Labor has called for “clear answers” on Rishi Sunak’s involvement in shaping childcare policy after Treasury revealed that officials met with a company partly owned by the prime minister’s wife in the period prior to the March budget.
Helen Hayes, daughter of the opposition party’s shadow and early minister, said it would be “surprised” if Treasury officials had met ahead of the Budget with a company from which the prime minister personally benefited.
Treasury disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Financial Times that its officials met with a representative of Koru Kidsan agency representing child care providers, on February 22 of this year.
Subsequently, the company was one of only six placed in a list of child care agencies approved by Treasury on March 15 as part of a budget announcement aimed at increasing the number of registered child care providers.
The arrangement caused controversy because childminders who register with the agencies receive a £1,200 incentive fee from the government. Those who register directly with Ofsted, the government’s education watchdog, receive a payment of £600.
After the Budget, the Labor Party questioned the justification for the additional incentive to register through private companies. There was further controversy after Sunak failed to testify during interrogation before the House of Commons Liaison Committee in March that his wife, Akshata Murthy, was a shareholder in Koru Kids.
Asked by the committee if he was interested in testifying on the matter, Sunak replied: “No. All of my disclosures are stated in the normal manner.”
Hayes told the Financial Times: “For the Treasury to have met with a company from which the prime minister personally benefits financially before the spring budget is going to draw attention.”
Parliament’s standards commissioner, Daniel Greenberg, announced in April that he was investigating Sunak under a paragraph of parliament’s rules related to failure to disclose a relevant interest. Parliamentarians are obliged to mention the relevant interests of themselves or their close family members when debating them in parliament.
There has also been criticism that the government took too little time to consider the plans before announcing them.
“The public deserves clear answers from the government about the prime minister’s involvement in his government’s hasty childcare plans,” Hayes said.
Treasury officials also met with Tiney, one of the other companies included in the six-person registry, on February 23 of this year, as well as on February 24, 2022.
There is no indication that Treasury officials knew of Murthy’s stake in Koru Kids when they were introduced to the company.
It was “entirely routine” for Treasury officials to engage a “broad range of stakeholders, in a number of sectors”, ahead of any Budget, the government said.
The government added that it focused on increasing the number of childcare providers available so parents across the country would have more “choice, affordability and availability.”
He said the higher payment to those who use child care agencies reflects the higher costs of that route.
“This ensures that both paths are fairly incentivized,” he added.
Downing Street, for its part, reiterated its insistence on Friday that the prime minister had fulfilled his obligations by declaring his interest in the register of ministerial interests.
“All the interests of the prime minister have been declared in accordance with the process set out in the ministerial code,” he said.