No 10 won’t launch inquiry into leaking of CCTV photo of Matt Hancock kissing aide

Whitehall sources rule out mole hunt to avoid whistleblowing claims from source of damaging images.

Denis Campbell www.theguardian.com 

The government will not launch any inquiry into who leaked a photograph of Matt Hancock kissing an aide, even though they believe they know who did it, the Guardian understands.

Downing Street and Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have decided not to instigate any hunt to try to identify who passed the image taken from a security camera in his ministerial office to the Sun.

The decision was taken at a meeting early on Friday morning involving Hancock, the DHSC’s permanent secretary, Sir Chris Wormald, and the department’s head of security, hours after the tabloid reported and provided evidence of Hancock’s encounter in his office on the ninth floor of the department with an aide, Gina Coladangelo.

Sources say that they have ruled out a mole hunt because if the person were tracked down they could then claim that they were a whistleblower who was exposing wrongdoing.

“Imagine if that person was dismissed for leaking what any employment tribunal that followed would be like for Matt Hancock,” said a source. “It’s hard to justify a leak inquiry when you’ve been caught brazenly doing something like this.”

Another source familiar with the DHSC’s handling of the fallout from Hancock’s behaviour said: “They aren’t going to do a leak inquiry. The thinking is that you could argue that whoever did it was a whistleblower. If someone was whistleblowing, putting sensitive information into the public domain, they deserve to be protected – that’s good practice with whistleblowers.”

The DHSC initially thought the photograph had been taken by someone using a long lens camera in a building opposite the DHSC’s headquarters on Victoria Street, a short walk from the Houses of Parliament. But it quickly discarded that theory and now believes that it came from a member of DHSC staff.

The DHSC believes the picture is a photograph of an image captured by the closed-circuit television camera in Hancock’s office rather than a screengrab that has been taken from CCTV footage. However, it is bracing itself for the prospect of the Sun publishing further material, possibly including moving CCTV footage of Hancock with Coladangelo, who one source described as “Matt’s style guru, someone to spruce up his image, as much as someone who advises him on what to say and how to say it in media interviews”.

Downing Street and the DHSC were asked if any leak inquiry would be held. A No 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister’s spokesperson was asked about this at lobby [Friday’s briefing with journalists] and he said we don’t comment on security matters for obvious reasons, but he pointed journalists to DHSC for anything further on this matter.” Boris Johnson’s spokesperson declined at that briefing to say anything about an inquiry.

The DHSC had not responded by the time of publication.

Matt Hancock ‘affair’: Aide Gina Coladangelo’s brother has top job at company with NHS contracts

It appears that Matt Hancock’s “chumocracy” runs even deeper than we thought! – Owl

Mark Kleinman news.sky.com 

A relative of the Whitehall director alleged to have had an extramarital affair with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is an executive at a private healthcare company which has won a string of NHS contracts.

Sky News can reveal that Roberto Coladangelo – who is Gina Coladangelo’s brother – works at Partnering Health Limited (PHL Group), a specialist in the provision of urgent and primary care services to NHS patients.

The disclosure risks deepening the crisis engulfing Mr Hancock, who has already been left weakened by allegations about his competence at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks made by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former adviser.

Mr Hancock has also become embroiled in several conflicts of interest scandals relating to coronavirus contracts, including one involving the former landlord of the health secretary’s local pub landing a deal to produce COVID test vials.

Roberto Coladangelo is PHL Group’s executive director of strategy and innovation

Mr Coladangelo is PHL Group’s executive director of strategy and innovation

In February, a judge ruled that Mr Hancock’s department had acted unlawfully by failing to reveal details of pandemic-related contracts in a timely fashion.

People who know Mr Coladangelo said that he and Mr Hancock’s aide were siblings, and social media profiles and electoral roll data appear to confirm a relationship between them.

None of those contacted by Sky News on Friday afternoon would confirm or deny the relationship between the Coladangelos.

