Bosses of firm in Sunak conflict of interest row ‘attended Downing Street reception’

Akshata Murty has shares in Koru Kids  (PA)
Akshata Murty has shares in Koru Kids (PA)

Bosses of a company in which Rishi Sunak’s wife has shares and that is expected to benefit from a new scheme unveiled in the Budget reportedly attended a Downing Street reception hours after the prime minister denied having an interest to declare.

Top staff of Koru Kids, which lists Akshata Murty as a shareholder, are understood to have been present at a No 11 event for the education sector on Wednesday evening, according to The Guardian.

The prime minister did not mention his wife’s links to the firm when MPs on the Commons Liaison Committee questioned him on Tuesday over why the announcement of a double bonus for childminders favoured private firms.

The Liberal Democrats said his omission raised serious questions and called for his ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, to investigate.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the PM "must explain why he failed to come clean" and provide a "proper explanation" of any steps he took to avoid any conflict of interest.

The company’s presence at the No 11 event, which was hosted by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, could raise further questions over a potential conflict of interest, even though neither Mr Sunak nor his wife attended the reception.

This month Mr Hunt announced a pilot of incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession, a sum that doubles to £1,200 if they sign up through an agency.

Koru Kids is one of six private providers likely to benefit from the pilot scheme. Welcoming the Budget, the firm said the new incentives were “great”.

At Tuesday’s committee hearing, when the prime minister was pressed on the rationale for the double bonuses, he said: “I think it’s a reflection of the fact that they are through intermediaries so there are additional costs. And, ultimately, we want to make sure the policy is effective in bringing additional people into the system.”

Ministers are expected to provide a written list of all financial interests that might give rise to a conflict of interest.

The “interests of their spouse, partner or close family members” are included in the information expected to be handed over. But they may not appear on the finished list if there is deemed not to be an issue. The public register of ministerial interests was last updated in June.

On Wednesday a spokeswoman for the PM said: “As the PM said yesterday, all interests have been declared in the usual way.”

It is understood that the Cabinet Office was told about Ms Murty’s interest in Koru Kids previously but it was not deemed necessary for it to appear on the public register of ministerial interests, which was last updated in June 2022.

Mr Sunak’s press secretary acknowledged that details of Ms Murty’s holding in the agency were not in the public domain but indicated they would be included in the next updated register, due out in May.

“The ministerial code sets out a process by which ministers declare their interests. They do that in writing, in this case to the cabinet secretary. That process was followed to the letter by the prime minister,” she said.

Of the No 11 reception, a Treasury spokesperson told The Guardian: “After announcing a massive expansion of free childcare provision at the budget, sector engagement is a vital part of delivering the policy.

“The chancellor and education secretary held a reception with around 60 attendees to mark the transformational childcare package, and the government is committed to working closely with industry to deliver it.”

Koru Kids declined to comment.