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Matt Hancock let off for ‘minor’ breach of Ministerial Code over shares in firm that won NHS work

Matt Hancock gets a slap on the wrist from watchdog for ‘minor’ breach of the Ministerial Code involving family firm which won NHS contracts while he was Health Secretary

  • Health Secretary has shares in Topwood Ltd,run by his sister and brother-in-law
  • Company specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents
  • It was was awarded £300,000 of business by NHS Wales this year 

Matt Hancock was let off by the standards watchdog today for a minor ‘technical’ breach of the ministerial code involving a firm owned by a member of his family which won NHS contracts.

The Health Secretary was accused of cronyism after it he revealed in March he had a 20 per cent stake in Topwood Ltd, which is run by his sister and brother-in-law.

The company, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, was awarded £300,000 of business by NHS Wales this year.

The new ministerial standards watchdog Lord Geidt today said that his failure to mention the shareholding before it won an NHS deal was a ‘minor’ breach of the Ministerial Code, but ruled that no action should be taken. 

The company was handed a ‘framework agreement’ with NHS Shared Business Services Ltd (SBS), which outsources NHS back-office work, in February 2019, which allowed it to win the Welsh contract this year.

But Mr Hancock became Health Secretary in July 2018 after Jeremy Hunt replaced Mr Johnson as Foreign Secretary, following the latter’s resignation.

Lord Geidt  said today that ‘it is reasonable to assume that Mr Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law, the owners of Topwood Ltd, would have been well aware of his appointment as Secretary of State at the time of their company securing this contract with NHS SBS.’

A spokesman for Matt Hancock said: ‘The Health Secretary thanks Lord Geidt for his work. He is glad that the shareholding in question is found to have been declared diligently and that Lord Geidt assesses him to have acted properly and honestly. He agrees that any perceived breach could only be technical in nature and accepts his advice.’ 

The Health Secretary was accused of cronyism after it he revealed in March he had a 15 per cent state in Topwood Ltd, which is run by his sister and brother-in-law.

Lord Geidt said today that 'it is reasonable to assume that Mr Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law, the owners of Topwood Ltd, would have been well aware of his appointment as Secretary of State at the time of their company securing this contract with NHS SBS.'

Lord Geidt said today that ‘it is reasonable to assume that Mr Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law, the owners of Topwood Ltd, would have been well aware of his appointment as Secretary of State at the time of their company securing this contract with NHS SBS.’

After the situation was highlighted by the Health Service Journal earlier this year, sources insisted Mr Hancock had discussed the issue with the Department for Heath and Social Care permanent secretary before accepting the shares, and was told that any conflicts could be handled if they arise.

The Health Secretary is said to have no ‘active participation’ in the running of the company, and was not involved in awarding contracts.

Lord Geidt said today: ‘Given that Topwood Ltd had secured the award of a framework contract with NHS SBS, a company in which the legal personality of the Secretary of State is a shareholder, I believe there to be a danger that a reasonable person might perceive this link to represent a conflict of interest, and that it should have been declared at the time.

‘In reaching this determination, I accept that the scale of NHS operations in England (for which the Secretary of State is responsible) are broad and that the activity of NHS SBS 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. 

‘I have advised the Prime Minister accordingly. 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.’

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