Health secretary Matt Hancock committed a “minor” but undeliberate breach of the ministerial code, the prime minister’s ethics adviser has concluded.
Lord Geidt, an independent adviser on ministerial standards, said that by failing to declare that a family firm he held shares in won an NHS contract there had been a “technical” breach.
Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests in March this year that he owns 20% of shares in Topwood Limited, a firm owned by his sister and other close family members, which specialises in secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents.
The company, as first reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), won a place on a framework to provide services to the English NHS in 2019, as well as contracts with the NHS in Wales, after Hancock was appointed to his cabinet brief in July 2018.
The much-delayed report found that the failure to declare the link and contract award for Topwood Ltd was “in no way deliberate” and therefore a “technical breach”.
The conclusion is likely to pile further pressure on the health scretary, who was accused this week of lying and failing to protect care homes at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic by former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings.
In his 10-page report, Lord Geidt said: “Given that Topwood Ltd had secured the award of a framework contract with NHS Shared Business Services, 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.”
Traditionally, a breach of the code has led to the resignation of ministers, although home secretary Priti Patel kept her job earlier this year after being found to have engaged in bullying behaviour towards staff.