Matt Hancock has been accused of ‘cronyism’ after receiving shares in a company run by his family, which has won a number of contracts with the NHS.
Topwood Ltd provides secure waste disposal services for businesses, and has won two contracts worth a total of £300,000 from NHS Wales, as well as a framework deal to provide services to NHS England.
Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have no direct involvement in NHS Wales procurement, as health is a devolved issue, and a DHSC source said that “ministers have no involvement in the awarding” of the type of contract awarded to Topwood by NHS England.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, environment secretary George Eustice said the health secretary followed the rules on ministerial interests.
He said: “The reason we know about this is because Matt Hancock did what all ministers do in this case, which is to declare that interest.
“And so he did the right thing, he declared that – he had no role whatsoever around that business, so yes there is nothing wrong with ministers having financial interests, providing they declare them in the appropriate way.”
Labour has said the government has been “infected with widespread cronyism,” and called for a full inquiry into the matter.
What is Topwood limited?
Topwood provides secure storage, scanning and shredding services to commercial clients, based in Wrexham.
Firms such as Topwood have seen a significant increase in demand since the introduction of GDPR regulations, which brough strict requirements on businesses to properly dispose of any documents containing personal information.
The firm is owned by the health secretary’s sister, Emily Gilruth, and her partner Tom Gilruth, while company listings show that Hancock’s mother, Shirley Carter, and her partner were previous shareholders.
The firm displays an NHS logo on its website among its clients, and has expanded in recent years, increasing its number of staff from seven in 2018 to 17 in 2020.
It is claimed that Hancock has no active involvement in the running of Topwood Ltd, though the news comes at a time when there is heightened scrutiny of ministers’ relationships to businesses which have dealings with government.
Following reports that David Cameron lobbied the chancellor on behalf of now-defunct finance firm Greensill Capital, and later that at least two senior government officials worked at the firm, a number of inquiries have been announced to examine lobbying, and the rules around government-linked firms.
Did Hancock declare his interest in Topwood Ltd?
In the most recent entry into the register of member’s interests, Hancock confirmed that he was given shares of “more than 15 per cent” of the firm under a “delegated management arrangement” on 2 March.
However, Mr Hancock has never listed Topwood Ltd in his ministerial declaration of interests, which could constitute a breach of the ministerial code.
All ministers are supposed to declare their interests each year, laying out any firms which they are personally involved with, often including companies run by spouses or family members.
The code states that ministers should “decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict”.
It also states: “On appointment to each new office, ministers must provide their permanent secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The list should also cover interests of the minister’s spouse or partner and close family which might be thought to give rise to a conflict.”
The prime minister’s independent advisor on ministerial standards, who might typically offer guidance on issues such as this, resigned late last year after Johnson backed home secretary Priti Patel over a report which found she “had not consistently met the high standards expected”.
The health secretary was previously criticised after it emerged that a former neighbour and landlord of his local pub was awarded contracts to supply PPE worth around £30m, after he contacted Hancock privately through Whatsapp.
‘One rule for them’
Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders MP said: “It is now clear this Conservative Government has been infected with widespread cronyism and is unable to identify where the line is drawn between personal and departmental interests.
“It’s one rule for them, another for everybody else.”
He added: “There are serious questions to answer from Matt Hancock and there needs to be a full inquiry and immediate publication of all documents relating to Topwood’s acceptance onto the framework contract in 2019.”
A DHCS spokesperson said: “Mr Hancock has acted entirely properly in these circumstances. All declarations of interest have been made in accordance with the ministerial code. Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises.”