A Tory former minister broke the ministerial code when he began working for a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) firm shortly after leaving government, the UK’s anti-corruption watchdog has said.
George Freeman MP, who was a former health minister and member of Boris Johnson and David Cameron’s government, failed to register with the watchdog before accepting a role with a firm selling PPE to the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, Business Insider has revealed.
The company was founded by a former appointee of a government agency overseen by Freeman when he was a health minister.
Under current rules designed to prevent corruption, former members of the government must seek guidance from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) before accepting paid work for a period of two years after leaving office.
Freeman did not do this and has since been rebuked by ACOBA, which accused the former minister of breaking the ministerial code which governs the actions of current and former members of government.
The Norfolk MP joined Aerosol Shield Ltd last summer and received £5,000 for 27 hours of “technology consulting”, just months after leaving Johnson’s government.
The company, which he described as “a group of clinicians and medical technology specialists working on the problem of cross-contamination during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was founded by a former government appointee, who Freeman had worked alongside while a minister in David Cameron’s government.
In a letter to Freeman, ACOBA’s chair Lord Pickles wrote: “You were required to seek and await ACOBA’s advice in advance of accepting a role or taking on work. Failure to seek and await advice in this case was a breach of the government’s rules and the requirement set out in the Ministerial Code.”
This comes off the back of the National Audit Office finding that Downing Street had awarded £17billion in contracts to private companies with ties to the government.
Freeman said he had been contacted by Aerosol founder Matt Campbell-Hill to work in April. Freeman had worked alongside Campbell-Hill when he oversaw the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which Campbell-Hill was a non-executive director of from 2015 to 2018.
Freeman told ACOBA that he offered to help Campbell-Hill to secure approval for the equipment through “the emergency PPE Supply channels set up by the Cabinet Office,” and claimed to have volunteered for the company during this period.
After being asked, he joined the company in May in a paid position to raise long-term funding for research and development. Freeman accepted but left in July after it “became clear that this role wasn’t going to work” and agreeing to part ways with Aerosol founders. He was only paid for work completed over June and July.
ACOBA, established in 1975 by Harold Wilson, only has the power to censure former ministers for breaking its rules and has been criticised by some members of parliament and campaigners for being a “toothless” organisation.
Boris Johnson himself fell foul of ACOBA rules in August 2018 Johnson, when he was criticised for taking a contract as a Telegraph columnist three days after quitting as foreign secretary.
Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Fleur Anderson told Insider: “It is clear from the prime minister down that Tory MPs seem to have little regard for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments or even the Ministerial Code. This Tory government has overseen a collapse in standards and transparency and Britain deserves better.”
Freeman told Insider: “This is a non-story. I set out all the background to my pro-bono work helping Aerosol Shield respond to the government’s Covid technology appeal last March, and my subsequent three weeks advising them on commercial technology fundraising, all of which has been fully and transparently disclosed in the appropriate way.”