Covid-19 cronyism row over lobbyist who secretly served as government advisor

The Government was mired in yet another cronyism row last night after it emerged that one of Britain’s most influential lobbyists secretly served as an adviser to a health minister for six months.

George Pascoe-Watson, chairman of Portland Communications, was appointed during the first Covid wave by Lord Bethell, the test and trace minister, without the move being made public.

He later sent sensitive information on lockdown policy to paying clients. Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said Mr Pascoe-Watson’s appointment was “incomprehensible”.

He said: “I think the public interest requires that appointments to public office should go through a public process.”

Labour ’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, described it as an “insult to the British people” and called for an inquiry.

The disclosures in the Sunday Times will reignite the row over cronyism at the heart of Government as he is just the latest person to have been given a role and access to Whitehall without any public process or announcement.

Former journalist Pascoe-Watson, 55, is reported to have served as an adviser to the Department of Health during the first wave of the pandemic, starting on April 9.

For six months he attended daily meetings chaired by Lord Bethel, some of which involved Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Test and Trace chief Baroness Dido Harding.

His role, which was unpaid, continued until October 7.

The following week he reportedly emailed clients revealing he had been “privately advised” that Covid restrictions put in place that day would carry on until the spring.

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He also wrote to clients to tell them Boris Johnson was considering a second national lockdown, three days before details of the plans first appeared in newspapers, prompting a leak inquiry – though Whitehall sources insisted to the Times that he had no warning of the second lockdown.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have drawn on the expertise of a number of private sector partners who provided advice and expertise to assist in vital work.”

Mr Pascoe-Watson said: “I fully declared my role and responsibilities at Portland Communications to the DHSC … the information shared with clients on October 15 and 29 was in no way connected to the test and trace calls, in which I was no longer a participant.”



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