Labour has demanded that the Department of Health release all documents relating to the recruitment of Gina Coladangelo to a £15,000-a-year position supposedly holding the former Health Secretary to account.
Aide Ms Coladangelo was pictured in an embrace with Matt Hancock in footage released by the Sun newspaper on Friday, resulting in Mr Hancock resigning on Saturday evening.
But the incident has raised concerns about how Mrs Coladangelo, a friend of Mr Hancock from Oxford University, was appointed in the first place.
Ms Coladangelo, who is married to Oliver Tress – founder of British retailer Oliver Bonas – was initially taken on as an unpaid adviser in the DHSC on a six-month contract last year, before being appointed as a non-executive director at the department.
The role offers pay of £15,000 a year for 15-20 days of work and is described on the government website as, in part, “to act in an independent manner bringing expertise, scrutiny and challenge”.
It is unclear whether Ms Coladangelo has taken any pay, but a recent advert was posted for four positions before she was appointed in September 2020 which said Mr Hancock would determine their tenure, up to a period of three years.
Alex Runswick, senior advocacy manager at anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International UK, said: “The process for installing non-executive directors in Whitehall should be regulated to ensure any conflicts of interest are properly managed and to provide public confidence in the probity of these appointments.”
On Sunday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Matt Hancock did not resign straight away because he “wanted to stay focused” on tackling coronavirus.
But he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday Mr Hancock was right to quit after “taking that opportunity to look at the situation and to reflect”.
He rejected that Mr Hancock had only stood down because criticism from others had started to mount.
Mr Lewis also said there would be an investigation into how the footage came to be leaked to the newspaper: “It’s something we need to get to the bottom of,” he said. “Quite rightly what happens in Government departments can be sensitive and important.”
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But Labour was keen to get to the bottom of how Ms Coladangelo was appointed. In a letter to DHSC permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said there were questions to answer over what steps were taken to avoid a conflict of interest.
Ms Rayner said Sir Chris had assured her in a letter in April this year that Ms Coladangelo’s appointment to initially provide communications support for Mr Hancock was “short-term in nature, and made in response to an urgent need for specific advice or assistance”, and was therefore reasonable.
But she said following revelations that Ms Coladangelo was then made a non-executive director in the department, there were a number of “urgent questions” that needed addressing.
These included exactly what advice or assistance Ms Coladangelo provided Mr Hancock with, the recruitment process she went through, and whether any conflict of interest concerns had been raised.
She also asked whether “at any point during the recruitment of Gina Coladangelo or at any point subsequently did the Secretary of State mention or declare any personal relationship between himself and Gina Coladangelo”.
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Mr Hancock had come under increasing pressure since footage emerged of him kissing Ms Coladangelo in his ministerial office.
Boris Johnson refused to sack his Health Secretary and his spokesman said the PM considered the matter closed following Mr Hancock’s apology.
But Mr Hancock submitted his letter of resignation on Saturday.
Various outlets including the BBC, The Sunday Mirror, and The Sunday Telegraph reported that Ms Coladangelo would also be leaving her DHSC job, but the department had not confirmed this on Saturday night.
Ms Rayner said: “We can’t believe a word Matt Hancock says. He has broken the ministerial code and is treating the public like fools.
“The department must publish all correspondence and documents related to this appointment so the public can see Matt Hancock has broken the rules.”
DHSC has been contacted for comment.