Under-fire vaccines tsar Kate Bingham is expected to leave her post at the end of the year after amassing a £670,000 bill over a contract for public relations support.
Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson had full confidence in Bingham, a venture capitalist married to the Conservative minister Jesse Norman, and praised her work in securing access to potential coronavirus vaccines.
Bingham had recently vehemently denied revealing potentially sensitive information to investors at a conference, branding reports about it as “nonsense” and “inaccurate”.
The Sunday Times reported that at the conference, which was streamed online to anyone for a fee of 200 US dollars (£156), she revealed the names of several companies that the government had not yet publicly said it was interested in potentially working with.
But Bingham told MPs that she divulged “nothing commercially sensitive, nothing confidential”
The latest reports found that Bingham had paid eight consultants £167,000 a year, with ministers insisting that they were not aware of the decision to recruit the consultants.
It is understood that the team helped Bingham to draft statements and prepare for media appearances.
There had been complaints from Whitehall that the consultants were duplicating the work of more than 100 communications staff already working in Alok Sharma’s business department.
It sparked to claims from Labour of “cronyism” with Labour leader Keir Starmer saying the figure “can’t be justified”.
But the prime minister’s official spokesman said the decision to hire the PR advisers was signed off by officials at the business department.
“Specialist communications support was contracted by the vaccine taskforce for a time-limited period in line with existing public sector recruitment practices and frameworks,” the spokesman said.
A Whitehall source said Bingham had “always been clear” that she would only remain at the head of the vaccines taskforce until the end of the year.