Rishi Sunak has questions to answer over grant to firm wife has stake in, says Keir Starmer

The Labour leader said there seemed to be an ’emerging pattern of behaviour’ when it came to Rishi Sunak’s family’s financial interests

Patrick Daly
Monday 01 May 2023 20:25 BST
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Sir Keir Starmer has said the prime minister has “questions to answer” following reports a company in which his wife holds a stake was given public money.

The Sunday Times reported that Study Hall, an education start-up that an investment company controlled by Rishi Sunak’s wealthy spouse Akshata Murty has a financial interest in, was given almost £350,000 of UK grant money.

Study Hall is described on the grant award by Innovate UK as a firm that is “developing a cutting-edge AI-based adaptive learning and assessment platform that can accelerate student progress”.

It comes as Mr Sunak faces a separate probe by the Commons standards tsar into concerns the Conservative Party leader did not properly declare his wife’s shares in a childcare agency that benefited from the Budget.

Labour leader Sir Keir, speaking to the PA news agency about the Study Hall grant during a visit to Blackpool, Lancashire, said: “I think there are questions to answer in relation to this.

“There seems to be an emerging pattern of behaviour here, so I think the sooner those questions are answered the better.”

The grant was awarded by Innovate UK, an arm’s-length body funded by government money that provides financial assistance and other support to companies developing new products or services.

Announcing the six-figure funding for the 12-month period between August 2022 and August 2023, Innovate said adaptive learning and assessments being developed by Study Hall could “help optimise the large sums of public and private funds invested in high-dosage tutoring and school intervention programmes”.

The grant abstract continues: “Study Hall boosts engagement and increases teaching and learning efficiency, saving taxpayers, teachers, parents and students time and money.”

Companies House records show that Catamaran Ventures UK Limited, the investment company controlled by Mrs Murty, has a stake in the education technology start-up.

A confirmation statement dated 31 August suggests Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd held 2,474 shares in Study Hall at the time of the statement’s submission.

The Sunday Times said there were no subsequent documents indicating the shares had been sold.

All Innovate UK funding decisions are made through a rigorous, transparent process by independent experts

UK Research and Innovation spokesperson

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing and the money was awarded before Mr Sunak entered Downing Street, having taken over from Liz Truss in October.

A spokesperson for UK Research and Innovation said: “All Innovate UK funding decisions are made through a rigorous, transparent process by independent experts.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson, in relation to Mr Sunak’s financial interests being declared, said: “All declarations have been made and due process followed to the letter.”

Mr Sunak’s entry in the register of ministerial interests states that his wife “owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd”.

There is no mention of Study Hall, however.

Downing Street insiders said Innovate UK’s decision-making process was external to government, with applications reviewed by independent assessors from business and academia before a funding panel, rather than ministers, makes a final ruling on grants.

The focus on Mrs Murty’s investments follows an extension of a probe into the prime minister’s potential breach of the rules on declaring financial interests.

Standards commissioner Daniel Greenberg originally opened the inquiry following concerns that Mr Sunak did not detail his wife’s shares in a childcare agency that benefited from a Budget policy providing incentive payments for childminders entering the profession.

Mr Sunak declared Mrs Murty’s stake in Koru Kids in the ministerial register of interests after he failed to mention it when being questioned by an MP on the Liaison Committee.

Mr Greenberg has since added a second strand to his inquiry, under rules forbidding MPs to “disclose details” in relation to any investigation he is undertaking without consent.

Mr Sunak’s family finances previously faced scrutiny while he was chancellor when the “non-dom” status of his wife was revealed by The Independent.

The arrangement reportedly saved her millions while the cost of living soared.

Following the controversy, Ms Murty, the fashion designer billionaire’s daughter who married Mr Sunak in 2009, declared she would pay UK taxes on all her worldwide income.

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