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Firm at centre of Sunak conflict of interest row attended Downing Street event

<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Bosses of the childcare firm at the centre of a Rishi Sunak conflict of interest row attended a Downing Street reception just hours after he was pressed by MPs over his links with the provider, the Guardian has learned.

Koru Kids, which lists the prime minister’s wife, Akshata Murty, as a shareholder and is expected to benefit from changes announced in the budget, is understood to have been present at a No 11 reception for the education sector on Wednesday evening.

The company’s presence at the event, which was hosted by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, and the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, will raise further questions over the prime minister’s family links, even though neither he nor his wife attended the reception.

The company is one of six private providers likely to benefit from a pilot scheme proposed by the chancellor to incentivise people to become childminders, with £1,200 offered to those who train through the agency.

Sunak did not mention his wife’s interest when speaking about the childcare changes at his appearance before the liaison committee on Tuesday.

He was asked by the Labour MP Catherine McKinnell whether he had anything to declare. “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way,” he replied.

It is understood that the Cabinet Office was told about 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.

However, Sunak is still facing questions over whether he may have broken the MPs’ code of conduct, which suggests that any shareholding that “might reasonably be thought by others to influence a member’s actions or words” would be a breach.

It is understood the government considers that a Commons declaration is not needed in relation to Sunak’s family interest because any potential conflict would already have been addressed and mitigated under the ministerial declaration process.

However, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “Rishi Sunak was forced to refer himself to the previous ethics watchdog over his family’s financial affairs when he was chancellor, but the questions over his conflicts of interest just keep coming now he is sitting in No 10.

“Far from cleaning up after years of Tory sleaze, this prime minister has chosen to preserve the rotten ethics regime of his predecessors and failed to ensure the register of ministers’ interests is kept up to date.“

A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister declared this as a ministerial interest as required. The ministerial interests regime ensures there is no conflict of interest that may arise.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “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.