More on Gina Coladangelo

Mr Coladangelo is PHL Group’s executive director of strategy and innovation, and has worked there since October 2019, according to his profile on the networking app LinkedIn.

He previously founded Youla, an elderly care business, but prior to that was a marketing executive in the sports and gaming industries.

PHL Group describes itself on its website as “an independent healthcare company providing services and quality solutions to the NHS and private healthcare partners”.

Its website also discloses the provision of “COVID-19 services”, although it is unclear whether the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was the awarder of contracts relating to these.

The Sun’s revelation of Mr Hancock’s personal relationship with Ms Coladangelo, who is a non-executive director at the health department, prompted calls on Friday for him to be sacked because of his apparent breaches of lockdown restrictions.

Mr Hancock said he had “let people down” and was “very sorry”, with Boris Johnson saying he considered the matter closed.

However, any suggestion of further conflicts of interest relating to the awarding of public health contracts would risk damaging not only Mr Hancock.

The prime minister has also been trying to move on from the recent row over the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment.

Ms Coladangelo is reported to have known Mr Hancock since their university days, and joined the DHSC board less than a year ago.

Whitehall departments’ boards are chaired by their secretary of state, with many of the non-executives now handpicked by ministers based on previous connections.

There was no suggestion on Friday that PHL Group or Mr Coladangelo had acted improperly in the procurement of government contracts.

Neither the value of PHL Group’s NHS contracts or the timing of their award could be verified on Friday.

A person close to the situation said that PHL had been providing services to the NHS since it was established 11 years ago, and that contracts awarded by the NHS followed the relevant procurement rules.

Mr Coladangelo did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

He is understood to be participating in a cross-country bike ride to raise funds for charity.

A page on the fundraising site JustGiving confirms that Mr Coladangelo received a donation from “Gina [and] Olly” – Oliver Tress is Ms Coladangelo’s husband – with a further donation made by a couple who are understood to be the Coladangelos’ parents, Heather and Rino.

Ms Coladangelo could not be reached for comment, while a DHSC source insisted that the Secretary of State had no involvement in awarding NHS contracts.

“Non-executive directors hold advisory roles and also have no role in awarding NHS contracts,” the insider said.

A spokesperson for PHL said: “PHL has been operating for over 11 years and at all times has secured contracts through the robust tender and procurement processes put in place by local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

“At no time have any contracts been awarded outside of these rigorous processes and no contracts have ever been awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care.”

More detail on the NAO findings of costly failures in Dido Harding’s Test and Trace

Test And Trace Has Lost Track Of Nearly 600 Million Covid Tests

Paul Waugh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Boris Johnson’s £37bn Test and Trace service is facing fresh criticism after a damning new report found that it had lost track of nearly 600 million Covid tests.

The National Audit Office spending watchdog concluded that the system was still failing to “deliver value for taxpayers”, with a lack of any targets for self-isolation by the public and a continued reliance on private consultants.

Test and Trace, which was run by Tory peer Dido Harding, has already come under fire for its use of private firms Serco and Deloitte and its repeated failures in 2020 to track down contacts of people who had Covid.

The latest report sets out a raft of problems, including paying for tracing staff it does not use, the use of emergency procurement powers that dole out contracts without competition and a lack of data sharing with local public health chiefs that hinders efforts to tackle outbreaks.

In the six months from November last year to April this year, it failed to reach nearly 100,000 people who had tested positive for Covid and as result failed to identify their contacts who could potentially infect others.

The NAO also criticised Matt Hancock’s decision to absorb its functions into a new UK Health Security Agency, saying there was “a risk that the restructuring will divert NHS TandT’s attention away from efforts to contain the spread of the virus”.

It has given the government until October to sort out the problems, including how it will “best support citizens to come forward for tests and comply with self-isolation requirements” – a clear signal that the watchdog believes the public need higher payments to home quarantine.

