Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Coronavirus: PR firm hired at taxpayers’ expense by vaccine tsar linked to Dominic Cummings

The PR firm hired at taxpayers’ expense by the head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has been linked to the father-in-law of the prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Kate Bingham has come under fire for spending £670,000 on a team of PR consultants during her work as the government’s vaccines tsar.

The investment fund manager, the wife of a Conservative minister, was reported by the Sunday Times to have used eight full-time consultants from Admiral PR & Marketing to oversee her media strategy since her appointment earlier this year.

Records from Companies House reveal that the company secretary of Admiral PR & Marketing is Angus Collingwood Cameron.

Mr Collingwod Cameron is also listed by Companies House as a director of Chillingham Wild Cattle Association Limited, whose directors also include Sir Edward Humphry Wakefield.

Sir Humphry is the father of Mary Wakefield, who is married to Mr Cummings.

According to the Sunday Times report, Admiral consultants had helped prepare Ms Bingham for media appearances, draft statements and to oversee a vaccines podcast on Spotify.

Ms Bingham was said to have “insisted” on hiring the consultants, despite concerns they would duplicate the work of communications staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer, quizzed BEIS minister Lord Callanan about the link in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

“Kate Bingham asked for Admiral Associates to be brought in,” he said.

“Angus Collingwood Cameron, a director of Admiral Associates, is also a director of Dominic Cummings’ in-laws country estate and runs a caviar company which he says he is happy to advise on indulgence.

“If this isn’t gross indulgence to give a single source tender of £650,000 for PR work, which his own department has over 100 people working in communications, what specific tasks and messaging has been provided by Admiral Associates that his own team of communications professionals don’t have the skills or knowledge to deliver?”

Lord Callanan said the Lib Dem peer was making “baseless accusations” and said Mr Cummings had “no role whatsoever in any of these procurement processes or any of these appointments”.

He added: “The specialist communications support was contracted by the vaccines taskforce.

“The details of all arrangements and all firms and contract labour used by the taskforce will be published in due course with the usual transparency arrangements.”

Labour’s Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said the emergence of the link between Admiral Associates and Mr Cummings “raise yet more serious questions about how taxpayer money is being spent during the pandemic and how the government is being run”.

“The public deserve urgent answers as to how a small PR agency with close links to the PM’s closest adviser was simply gifted such a large contract – and what exactly was delivered for such a price tag,” she added.

“We know Dominic Cummings doesn’t think the rules apply to him, but this is no way to treat taxpayer money.

“The prime minister must be transparent about the processes he has put in place to allow such potential breaches of public trust.”

On Monday, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said it understood “widespread concerns surrounding the awarding of public sector contracts” and called for “increased transparency on ensuring value for public money”.

It added in a statement: “We urge the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to be clear about how this public money is spent and to be transparent about the agreements that exist between Admiral Associates and, through Kate Bingham, BEIS.”

Ms Bingham is expected to leave her role at the end of the year, with government sources stressing she was always due to leave at this stage.

Boris Johnson, who stood by Mr Cummings after the row over his lockdown trips earlier this year, on Tuesday offered his “huge thanks” to Ms Bingham for securing 40 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which has been found to be 90% effective.

In her role as the head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce, Ms Bingham reports directly to Mr Johnson.

She is married to Tory MP Jesse Norman, a junior Treasury minister.

Mr Norman is two years older than Mr Johnson, with both having attended Eton College and then Oxford University.

Ms Bingham attended St Paul’s Girls School in London and Oxford University at the same time as Mr Johnson’s sister, Rachel Johnson.

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