EXCLUSIVE: Lord Bethell did not declare a week’s worth of meetings – at least nine of which were with firms who later obtained millions of pounds worth of Covid contracts
- BY MIKEY SMITH
- 30 JUN 2021
A HEALTH minister is facing calls to be sacked after meetings with firms which were awarded Covid contracts worth more than £1 BILLION went undeclared for a year.
Lord Bethell is already under fire over claims he used a personal email account to discuss Covid contracts.
And he faces more questions after it emerged he sponsored a Parliament security pass for Gina Coladangelo – Matt Hancock’s mistress.
Now it has emerged he failed to declare 27 meetings in April last year, nine of which were with companies that later benefited from Government Covid-19 funding.
Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner called for Lord Bethell to be sacked.
She said: “Lord Bethell must be sacked immediately and this racket must end now.
“Conservative Ministers think that there is one rule for them and another for the rest of us, and the stench of sleaze coming from the heart of government is overpowering.
“Boris Johnson already showed that he lacks the leadership qualities required of a Prime Minister by failing to sack Matt Hancock.
“We need a full and independent inquiry into the private emails and undeclared meetings across government that have seen taxpayers’ money handed out to Conservative cronies and the sleaze that is polluting our democracy.”
The Government quietly updated official records yesterday to include the missing meetings from Lord Bethell’s diary – understood to number at least 27 – between 1-6 April last year.
Officials blamed an “admin error” for the meetings being absent from the official record for more than a year.
The list includes meetings with at least nine companies – Abingdon Health, SureScreen Diagnostics Ltd, Novacyt, The BBI Group, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Cambridge Clinical Laboratories, OptiGene, Una Health, CIGA healthcare – which later benefited from Government Covid-19 funding.
In total, deals signed with firms Lord Bethell met just that week are valued at more than £1 billion.
A further firm, QuantumMDX, later received £11 million in funding from the Government’s Future Fund.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “There are yet more damning revelations about the conduct of they hapless minister.
“If Sajid Javid wants to present himself as a new broom at the Department he should insist that minister is sacked.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “One week’s worth of meetings from Lord Bethell’s returns were not included in the previous transparency returns, due to an administrative error. This has now been corrected with the full list of meetings, including those from the 1 st April – 5 th April, available to review in the usual way.”
Leaked emails published by the Sunday Times revealed Lord Bethell had failed to declare a phone call on 1 April with Abingdon Health to discuss their lateral flow test technology.
The firm later secured two contracts worth £85m – which were awarded without competition under emergency Covid contract rules.
A transparency release from the Department of Health and Social Care dating back to last October was quietly updated on Tuesday, to “include meetings left off the original publication due to an admin error.”
Lord Bethell held two further meetings with Abingdon Health, which were properly declared on the department’s transparency releases.
Boris Johnson faces calls to sack Lord Bethell, a Tory donor, after he admitted he had used a personal email account for government business.
On Monday, Downing Street claimed Lord Bethell – along with Matt Hancock – “only ever conducted Government business through their departmental email addresses.”
But former aide Dominic Cummings branded the claim “nonsense, and accused the PM’s spokesman of “openly lying”.
Number 10 yesterday rowed back on the claim, after evidence emerged that it was not true.
Emails obtained by the Good Law Project show former Tory chairman Lord Feldman wrote with details of a possible Covid contract to a string of government officials – and Lord Bethell.
Asked if he recognised that the e-mails showed Lord Bethell was using a private e-mail account, the spokesman said on Monday: “Yes, we’ve been clear that ministers are able to communicate through a variety of different ways as long as they adhere to the guidance as set out.”
Leaked minutes, published by the Sunday Times, also claimed Lord Bethell “routinely uses his personal inbox” and “the majority of [approvals for contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox.”
Fellow health ministers Matt Hancock and Helen Whately are also reported to have used private e-mail addresses when conducting government business.
Private e-mail accounts can be used to get round freedom of information and archiving rules – making it more difficult for vital information to reach the public.
Minister Michael Gove – aided by Dominic Cummings – lost a legal battle almost a decade ago over his use of a private account.
Cabinet Office advice was produced after the scandal which says clearly: “It is expected that Government business should be recorded on government record systems.”
However, it stops short of saying private e-mail addresses cannot be used for government business at all.
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