Sky News and Tortoise Media have created a tool to help audiences understand how British politics is funded: from their local politicians to the whole UK Parliament.
Westminster Accounts is a searchable database which centralises information on the external sources of money - and by extension influence - entering British politics. It covers MP's financial interests, donations to political parties and payments to all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs) in a bid to improve transparency and trust in politics.
A version of the database can be viewed on both the Sky News and Tortoise websites and can be searched by MP name or postcode to reveal secondary employment earnings, donations and gifts. It covers the entire parliament since the last General Election (19 December 2019) and will be updated when new information is published, up until the next General Election.
The project aims to empower audiences to scrutinise both local politicians and the major political parties.
Screenshot via Westminster Accounts (Sky News/Tortoise Media)
The project was commissioned by Sky News and involved data journalism experts at Tortoise Media spending six months poring over the most recent public datasets: the Register of Members' Financial Interests, the Register of All-Party Parliamentary groups and the Electoral Commission. But it does not include MP's annual base salary (£84,144) or references to the additional compensation made by government ministers and MPs with other extra responsibilities.
A letter sent out to UK media editors - seen by Journalism.co.uk - by James Harding, founder and editor of Tortoise Media, and John Ryley, head of Sky News, notes the historic difficulties newsrooms face trying to piece together MPs and political parties with their funders and donors. That is despite the fact that information is all in the public domain, just scattered across different sources.
The letter states: "The way that information is disclosed prevents it from being widely scrutinised by the public. Records are spread across different databases, written in complicated formats, and regularly published with errors. Trawling through financial interests is a laborious task and it is too easy to misinterpret the results.
"We believe that our role is to provide our readers, listeners and viewers with impartial insight and information, and that voters should be able to find, in one place, the details of any financial contributions to their political representatives. To find out, who is ultimately funding our politics?"
As Hannah White, Institute for Government (an independent British think tank), points out in the project's launch video (below): "Hopefully, parliament and the electoral commission will reflect and think: should we be doing this better ourselves? Should it be up to Sky News and Tortoise to be doing this data analysis?"
Every day this week (starting 9 January 2023), additional exclusive journalism gathered using the tool will be revealed on Sky News by deputy political editor Sam Coates, and on Tortoise's podcasts and Sensemaker newsletters.