New chief secretary to Treasury faces questions over financial interests

Chris Philp, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, is facing questions over his financial interests, after it emerged he still has a substantial stake in a property finance group and is director of an investment company.

Out with the old orthodoxy and in with the new? Nothing new in questionable links between Tories and business. – Owl

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Philp, who is the chancellor’s deputy and sits in the cabinet, is a member of a partnership that owns Pluto Finance, which offers multimillion pound loans to property developers.

It has provided loans for developments including £260,000+ “pocket” flats in Croydon and luxury blocks in the City of London whose developers earlier this year applied for an exemption to avoid having to offer affordable housing.

In his government job, Philp has responsibility for Treasury spending policy in relation to housing and planning.

The Treasury declined to say whether Philp would be required to sell off his interests, put them in a blind trust or be recused from discussions on housing policy.

Asked how Philp would be managing his financial interests, a government spokesperson said: “The ministerial code sets out the process by which ministers, following their appointment to a new role, should declare and manage their interests, working with their permanent secretary. The chief secretary to the Treasury is now going through this process in line with the ministerial code, following his appointment just last week.”

The Treasury is currently without a permanent secretary, after Tom Scholar was removed from his post by the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, last week. The role is now being shared by two acting directors, Beth Russell and Cat Little.

According to the register of members’ interests, Philp has a shareholding of more than 15% and is a partner in Pluto Partners LLP, Pluto Silverstone Co Invest LLP, Pluto Monza Co Invest LLP, Pluto Development Partners LLP, and Pluto Capital Management LLP.

Pluto Partners is ultimate owner of Pluto Finance (UK) LLP, a firm that arranges loans for property developers.

It is also part owned by the Universities Superannuation Scheme as well as other members of the partnership.

Philp is also a director of an investment, consultancy and advisory company that he fully owns, Millgap Ltd. It is understood that Philp considers it to be not actively trading, although it is still registered as active at Companies House and is not recorded as dormant on the MPs’ register of interests or the list of ministerial interests from May this year.

His promotion to chief secretary of the Treasury comes at a time when Liz Truss and Kwarteng are prioritising growth above all other concerns.

Truss also appointed another businessman, Andrew Griffith, a former Sky executive, to financial secretary to the Treasury, but he has given up his interests in business since entering parliament.

However, Philp is not the only minister sitting in cabinet who has retained substantial business interests. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, still has a stake in Somerset Capital Management, an investment firm that he co-founded.

The practice of allowing ministers to retain substantial business interests appears to have increased under Boris Johnson’s government. Previously, ministers would have expected to sell substantial stakes in companies and give up directorships, or put them immediately in blind trusts.

The ministerial code states that it is the personal responsibility of each minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict, taking account of official advice from the permanent secretary and the adviser on ministerial interests. Truss has indicated, however, that she may not appoint a new adviser on ministerial interests following the resignation of Sir Christopher Geidt.

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