A Conservative well being minister has a considerable monetary stake in a non-public well being screening and Covid testing agency, elevating questions concerning the potential for a battle of curiosity.
Nick Markham, a businessman who was given a peerage below Liz Truss and appointed to the well being division, owns about 30% of Cignpost Investments and has performed so all through his first 4 months within the job.
The corporate was arrange throughout the pandemic to supply Covid testing and well being screening companies to the non-public sector. Markham’s biography for the Division for Well being web site makes no point out of his non-public well being sector curiosity, regardless of describing his earlier non-public sector jobs at ITV and TopUp TV and because the founding father of a charity.
Markham was made a well being minister in September and declared the Cignpost funding on his register of pursuits within the Home of Lords. Ministerial pursuits are supposed to be overseen by an unbiased adviser however the submit has been vacant for six months since Lord Geidt resigned below Boris Johnson.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats stated it was not acceptable for a authorities minister to carry such a stake.
Angela Rayner, Labour deputy chief and shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster stated: “Conservative cronies have been rewarded with peerages and plum ministerial jobs whereas sustaining profitable pursuits. There’s a rotten stench concerning the revolving door the Tories have left huge open. Labour will clear up politics by restoring requirements in public life with an unbiased ethics and integrity fee.”
“These pursuits are usually not simply inappropriate, however downright unethical,” stated Sal Brinton, the Lib Dem well being spokesperson within the Home of Lords.
“The principles say that ministers ought to take away any conflicts of curiosity to stop any affect on their judgment and keep the general public’s belief. Our minister must be held to the very best requirements, however these are slipping with every new appointment.
“Lord Markham ought to dispose of those pursuits and Rishi Sunak should instantly appoint a brand new ethics adviser.”
Cignpost didn’t win any authorities contracts throughout the pandemic however it expanded its enterprise because of the coverage of requiring folks to check often and the transfer from free to paid-for testing.
Its subsidiary, Cignpost Diagnostics, made a pre-tax revenue of about £15m on income of £49m within the 12 months to March 2021, its first 9 months of operation.
Markham additionally owns stakes in a household funding firm and a administration consultancy agency, based on his register of pursuits.
The Division of Well being and Social Care had no remark when requested what was being performed to mitigate the dangers of a battle of curiosity. Nevertheless, it’s understood that Markham has advised the division that he’s now within the strategy of divesting his shareholding. He resigned as a director when he turned a minister in September.
Markham’s well being agency stake is the newest in a string of circumstances the place ministers have been appointed regardless of direct monetary pursuits associated to their jobs, in distinction to historic precedent.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was allowed to maintain his shareholding in Somerset Capital Administration, an asset supervisor, when he was enterprise secretary and Chris Philp was allowed to maintain a considerable stake in a property finance group and a task as a director of an funding firm. On the time, Philp was Treasury minister with accountability for spending coverage in relation to housing and planning.