Two businessmen who together donated more than £1m to the Conservative party have been handed prominent public health jobs, igniting a new “cronyism” row.
Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com
After the government came under criticism for its awarding of Covid contracts, including a “VIP lane” for suppliers, Labour raised fresh questions about recent appointments to NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
One of those given a senior public health advisory role was chair of a firm that reportedly sued the NHS for hundreds of millions of pounds over a failed IT project.
There is no suggestion that improper recruitment processes were followed. But the health secretary, Sajid Javid, was urged to ensure there would be no conflicts of interest.
In March, Oluwole Kolade was made a non-executive director and deputy chair of NHS England for three years. In just over a decade, Kolade has donated £859,342 to Conservative party headquarters; the party’s London mayoral candidate in 2021, Shaun Bailey; and the party’s branch in Hitchin and Harpenden. About a third of the donations – £300,000 – have been made since Boris Johnson became prime minister.
The government’s public appointments website said the appointing department was Javid’s and added: “Kolade has made a donation to the Conservative party.”
Kolade is a managing partner of Livingbridge, a private equity firm with extensive investments in private healthcare. On its website the company said it “has made a private equity investment in the healthcare and education sector in almost every single year for the past two decades”. Livingbridge’s portfolio includes multiple NHS suppliers, and private dental companies, care providers and fertility firms.
Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said the appointment looked like “naked Conservative cronyism” and urged against the NHS being “placed in the hands of the highest bidder”. He called on Javid to “come clean about what guarantees he secured that this position won’t be used to benefit private interests over public health”.
Another prolific donor, Simon Blagden, was made a member of the UKHSA advisory board in April. Since 2005, Blagden and companies he is associated with have donated £376,000 to the Conservatives. These include Pietas Ltd, a firm he was director of from 2000 to 2020, and Avre Partnership Limited, which he has been director of since 2014.
He was also a chairman of Fujitsu UK, which sued the NHS over a failed IT project. A parliamentary committee’s inquiry into the debacle in 2013 cited reports that a sum of £700m was sought from the Department of Health.
Blagden already holds a role in government – as chair of its telecoms supply chain diversification advisory council at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – and in 2016 was awarded a CBE for services to the economy.
Labour said that “yet again, the Tories have appointed one of their own to a crucial public role”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Political activity is not a bar to holding a public appointment. In line with the requirements of the code of governance for public appointments, if someone has been politically active and has made donations, the government declares this when the appointment is announced.
“Wol Kolade was appointed by ministers in 2018 as a non-executive director on the board of NHS Improvement – he declared he had made donations to the Conservative party and the department declared this when he was first appointed and again when he was reappointed this year.”
A UKHSA spokesperson said: “All members of our advisory board have been appointed in line with government protocols and will provide vital impartial oversight and advice to help UKHSA deliver its strategic objectives.”
Kolade and his company Livingbridge were contacted for comment. Blagden was contacted for comment through Larkspur International, where he is a director.