Labour pounced on the report and suggested that it ought to kill off the chances of former Test and Trace chief Harding’s bid to become the next chief executive of the NHS.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “I would suggest this is essential reading for the interview panel in case there is even the slightest possibility that they are considering her appointment.

“This report is damning. The government has been told time and again that if we are going to bring down cases, it needs to ensure people can afford to self-isolate, but it has refused to listen.

“If lateral flow tests are going to play their part in helping society reopen, ministers need to make sure results are registered – it’s astounding that 550,000,000 tests have gone missing.”

The report found that only a small proportion of the Covid tests distributed have been registered as used.

Test and Trace had forecast that between March and May 2021, 655 million lateral flow tests would be used in the UK.

But up to 26 May, just 96 million (14%) of the 691 million tests distributed in England had been registered. “NHS TandT does not know whether the tests that have not been registered have been used or not,” it said.

NAO head Gareth Davies said Test and Trace had introduced a lot of changes since its last withering report, including mass testing, closer working with local authorities and initiatives to identify and contain variant forms of Covid.

“However, some pressing challenges need to be tackled if it is to achieve its objectives and deliver value for taxpayers, including understanding how many lateral flow devices are actually being used and increasing public compliance with testing and self-isolation,” he said.

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier pointed out that the report had found that 45% of Test and Trace staff at its head office were still private consultants, despite Harding’s promises to reduce their number and to replace them with civil servants.

“Test and Trace employed more consultants in April 2021 than it did in November 2020. Despite being nearly a year old, nearly half the central staff are consultants,” Hillier said.

“Testing and tracing are likely to be around for some time yet and it’s hard to understand why these roles are not now permanent or fixed term contracts. The danger is that institutional memory will disappear as consultants walk off with their fat pay cheques.”

The latest report shows that although Test and Trace has introduced more flexibility into its contact centre contracts, across its testing and tracing activities it is “still paying for capacity it does not use”.

It’s “utilisation rate” – the proportion of time someone actively worked during their paid horse – had a target of 50% but in reality rates have been well below this since November 2020, peaking at 49% in January and falling to just 11% in February.

The unit cost per contact traced went up from around £5 in October to £47 in February.

The NAO found that Test and Trace had used £13.5 billion of its £22.2 billion budget in 2020-21, an underspend of £8.7 billion. Of this, £10.4 billion went on testing, £1.8 billion on identifying and containing local outbreaks and £900 million on tracing.

Test and Trace told the NAO that the underspend is because a predicted high level of demand for testing in January and February 2021 did not materialise due to the national lockdown.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said it had started a programme of research to understand the low rate of test registration and was working to increase public awareness of the need to register results and improve the ability to track tests.

“NHS Test and Trace has played an essential role in combating this pandemic and the NAO has recognised many of the rapid improvements we have made in the short lifespan of this organisation.

“The testing and tracing being delivered across the country is saving lives every single day and helping us send this virus into retreat by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist.

“While NHS Test and Trace continues to be one of the centrepieces of our roadmap to return life to normal, our new UK Health Security Agency is going to consolidate the enormous expertise that now exists across our health system so we can face down potential future threats and viruses.”

The government insists that the system has successfully identified over 3.4 million positive cases and notified a further 7.1 million contacts, to tell them to self-isolate, since 28 May 2020. Rapid tests have picked up over 213,082 Covid cases without symptoms.

It claims that the high number of consultants was critical for accessing specific skills and abilities in order to deliver operationally. DHSC is also evaluating several pilot approaches to improve compliance with self-isolation.

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “It’s abundantly clear now that despite millions upon millions of pounds being handed to private companies, they have demonstrably failed to deliver a functioning system, leaving us without a crucial defence against Covid transmissions and needlessly putting lives at risk.

“With new variants spreading through our communities, it’s clear that even with the vaccination programme we desperately need a properly functioning contact tracing system.”