'More questions than answers'
Unite demands OVO owner be recalled to Parliament after giving ‘conflicting evidence’ to select committee
OVO owner, Stephen Fitzpatrick, was quizzed by MPs on the business select committee on Tuesday (February 8) about £17m furlough money paid to OVO, and payments and loans topping £40m, made from OVO to other Fitzpatrick-owned companies.
Mr Fitzpatrick also told the committee he made £2m gift to debt advice charity only weeks after 2,000 sackings were announced at OVO across the UK.
Fitzpatrick, the multi-millionaire owner of the energy giant OVO Energy, appeared before the House of Commons Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee. It was considering the energy crisis and Stephen Fitzpatrick was there to give his view on how the crisis is to be tackled.
Unite national officer for energy, Simon Coop, said he was surprised.
“First of all let me say this, since OVO declared its initial plan for 2,000 redundancies, Stephen Fitzpatrick has been AWOL. So I was astonished to see him grandstanding in front of the MPs’ committee when he hasn’t met anyone from the unions or any of his own workers to explain his broken promises in the proposed redundancy plan,” Coop said.
During the committee hearing, Mr Fitzpatrick’s extensive words of advice to the MPs were brought to an abrupt halt by Alan Brown MP. He asked him if he could explain how OVO accounts showed that, in 2020, the company was paid £17 million in furlough money and, in the same year, payments and loans worth more than £40 million were made, from OVO, to other Fitzpatrick companies. Mr Fitzpatrick told the Committee he didn’t recognise any loans. He said: “The number £40 million I read once but I don’t recognise that number”.
Later in the hearing, Andy McDonald MP, asked about £21 million that was paid from OVO to Fitzpatrick’s company, Imagination Industries, for what was termed “brand royalty fees”. Mr Fitzpatrick replied: “If it was not for income that Imagination Industries received it would not have invested in Vertical and paid the salaries of the people who work in Vertical Aerospace in Bristol.”
Unite research has established that, in 2020, Imagination Industries loaned Vertical Aerospace £5.6 million.
In the hearing, Mr Fitzpatrick said he didn’t recognise payments and loans from OVO to his companies worth £40 million. Then later, he acknowledged that if the £21 million, in royalty fees, had not been paid by OVO to Imagination Industries they in turn could not have boosted another of his companies, Vertical Aerospace by £5.6 million.
Simon Coop added, “Look here, this is conflicting evidence before the BEIS Committee. Either he genuinely doesn’t know about the £40 million transferred from OVO to his companies or he knows that one of them got £21 million from OVO which then paid out more than £5 million to another. They can’t both be accurate.”
Unite’s research shows that there is clear evidence in the OVO accounts (see Notes) that £40 million in payments and loans was transferred from OVO to other Fitzpatrick companies.
Mr Fitzpatrick also told the Committee that ‘a few weeks ago’ after a business event he gave £2 million to a dept advice charity, Step Change. That was to assist them in delivering advice services to hundreds of thousands of consumers concerned about the energy crisis.
Unite’s Simon Coop went on to say, “Mr Fitzpatrick has raised more questions than answers about what has gone on at OVO. Now only weeks after the redundancies are announced there’s another £2 million spend that pops up out of nowhere. The BEIS Commons Committee should recall Mr Fitzpatrick to give more evidence. Franky, given what’s at stake, the Committee needs to follow the money.”
By Ryan Fletcher