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Commons regulator urged to probe payments made by Welsh Labour MPs

29 Jun 2023 4 minute read
Hywel Williams

Martin Shipton

Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams has asked the UK Parliament’s expenses regulator to seek evidence of work done for MPs by a political consultancy owned by a former director of communications for Welsh Labour.

The move follows an investigation by Nation.Cymru that showed payments from public funds believed to total more than £370k were paid to Cathod Du (Welsh for “Black Cat”) that was founded by Luke Holland, who as well as having run Welsh Labour’s publicity machine is a former Cardiff council cabinet member.

Mr Holland, currently based in Melbourne, Australia, has also been a strategic adviser to Labour’s Shadow Cabinet at Westminster and claims to have played a crucial role in Welsh Labour’s successful 2021 Senedd election campaign at a time when his wife, Louise Magee, was Welsh Labour’s general secretary.

Among Cathod Du’s associate consultants are Matt Greenough, who was Carwyn Jones’ chief special adviser when he was First Minister, and Sara Robinson, a current Labour councillor in Cardiff.

The firm has provided PR assistance to nine Labour MPs – seven from Wales – including Shadow Welsh Secretary and Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens and Carolyn Harris, the MP for Swansea East and deputy leader of Welsh Labour. The other Welsh MPs who have paid Cathod Du are Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth), Christina Rees (Neath), Chris Elmore (Ogmore), Alex Jones-Davies (Pontypridd) and Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower). The two English MPs are Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood) and Feryal Clark (Enfield North).


Under the rules that apply, there is no obligation for such PR work to be put out to tender, leaving, say critics, the door open to “cronyism”.

Mr Holland is close friends with a number of MPs. When his wife gave birth to a baby, Christina Rees even made a Parliamentary speech in which she congratulated the new parents, saying: “With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I congratulate Louise Magee, general secretary of Welsh Labour, and her partner Luke Holland, who have had a beautiful baby girl.”

In a letter to Richard Lloyd, chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Mr Williams states: “I write to ask for clarity regarding the use of PR consultancies by MPs, and in particular, what safeguards are in place to ensure that public money is spent appropriately.

“This arises from two investigations by Nation.Cymru and Open Democracy into the use of the consultancy firm Cathod Du by a handful of MPs, who are estimated to have spent close to £400,000 with the firm in recent years. “Concerns have also been expressed in the investigation by Open Democracy about contracts laid with other PR consultancies.

“I understand that in response to queries by Open Democracy about this spending, a spokesperson for IPSA explained that the only checks required are for copies of invoices from suppliers, and that no checks are undertaken on the output unless a complaint is made.

“I fear that this risks creating an environment which might tempt politicians to use public money either for party political purposes or to favour particular contractors with whom they have personal or political relationships.

“I appreciate the undesirability of creating an excessive system of inspection. However, I believe the current procedure risks allegations of cronyism, or at best a perception or suspicion of such, with a resulting corrosive effect on our politics. This may be particularly acute at election time.

“I am therefore asking you to consider seeking further evidence of the work produced by Cathod Du and any other agency working for other parties that might have aroused concern. More broadly, will you consider reviewing your processes for overseeing the use of PR consultancies by MPs, introducing more detailed tendering processes for the use of PR consultancies, and creating a means of assessing value for public money in respect of the work done?”


None of the Labour MPs who have paid Cathod Du responded to our questions, and neither did Cathod Du.

A spokesperson for Cathod Du told Open Democracy: “If IPSA rules or guidance were to change in any way, we would work to those with the same diligence that we work to current arrangements.

“No work provided to elected members via IPSA payment is ever outside the parameters set down by IPSA themselves. General election campaigning work would clearly fall outside of these parameters. There has never been any IPSA payment for such work.

“The support our team provides covers a wide range of areas and platforms, from subtitled clips of speeches and parliamentary questions through to news releases and articles; graphics and social media for advice surgeries and community events through to Christmas card competitions and campaigns on local issues and awareness days.”

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