Matt Hancock: Tory ‘cronyism’ claims widen over health secretary's shares in firm with NHS contracts

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has denied any wrongdoing. Credit: PA

Accusations of "cronysim" against the Tories have widened further after it was revealed Matt Hancock has shares in a family company which has contracts with the NHS.

Labour has said there are “serious questions to answer” over whether there is a conflict of interest relating to his shares, given the firm secured contracts with the NHS after Mr Hancock became health secretary.

Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests in March of this year that he now owns shares in company Topwood Limited, which specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that the firm, which is owned by his sister, won a place on a framework to provide services to the English NHS in 2019, as well as contracts with the NHS in Wales.

It also reported that the health secretary did not declare his connection to the company in the relevant register of interests, a claim which has been rejected by the Government.

A Government spokeswoman said 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”.

Meanwhile, a Whitehall source 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.

At this point it was decided that if any conflicts of interest did arise, they could be dealt with in line with the ministerial code, which sets out standards of conduct for ministers.

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.

It follows accusations of “cronyism” within Government by Labour, which is calling for a full inquiry into the Greensill Capital lobbying controversy.

Labour shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds said it "feels like the return of Tory sleaze" and called on the government to take action to tighten the rules governing ministers.

Listen as Robert Peston, Daniel Hewitt and Shehab Khan explore the world of lobbying:

Former prime minister David Cameron is facing numerous inquiries over his lobbying of government ministers on behalf of Greensill, which secured several government contracts before its collapse last year.

Mr Cameron, who also arranged a private drink between financier Lex Greensill and Mr Hancock, has denied breaking any codes of conduct.

Mr Greensill worked as a Downing Street adviser while Mr Cameron was prime minister, and the roles reversed when Mr Cameron stepped down, with him becoming an adviser for Greensill.

Amid the ever-evolving lobbying saga, questions have risen as to why a former head of government procurement was allowed to take up a role as a Greensill while still working as a civil servant.

David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital has come under scrutiny Credit: Jacob King/PA

Lord Pickles, who heads up the group which vets the appointment of senior ministers and officials, told MPs the case of Bill Crothers highlighted “a number of anomalies within the system”, and that his was not an “isolated” situation.

Mr Crothers, a former head of government procurement, began working for the collapsed firm Greensill as a part-time adviser to the board in September 2015 – in a move approved by the Cabinet Office – but did not leave his Civil Service role until November that year.

Lord Pickles, chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said the public was “entitled” to a "full and frank" explanation of what had gone on.

David Cameron helped Lex Greensill (pictured) of Greensill Captial get access to ministers. Credit: LinkedIn/Lex Greensill

Boris Johnson, who has ordered an inquiry into Mr Cameron's lobbying, said it was important the inquiry "got to the bottom" of how Greensill Capital acquired such influence at the heart of Whitehall and Westminster.

The prime minister said: "I think the most important thing is for us to get to the bottom of it properly."

He added: "We need to understand what's gone on here, and I agree thoroughly with Lord Pickles."

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 important we 'get to the bottom' of Greensill saga, says Boris Johnson

“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.”

A Government spokeswoman 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.”