“These are deeply disturbing revelations. No ifs, no buts – Secretaries of State shouldn’t have shady meetings with major Conservative Party donors, ”Labor MP Margaret Hodge, former chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told openDemocracy.
“Why aren’t there proper minutes of the meeting?” Where is the chain of responsibility? Was the government trying to sell more of our vital NHS on the eve of the pandemic?
“This all absolutely stinks of another abuse of power from Matt Hancock,” she added.
Since Hancock resigned last month after breaking COVID rules by kissing a colleague in his ministerial cabinet, it has emerged that he and other health ministers have used private emails to discuss COVID contracts with CEOs.
The Sunday Times also reported that Gina Coladangelo – the advisor Hancock was pictured kissing – was conducting government business on her private email address of Oliver Bonas, the retailer set up by her husband.
According to its accounts, Bridgemere is owned through a holding company based in a tax haven. One of its subsidiaries planned to continue to seek government assistance.
Bridgemere donated £ 1million to the Conservative Party ahead of the 2019 election – months before the January 2020 meeting with Hancock. The company has continued to donate an additional £ 250,000 since the start of the pandemic.
The revelations about Hancock’s meeting with Bridgemere also revealed flaws in the government’s handling of access to information requests.
Two separate requests regarding the meeting were submitted independently; one by openDemocracy, and the other by a freelance journalist. But although they asked the same questions, they received different answers.
openDemocracy was informed that there was “no record” of those present at the meeting. But a freelance reporter – who shared the response with openDemocracy – was given the names of four people, including Martin Hughes from Toscafund and Steve Morgan from Bridgemere. Bridgemere and Toscafund are the main funders of Circle Health.
He also reveals that a document discussing Circle Health was released in connection with the January 2020 meeting. The document says: “More use is needed of the independent sector to accelerate patient access to care.”
He adds: “The independent sector as a whole has 8,500 beds, with a similar reserve capacity. “