Matt Hancock’s shares in his sister’s firm that was approved as an NHS supplier should have been declared, a watchdog has said, but it concluded he was left in the dark.
The failure was “a result of his lack of knowledge and in no way deliberate, and therefore, in technical terms, a minor breach of the ministerial code”, it found.
Lord Geidt, Boris Johnson’s new adviser on ministerial interests, concluded: “In coming to this finding, I recognise that Mr Hancock has acted with integrity.”
The inquiry was launched after, in March, Mr Hancock declared he had acquired 20 per cent of a firm called Topwood Ltd, which provides secure storage and both scans and shreds documents.
But the entry, in the Commons register, did not reveal that his sister, Emily Gilruth, is a director and owns a larger portion of the shares – or that it had links to the NHS.
Labour was quick to attack “cronyism at the heart of government”. Topwood also won £300,000 of business from NHS Wales, although Mr Hancock has no responsibility for that body.
Lord Geidt ruled that “there could be a reasonably perceived conflict of interest” from the shareholding – but that declaring it complied with the ministerial code.
On the delay in making the declaration, his report notes that the firm was approved for the NHS work in February 2019, Mr Hancock having been health secretary since July 2018.
But it concludes that his sister, or his brother-in-law, “failed to raise this award with Mr Hancock”, or nothing was brought to his attention “such that he would have had reason to enquire”.
Furthermore, the vast size of the NHS meant that the award by NHS Shared Business Services Ltd “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 states.
“In coming to this finding, 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.”
The verdict comes as Mr Hancock remains under huge pressure over the explosive allegations made by Dominic Cummings in his testimony to MPs.
The ousted No 10 adviser claimed the health secretary wrongly promised that patients discharged to care homes at the start of the pandemic would be tested for Covid – angering Mr Johnson when the truth emerged.
The cabinet secretary also concluded Mr Hancock was “lying” about PPE shortages and wanted him fired last year, it was alleged.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies