Matt Hancock committed a “minor” and “technical” breach of the Ministerial Code after his sister’s company was awarded an NHS contract, an official report found today.
Wrexham-based Topwood Ltd was given a place on the Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for local NHS trusts in February 2019, seven months after Mr Hancock became Health Secretary.
Mr Hancock then faced questions last month when it emerged he had a 20% stake in the shredding firm – which owned and run by his sister and brother-in-law.
Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on the ministers’ interests, today ruled Mr Hancock acted “properly and honestly” in “promptly” declaring his 20% stake, which was a “new financial interest”.
But the watchdog also said Mr Hancock should have declared his link to the firm when it won the NHS framework contract in 2019 – which he did not do, because he wasn’t aware it had happened.
Lord Geidt today noted that Mr Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law would have been “well aware” that he was the UK Health Secretary.
“Either the Secretary of State’s sister and/or brother-in-law failed to raise this award with Mr Hancock, or nothing had otherwise been brought to Mr Hancock’s attention such that he would have had reason to enquire,” the watchdog wrote.
He added: “I believe there to be a danger that a reasonable person might perceive this link to represent a conflict of interest, and that it should have been declared at the time.
“In reaching this determination, I accept that the scale of NHS operations in England (for which the Secretary of State is responsible) are broad and that the activity of NHS SBS may have been very far from the Secretary of State’s main focus.
“I assess this earlier failure to declare the interest was as a result of his lack of knowledge and in no way deliberate, and therefore, in technical terms, a minor breach of the Ministerial Code.”
The report added: “I recognise that Mr Hancock has acted with integrity throughout and that this event should in no way impugn his good character or ministerial record.”
A Whitehall source previously said that the Health Secretary has no active participation in running Topwood Limited and that neither he nor the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) were involved in awarding the contracts.
The source said that Mr Hancock had discussed with the department’s top civil servant, the Permanent Secretary, that he was to be gifted the shares in the firm before accepting them.
Mr Hancock has no responsibility for NHS Wales, which reportedly awarded the firm £300,000 worth of contracts, as health is a devolved matter and so dealt with by the Welsh Government.
The story emerged following accusations of “cronyism” within Government by Labour.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said today: “As usual Matt Hancock dismissed and evaded questions when asked about this in the Commons. There is a rotten culture set from very top across this government.”
A spokesman for the Health Secretary said: “The Health Secretary thanks Lord Geidt for his work.
“He is glad that the shareholding in question is found to have been declared diligently and that Lord Geidt assesses him to have acted properly and honestly.
“He agrees that any perceived breach could only be technical in nature and accepts his advice.”