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Hancock has ‘serious questions to answer’ over apparent conflict of interest, says Labour

Pressure rising on the Health Secretary over his shares in his sister's firm being handed NHS contracts

PRESSURE is rising on Health Secretary Matt Hancock over his shares in a family firm handed NHS contracts, after Labour said today he had “questions to answer” on the apparent conflict of interest.

Mr Hancock declared in March that he owns more than 15 per cent of shares in Topwood Ltd, of which his sister Emily Gilruth is a director. 

The firm, which specialises in the storage, shredding and scanning of documents, won a place on a framework to provide services to NHS England in 2019, as well as contracts with NHS Wales. 

Topwood was owned by Ms Gilruth and other close family members when it secured its place on the framework, the year after Mr Hancock became Health Secretary, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

But the HSJ reported that the Health Secretary had not declared his connection to the company in the relevant register of interests — a claim the government rejects. 

The MPs’ register also did not mention that Ms Gilruth – involved in the firm since its foundation in 2002 – owns a larger portion of shares in the company and nor did it mention the firm’s connection to the NHS.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders 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.

“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 on to the framework contract in 2019.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that his party would press for a full and transparent inquiry.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth wrote to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case today to demand an explanation and ask if Mr Hancock’s conduct was in breach of the ministerial code.

“You must insist that the Health Secretary explain himself, and make that explanation available to the public,” his letter states.

Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) co-chairman Dr John Puntis said it “seems astonishing” that Mr Hancock had considered it unnecessary to declare his connection to Topwood.

“Technically he may have done nothing wrong, but his inaction speaks loudly of the rot at the heart of this government now highlighted by the Greensill lobbying affair,” he said, referencing the scandal around ex-PM David Cameron in which Mr Hancock has also been involved.

“Health workers offered a measly 1 per cent pay ‘rise’ and told they are lucky to have a job will reflect on all those who have made profits out of the coronavirus crisis,” Mr Puntis added.

He said there was an urgent need for “strict and enforceable rules about how those holding public office interact with the private sector” and suggested that the government’s official principles for public life “have long since been abandoned by those currently in power.”

Three separate parliamentary committees and the National Audit Office have announced that they will carry out inquiries into lobbying and business appointments issues that have come to light since the Greensill row.

A government spokeswoman said that the Health Secretary had acted “entirely properly in these circumstances” and that all declarations of interest have been made “in accordance with the ministerial code.”

Asked if PM Boris Johnson still had full confidence in Mr Hancock, a No 10 spokesman said: “Yes.”

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