Matt Hancock accused of conflict of interest over family firm access to NHS contracts

Harry Yorke
·4 min read
Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock was accused of a conflict of interest on Friday after it emerged that as Health Secretary he has a controlling hand in the organisation that awarded his sister’s firm potential access to NHS contracts.

The Telegraph can disclose that Mr Hancock is listed as one of two “persons with significant control” over NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), which in 2019 awarded his sister’s company, Topwood Ltd, a place as a potential supplier to NHS Trusts.

The details are publicly available on Companies House, which also states that the Health Secretary holds the “right to appoint and remove directors” of SBS.

The decision was taken after Mr Hancock became Health Secretary, although SBS stated that “no business has been awarded to the supplier through the framework.”

The exact details of Mr Hancock’s involvement in SBS are unclear, although any control he exercises is limited to his capacity as Secretary of State.

Department for Health sources said that neither Mr Hancock or the department had any involvement in SBS's decision to put Topwood Ltd on the framework contract or any awarding of NHS business to the firm.

Mr Hancock declared in March that he had acquired more than 15 per cent of Topwood Ltd’s shares, but omitted to mention that his sister, Emily Gilruth, had a larger portion of shares and is a part owner and director.

The ministerial code says that ministers should declare the interests of close family members if they believe they might give rise to a conflict.

Topwood Ltd, which specialises in the secure shredding and scanning of documents, also won two contracts from a Welsh NHS board last month. However, the Welsh NHS is devolved and has no link to Mr Hancock.

A Whitehall source said he had no active participation in running Topwood Limited and that neither he or the Department for Health were involved in awarding the contracts.

The source added that Mr Hancock had discussed with the department's top civil servant, the Permanent Secretary, that he was to be gifted the shares before accepting them.

Set up in 2004, NHS Shared Business Limited is a joint venture between the Department for Health and the French IT services firm Sopra Steria.

It provides back office services such as accounting, procurement, payroll and IT to NHS organisations.

Labour alleged that Mr Hancock had a “clear conflict of interest”, with Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, telling The Telegraph: “The question is why didn’t he declare that this was his sister’s company back when he was appointed.

“Why were they [Topwood Ltd] given access to potentially lucrative contracts by an organisation of which the Secretary of State has a direct controlling interest, and which he himself would have benefitted from the awarding of these contracts through the share options that he was recently gifted.

“It stinks and there are serious questions that Matt Hancock should answer in Parliament on Monday.”

A Government spokesman said: “Mr Hancock has acted entirely properly in these circumstances. All declarations of interest have been made in accordance with the ministerial code.

“Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises.”

NHS Shared Business Services said: "Like all suppliers, Topwood were subject to an evaluation in the form of a fully-compliant OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) tender process. This involved company and financial checks, and price and quality submissions. No business has been awarded to the supplier through this framework.”

It came as the National Audit Office yesterday became the seventh organisation to launch a probe into the Greensill controversy. It will focus on the collapsed lender’s access to state coronavirus support schemes.

On Friday evening it was reported that David Cameron pitched the services of Greensill Capital to a senior German government official just as an investigation into the company's German banking arm started.

The former prime minister is set to face questions from UK MPs over his role lobbying British ministers on behalf of the lender since he began working for it in 2018.

A spokesman for the former prime minister told the Financial Times: “David Cameron participated on a virtual call with the German ambassador last November with senior representatives from Greensill to discuss introducing Earnd to the German civil service.”