Hancock’s close aide ‘would have been appointed only after rigorous process’

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Hancock's close aide 'would have been appointed only after rigorous process'
Hancock's close aide 'would have been appointed only after rigorous process'

A longtime friend of Matt Hancock would have gone through a “very rigorous” process before being given a job at the health department, Grant Shapps has said, after photographs emerged of Hancock kissing the woman.

Stills from what appeared to be CCTV footage in the health secretary’s Whitehall office, published in the Sun, showed Hancock in what the paper called a “clinch” with Gina Coladangelo, who he first met when they were at Oxford University.

Shapps, the transport secretary, also said Hancock was following Covid rules. However, according to the Sun the images were from 6 May, and under the government’s unlocking timetable, intimate contact with people outside your own household was only permitted from 17 May.

In November last year, Labour complained about apparent cronyism after it emerged that Coladangelo, the head of marketing at the Oliver Bonas retail chain, was first made an unpaid adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care, and then a non-executive director, a part-time role paid £15,000 a year.

Parliamentary records also show that in 2019, Hancock sponsored Coladangelo for a parliamentary pass, which she received under her married name, Gina Tress. Her husband, Oliver Tress, is the founder and head of Oliver Bonas. She was formerly an executive for the PR and lobbying firm Luther Pendragon.

Labour said that while ministers are entitled to a private life, there needed to be full transparency about whether any rules had been broken over the appointment.

Shapps said such roles involved significant civil service oversight and declined to comment on the nature of the relationship between Hancock and Coladangelo.

“The only thing I know is that if you are appointed to a government position there are very rigorous programmes in place when people are appointed, which require all sorts of civil service signoff before public money is spent,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “That’s the situation I’m sure will be followed in a position like this.”

Pressed on whether the new photos indicated cronyism, Shapps said: “From a civil service point of view, you have to go through a very strenuous approach to appoint anybody to anything at all. From a private point of view, people are entitled to their own judgments but people’s private lives are people’s private lives, and I don’t think it’s the place of politicians to go commenting on them.”

Asked in a separate interview with LBC whether any lockdown rules had been broken, Shapps said he was “quite sure that whatever the rules were at the time were followed”.

Last year, when Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist who has helped shape the government’s response to coronavirus, quit his advisory role for breaking social distancing rules by having a woman visit him at his home, Hancock said he would support the idea of police taking action against him.

According to the Sun, the images show Hancock and Coladangelo kissing at about 3pm on 6 May. An unnamed “friend” of the health secretary told the paper: “He has no comment on personal matters. No rules have been broken.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life. However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into.

“The government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken.”

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, tweeted: “The reason Matt Hancock should resign is that he is a terrible health secretary, not because of his private life.”

Hancock has previously been accused of showing favours to friends and other cronyism, such as awarding a contract to a former neighbour to produce vials for NHS Covid-19 tests, despite him having had no previous experience of producing medical supplies.

Last month Hancock was found to have broken the ministerial code “in technical terms” by failing to declare a stake in a family company that won an NHS contract.

Questions were raised about Hancock’s register of interests, given that his sister and brother-in-law run a company called Topwood Ltd in which the health secretary has a 20% stake. The firm won a contract with NHS Shared Business Services Ltd in 2019, but he did not immediately declare his interest.

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