A PR firm handed a £670,000 contract by the head of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce is linked to Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law, it was claimed today.
Vaccine tsar Kate Bingham has faced a storm of criticism over a decision to bill the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds for a team of eight boutique PR consultants.
The firm hired by Ms Bingham is said to be Admiral Public Relations and one of its directors is reportedly a business associate of Sir Humphry Wakefield, Mr Cummings’ father-in-law.
The Financial Times reported that Companies House filings show one of the directors of the firm is Angus Collingwood Cameron.
He is also said to be park manager and a director of Chillingham Castle Wild Cattle Association along with Sir Humphry who owns the castle.
An ally of Ms Bingham told the newspaper that the PR firm had been recommended by a ‘senior medic’ and civil servants had negotiated the contract.
The awarding of the contract has prompted questions from Labour about the Government’s procurement process.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: ‘These revelations raise yet more serious questions about how taxpayer money is being spent during the pandemic and how the government is being run.
‘The public deserve urgent answers as to how a small PR agency with close links to the PM’s closest advisor was simply gifted such a large contract – and what exactly was delivered for such a price tag.’
But tonight Downing Street hit back, with a No 10 spokeswoman saying: ‘It is ridiculous to make such an imaginary and tenuous link. Dominic Cummings has never heard of Georgina or Angus Cameron.
‘Specialist communications support was procured by the Vaccine Taskforce in line with proper practice.’
Kate Bingham, the head of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, has been criticised after spending £670,000 on PR consultants
Today it was claimed that the firm hired by Ms Bingham is linked to the father-in-law of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser
One of the directors of the PR firm is said to be an associate of Sir Humphry Wakefield, whose journalist daughter Mary is married to Mr Cummings
Who is Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law? A reality TV star and friend of Prince Philip who owns ‘Britain’s most haunted castle’
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, is married to the journalist Mary Wakefield.
The couple married in 2011 and have one child together.
Sir Humphry Wakefield is Mr Cummings’ father-in-law and he hit the headlines in August this year after he reportedly suggested Mr Johnson was planning to quit as PM after struggling to recover from coronavirus.
Sir Humphry is said to have made the claim to a holidaymaker who visited his castle in Northumberland, prompting a swift rejection from Mr Johnson.
It was not the first time that Baronet Sir Humphry, 84, a former soldier and interior designer has been in the public eye.
He owns Chillingham Castle which pitches itself to visitors as Britain’s ‘most haunted historic castle’.
It is Grade I star listed and dates back to the 13th century and has been in his wife’s family ever since, although his own family’s main home was in the Lake District until the 1980s.
He once staged a wedding for his beloved bull terrier Brigand in the castle chapel and, in 2014, caused a stir when he appeared on Channel 4’s Can’t Get The Staff, complaining how tricky it was to find staff to help with the upkeep.
Sir Humphry is a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh, an antiques expert and keen horseman.
Educated at Gordonstoun school in Scotland – which the Prince of Wales later attended – he went on to Cambridge University before serving in the 10th Royal Hussars, reaching the rank of captain. He later became an interior designer.
In 2012 he featured on another reality television show, the Guest Wing, which met aristocrats who open up their stately homes to paying visitors.
He managed to offend one set of paying guests on the programme – who lived in a 1960s semi in Gateshead – by setting out tactlessly why he wouldn’t have wanted his children to marry people like them.
‘It’s much easier to marry into your own bracket,’ he told the programme.
‘You have everything in common: jokes, relatives… I don’t count myself as aristocracy. I consider myself in a certain gentrified bracket and I’m happy with that.’
The awarding of the contract was raised in the House of Lords this afternoon by the Liberal Democrats, and Government minister Lord Callanan said: ‘The first thing to point out is that Dominic Cummings had no role whatever in any of these procurement processes or appointments.
‘The specialist communications support was contracted by the Vaccine Taskforce.’
It came after Matt Hancock today denied Ms Bingham had been told to step down after a backlash over the PR spending.
Yesterday it emerged she is due to leave her role at the end of the year and Mr Hancock said this morning that she had not been told to quit.
The Health Secretary said Ms Bingham had been ‘incredibly important’ in leading the Government’s efforts to purchase potential coronavirus vaccines.
He said that ‘was always a six month project’ and Ms Bingham ‘was always clear that she couldn’t do it for longer than that’.
Whitehall insiders suggested yesterday that Ms Bingham’s contract ran until the end of the year and she had always intended to leave at that point.
Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson had full confidence in his vaccines tsar, a biochemist and venture capitalist married to the Conservative minister Jesse Norman, and praised her work in securing access to potential coronavirus vaccines.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio the £670,000 bill for spin doctors ‘can’t be justified’.
Speaking to Times Radio this morning, Mr Hancock was asked if Ms Bingham is standing down at the end of the year.
He replied: ‘Well, I want to pay tribute to the work that the Vaccine Taskforce has done and Kate Bingham has led that taskforce, delivering the purchasing of 340 million doses of six different vaccines, including of course this one and the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine.
‘That is an incredibly important substantive piece of work. When Kate Bingham came in, she has come in as so many other people have done to support the national effort, bringing in commercial skills which have been incredibly important in buying these absolutely crucial vaccines.
‘That was always a six month project and I just want to say, put on the record, my thanks to the Vaccine Taskforce for the work they have done, putting the UK in such a string position globally to be at the forefront of the ability to roll these vaccines out.’
Mr Hancock said the role of the Vaccine Taskforce was to buy the doses and it will be for the NHS to deploy them.
‘The deployment is my responsibility and is being delivered by the NHS with the support of the armed services and the taskforce’s job, very explicitly, has been to support the science and to do the buying,’ he said.
Mr Hancock denied that Ms Bingham had been asked to stand down as he insisted her departure had always been planned.
He said: ‘That is correct. Not only was it always a six month job but she was always clear that she couldn’t do it for longer than that and the Vaccine Taskforce has done a great job to put us into this position where we have a significant proportion of the global supply of the very first vaccine and indeed the Oxford vaccine which is the other frontrunner and I think we should all be very grateful to the work they have done.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said yesterday the decision to hire the PR advisers was signed off by officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today denied that Ms Bingham had been asked to stand down from her role as head of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce
Ms Bingham has also been forced to deny claims she shared commercially sensitive information with investors.
Ms Bingham has vehemently denied revealing potentially sensitive information to investors at a conference, branding reports about it as ‘nonsense’ and ‘inaccurate’.
The Sunday Times reported that at the conference, which was streamed online to anyone for a fee of 200 US dollars (£156), she revealed the names of several companies that the Government had not yet publicly said it was interested in potentially working with.
But Ms Bingham told MPs that she divulged ‘nothing commercially sensitive, nothing confidential’.
A response by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that they had approved the content, and that there was nothing which was not publicly available nor could be readily deduced.
A Whitehall source said Ms Bingham had ‘always been clear’ that she would only remain at the head of the Vaccine Taskforce until the end of the year.