Hancock accused of using private email for government business

·3-min read

Matt Hancock has been accused of using a private Gmail account to conduct government business as officials warned of the “optics” of not recording key decisions.

The Sunday Times reported that minutes of meetings seen by the newspaper revealed that the former health secretary had been using a private email address since March 2020, which meant that key decisions and their reasoning were not recorded or could be difficult to access for any future inquiry into the handling of coronavirus.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted that all ministers conduct their government business through departmental email addresses.

But the minutes from a meeting between senior officials in the department in December reportedly showed that David Williams, who was then the department’s second permanent secretary but has since moved to the Ministry of Defence, warned that Mr Hancock “only” dealt with his private office “via Gmail account”.

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The Sunday Times reported that Mr Williams said “the SOS (secretary of state) does not have a DHSC inbox” and that health minister Lord Bethell also “routinely uses his private inbox”, but that official accounts had been provided afterwards.

He said he “doesn’t believe there was inappropriate acts on behalf of ministers but can clearly see the optics suggest otherwise”.

Cabinet Office guidelines say that if personal accounts are used for government business, either the sender or receiver must “take steps to ensure the relevant information is accessible (e.g. by copying it to a Government email address)” for record-keeping purposes but also so it can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

There may also be security risks if sensitive information is sent via private email.

The latest allegations levelled at Mr Hancock come after his resignation on Saturday following the publication of footage of him breaking social distancing guidelines by kissing aide Gina Coladangelo.

The emergence of CCTV from inside Mr Hancock’s former office is itself considered a security issue, as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the DHSC will seek to find out how the footage became public, as former cabinet ministers have said they never had cameras in their offices.

Mr Hancock is also coming under scrutiny over the appointment of Mrs Coladangelo, a close friend he first met at university, first as an unpaid adviser in the department and then as a non-executive director.

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Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said the email allegations come on top of other serious concerns.

She told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “The Prime Minister seems to have a really dangerous blind spot when it comes to these issues, and we now also find out that Matt Hancock was using his own private Gmail account to undertake effectively negotiations and discussions about very large NHS contracts.

“That comes on top of other questions relating to Michael Gove, Priti Patel and others about the handing out of government contracts so, yes, there are some very serious issues here that seem to cut across the whole of Government about how government contracts, government paid-for jobs are being handed out and whether they are being done in accordance with the known principles of public life and in accordance with the Ministerial Code of Conduct, which, I’m afraid, the Prime Minister seems to disregard whenever it suits him.”

A DHSC spokesman told the Sunday Times: “All DHSC ministers understand the rules around personal email usage and only conduct Government business through their departmental email addresses.”

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