conduct states that MPs cannot “act as a paid advocate” and must “consider whether they have a conflict of interest”.
When approached by HuffPost UK, Bristow said that Petela acting as director was part of “temporary arrangements” that will be “replaced in due course”.
He insists he took “immediate steps” to step down from the firm and no longer has shares, but critics say there is a conflict of interest as the MP could still personally benefit from what is now his wife’s company.
But Tamasin Cave, of the transparency campaign Spinwatch, said the move highlights gaping flaws in the system.
She said: “Paul Bristow says he’s ditched his interest in his lobbying firm but [could] still benefit through his wife’s involvement, which seems like a sleight of hand.
“His case highlights the problem in this country: there is no public scrutiny of who is influencing whom and about what.”
She pointed out that PB Consulting had acted for “some huge American healthcare firms”.
The lobbying register shows that, in the last quarter, PB Consulting’s clients have included:
Cerner – a large American firm looking to expand its reach in the UK
Medtronic – a US health technology company
Johnson & Johnson – an American multi-national corporation founded developing medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer goods
Advamed – a US health tech trade body
Health tech trade bodies, including the Association of British Healthcare Industries and the Medical Technology Group
Bayer – one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world
PB Consulting is currently lobbying three separate all party parliamentary groups (APPGs) of MPs, which are exploring issues around obesity, women’s health and vascular disease.
It comes as the UK enters trade talks with the EU and the US, with the legislative landscape post-Brexit expected to include sweeping changes to contracting for public services and regulation.
Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, said there were “questions that need to be answered” by Bristow.
“If these allegations are true, then he could potentially have benefited from lobbying on behalf of private healthcare companies, which I am sure many members of the public would find appalling.
“Bristow should urgently clarify his position and be more transparent with his interests.”
Bristow told HuffPost UK he has no role in the company any longer and he has been as transparent as possible.
He said: “When I was elected, I took immediate steps to remove myself from ownership of PB Consulting.
“I’ve had no role in the company since the election, nor any involvement in its work or business. As of January 9, 2020, all my interests in PB Consulting have been divested to my partner, Sara Petela, who has been a member of the company’s leadership team for several years.
“These are temporary arrangements only and will be replaced in due course. She also continues to be on maternity leave.
“The temporary arrangements have been declared and I have gone out of my way to be transparent about them, as Hansard shows.”
Dan Jones, managing director of PB Consulting, added: “Mr Bristow has no involvement with PB Consulting and hasn’t done since his election in December.
“Sara Petela, Mr Bristow’s wife, is currently the owner of PB Consulting. Sara has worked for PB Consulting for over five years in a senior role, and is currently on maternity leave and has been since last November.”