Government records show that, in the 2020/21 financial year, £12.4 million in grant funding was awarded to a firm called Vertical Aerospace Group, via the UK Aerospace Research and Technology Programme. This has been one of the largest sums of money handed out by Innovate UK during the last three financial years.
Vertical Aerospace Group is owned by Stephen James Fitzpatrick, who also acts as its CEO. Fitzpatrick, a wealthy entrepreneur, has many business interests – also owning a company called Imagination Industries Incubator.
- In March 2019, Imagination Industries Incubator donated £173,000 to the Conservative Party
- Stephen J. Fitzpatrick similarly donated £12,000 to the Tory party a month earlier.
Fitzpatrick’s political interests were not declared by the Government when the funding was announced. Subsequently, Fitzpatrick’s links to the Conservative Party have not been reported by the media, in relation to the work of Vertical Aerospace.
There is an aversion to transparency which is witnessed throughout the Government’s work with private sector firms.
The Government has spent tens of billions of pounds on the goods and services provided by the private sector during the pandemic – at least £3 billion of which has been awarded to firms with links to the Conservative Party. Yet, the Government has not publicly declared potential conflicts of interest when releasing the contracts.
This defies the Government’s own recommendations.
The Cabinet Office has issued guidance to departments on public sector procurement, updated in May, warning of “far-reaching consequences” if conflicts of interest are not handled properly. If the public perceives a potential conflict of interest in the awarding of a contract, this can risk “reputational damage, undermining public confidence in the integrity of the organisation and Government as a whole,” the Cabinet Office warns.
Failing to declare the political interests of individuals involved in Government contracts and grants surely does nothing to improve confidence in the process.