Norfolk MP George Freeman reported for further breaches of ministerial code

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman

Norfolk MP George Freeman has been reported to the Cabinet Office for further breaches of the ministerial code - after taking up four roles without first seeking advice.

Mr Freeman, who previously served as a minister for life sciences and as transport minister, said he had "apologised profusely" and that he had made "an error" in misunderstanding the process.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) had advised the Mid-Norfolk Conservative MP in December last year that he had breached government rules when he earned £5,000 for consultancy work at PPE firm Aerosol Shield Ltd.

And, in the course of discussions over that breach, Mr Freeman told the committee of other roles he held with Ryse Hydrogen, Resume Foundation, Reform for Resilience and Haemcro, which he had not sought advice for.

MP Eric Pickles

Lord Pickles - Credit: Archant

Lord Pickles, the chairman of the committee, said, in a letter outlining the breaches to cabinet office minister Michael Gove: "The failure to seek advice is a breach of the government’s rules and the requirement as set out in the Ministerial Code.

"Ministers and officials are written to on leaving public service to remind them of the requirement to seek advice."

One of the posts was with Ryse Hydrogen, which makes hydrogen fuel for buses and was looking to make a stronger case for its use in East Anglia.

In his correspondence with ACOBA, Mr Freeman said he had agreed a contract with Ryse for £20,000 a year for six hours’ consultancy advice work each month.

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While he invoiced them for £10,000. he returned the initial payment, cancelled the contract and ceased all work, with a view to getting approval from ACOBA.

He said, while transport minister, he had pushed to promote hydrogen and "met with the minister of buses with Ryse Hydrogen" but had been "unable to get any traction", having encountered "significant resistance" within the department over hydrogen fuel as electric vehicles were the focus.

Lord Pickles, in correspondence, said the Department for Transport had confirmed no contractual or funding decisions relevant to Ryse had been made by Mr Freeman during his time in office.

Mr Freeman said The Reform For Resilience Commission was an international not-for-profit alliance to make the case for for a stronger commitment by international government's for population health resilience post-Covid.

He said the Resume Foundation was a private-public skills alliance for training the hard to reach unemployed and Haemcro was a not-for-profit blood cancer research social enterprise.

Lord Pickles said, in letters, that none of those roles raised direct conflicts with Mr Freeman's time as a transport minister, but he should have sought advice before taking them.

Mr Freeman said: “After losing my job in government last year I didn’t look to replace my loss of salary, but instead pledged to return to focus on my longstanding work on regeneration through various not-for-profit projects I have helped set up: The Norfolk Way, The Big Tent Foundation, The Bridge of Hope, Prosper4Jobs, the New Anglia Net Zero Festival Partnership, and a blood cancer research company owned by patients and charities.

"Because I had understood that ACOBA was concerned (rightly) with the prevention of lobbying or profiteering by former ministers exploiting privileged access to government through their former departments, I didn’t think that this sort of work on not-for-profit / community / start-up social enterprise projects required permission.

"As soon as I understood that I should have sought ACOBA guidance earlier, I apologised and sought their guidance with full disclosure of all my various projects since being an MP.

"ACOBA have made clear that as an ex-minister I should have sought their permission before undertaking any work, regardless of whether for a charity or a not-for-profit project.

"ACOBA have also made clear that had I sought permission earlier there would have been no reason not to give it: they have made clear that none of the projects I have been working on represent any conflict of interest..

"My error was in misunderstanding the ACOBA process and remit.

"I have apologised profusely in writing to the ACOBA committee for that misunderstanding and made very clear that I totally respect their remit and process which I am willingly and gladly ensuring I am bound by on all matters going forward.”