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David Cameron landed US genomics giant Illumina a £123m contract ‘after writing to Hancock’

Former prime minister David Cameron was at the centre of a fresh lobbying row today after it was revealed a firm he advised won a £123million contract after he contacted the then health secretary Matt Hancock personally. 

The ex-Tory leader, who has been criticised for his work with finance house Greensill Capital, is facing further questions over his post-power business activities with a second firm.

Mr Cameron was a paid adviser for US biotech gene-sequencing company Illumina, and wrote to Mr Hancock in April 2019 to invite him to a conference attended by the firm.

Despite ignoring an invite from the firm’s executive chairman Jay Flatley weeks earlier, Mr Hancock agreed to go after receiving Mr Cameron’s letter, written from his taxpayer-funded post-prime ministerial office, The Times reported.    

The event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire in September 2019. A week later the company was awarded a multimillion-pound contract for genetic sequencing without competition with Genomics England – a company owned by the Department of Health and Social Care. 

Mr Cameron had written to Mr Hancock saying: ‘I understand Jay [Flatley, the executive chairman of Illumina at the time] has sent this direct to your office, but I wanted to i) ensure that you had seen it personally; and ii) strongly endorse their invitation to this significant conference.’

Mr Cameron denied lobbying on any contracts for the company. He said his role was solely to promote the benefits of genome sequencing.

A government spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘This contract, signed to help save lives through better diagnosis, was awarded in the correct way, through the proper process and any suggestion of undue ministerial involvement in the decision making is completely wrong.

Pictured: David Cameron, Matt Hancock, and Jay Flatley at a genomics summit in 2019 

‘Extensive due diligence was carried out and as set out in the transparency notice the contract was directly awarded because Illumina was the only company considered to have the technical capability to deliver this crucial work.

‘The 2019 contract was a follow-on contract to the original sequencing contract with Illumina in 2014 and the company’s expertise is being used to help the government roll out the world’s first whole genome sequencing programme to better diagnose patients with rare disease and certain cancers.’

A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: ‘The UK’s genomic sequencing capacity is one of the biggest in the world and has saved countless lives. Mr Hancock had no involvement in the awarding of these contracts and all normal processes were followed.’

But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘There is rampant cronyism, sleaze and dodgy lobbying that is polluting our democracy under Boris Johnson and the Conservatives. They hand public money to their mates without a second thought.

‘With NHS staff suggesting that it hasn’t been possible to make full use of the capacity the contract provided, the Government must answer questions about why it awarded such a huge sum of money without competition in the first place.’ 

An Illumina spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Illumina always follows the correct and necessary process in its negotiations with customers. We have worked with Genomics England since 2013 when we won a competitive tender process for the £78M contract for the 100,000 Genomes Project. 

‘Our ISO-accredited facilities in Cambridge were chosen by Genomics England as being the most appropriate in the UK in terms of being able to deliver this advanced genomics programme. For the £123M award, Genomics England again did their due diligence and issued a Voluntary ex ante transparency (VEAT) notice which sets out their reasoning for choosing a provider, and invites responses from competitors. 

‘The 2020 agreement included the sequencing of Covid samples as ”Research Samples” within the framework of the 2019 agreement.

‘The UK is acknowledged to be a world-leader in genomics. The vast majority of David Cameron’s work with Illumina is outside the UK, representing the best practices of the UK in genomics to other countries.’

Jay Flatley joined Illumina as a CEO in 1999 and served in that role until 2016, when he took up the role of Executive Chair through 2019, eventually becoming Chair of the Board.

He stepped down from the Board of Directors earlier this year.

A presentation slide found on the company’s website outlines how under his leadership, the firm went from having 30 employees in 1999 to more than 4,800 in 2015. Revenue growth also rose from $500,000 in 1999 to $2.2 billion in 2015.

It comes as Mr Cameron faces pressure to reveal how much money he made from finance firm Greensill Capital after denying claims he cashed in more than £7million.

He was earlier this week accused of bringing in a seven-figure sum from his 25-days-per-year role at the company which later collapsed, putting thousands of public sector jobs in jeopardy.

The BBC‘s Panorama programme claimed to have discovered documents revealing he made £3.25 million after cashing in shares from the company in 2019, and a salary of roughly £700,000 a year for work as a part-time adviser.

David Cameron, left, and Lex Greensill, founder of Greensill Capital, in Saudi Arabia in January 2020

David Cameron, left, and Lex Greensill, founder of Greensill Capital, in Saudi Arabia in January 2020

Mr Cameron –  who has never revealed how much he was paid – told the programme his remuneration was a private matter.

After the story broke his spokesman said: ‘David Cameron did not receive anything like the figures quoted by Panorama.’ 

But he declined to give an alternative figure in defence of the former premier, who worked for Greensill after quitting No10.

Mr Cameron had also met vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi in March to discuss genetic sequencing, and Illumina was given further contracts with Public Health England worth up to £870,000, the Times reports. 

The government denied that contracts had been discussed. 

Mr Cameron had visited Illumina’s San Diego headquarters after leaving office in 2016, and became a consultant and chairman of the company’s international advisory board the following year.  

He had listed Illumina as a ‘commercial interest’ in a statement issued following revelations of his lobbying of ministers on behalf of Lex Greensill.    

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said: ‘He has never lobbied the government on behalf of the company or been involved in any contract or commercial discussions.’ 

A source close to Mr Hancock told The Times that he had replied to Illumina’s invitation when his schedule was clearer.

Freedom of information disclosures have also reportedly revealed that health ministers Nadine Dorries, Helen Whately and Jo Churchill received lobbying letters from Illumina. 

 


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