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Latest 16 May 2023

Revealed: PM refuses to answer questions on secretive “business council”

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The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has refused to reveal the names of the companies on his PM’s Business Council (PMBC). No.10 also refused to release copies of minutes from the PM’s meeting with the group, held last December.

The purpose of the PMBC, which consists of business leaders from the fossil fuel, finance, manufacturing and healthcare industry, is said to be to provide advice and make recommendations to the Prime Minister on policy issues. 

We submitted a freedom of information request for details of current members, but No.10 claimed:

“The purpose of the Council is to provide a high level, confidential forum for engagement between business and Government, and to provide an opportunity for business to give frank advice and feedback on the UK’s growth plans, providing a commercial perspective on delivery of Government policy”.

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“Having carefully considered the balance of public interest in relation to this matter, I am of the view that it falls in favour of withholding this information”.

You can read the full response from No.10 here. We are appealing the decision.

Remarkably, Rishi Sunak’s stance on transparency compares unfavourably with that of Boris Johnson who did publish the list of members of his business council.

Good Law Project has since learned those names. We discovered that, unlike his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has published them. They include fossil fuel giants BP and Shell who are both members of the PMBC and advising the Prime Minister.

Last week, Shell announced a record £7.6bn profit in the first three months of the year and paid £4.8 bn in dividends. BP, during the same period, made £4bn. Rishi Sunak’s failure to implement a meaningful windfall tax on oil giants has been blamed for these excessive profits as millions of households struggle with sky-high energy bills.

Another firm listed in December as being on the PMBC is the tech firm Graphcore. The company’s chief executive, Nigel Toon, has recently been involved in lobbying Rishi Sunak over the government’s proposed £900m supercomputer contract. Mr Toon is said by Graphcore to have left the PMBC at the end of 2022.

The names of those businesses advising the Prime Minister are, it seems quite clear to us, matters of proper public interest. 

The full list of companies declared by Mr Hunt as being on the PMBC include:

Scottish Power, Microsoft UK, Entrepreneur First; Aviva; Starling Bank; Turn tide Transport; Whitbread PLC; Burberry; Rolls Royce; Fourth Ports Limited; Hiscox; Octopus; Redington Ltd; Citi; FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies; Lloyds Banking Group; Fidelity International; Oxford Nanopore; Matillion; Benevolent AI; Moneypenny; Graphcore; Shell; Iceland Foods; Virgin Atlantic; D-Drill (Master Drillers) Ltd; BP, AGS Airports

Good Law Project approached No.10 for comment.

This is the second in our planned series of four pieces on the Prime Minister. We will continue to shed light on the activities and financial interests of the PM. Good Law Project only exists thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.