Labour has asked the cabinet secretary to “undertake an urgent and swift investigation” into the vaccines taskforce chief after it was claimed she showed US financiers “official sensitive” government documents at a $200-a-head conference last week.
Kate Bingham, the head of Britain’s vaccine taskforce, showed a detailed list of vaccines which the UK government is closely monitoring to a “premier webinar and networking event” for women in private equity hosted by a Massachusetts company, the Sunday Times claimed.
Bingham, a venture capitalist married to the Conservative minister Jesse Norman, was appointed to the role by Boris Johnson in May and reports directly to him. She combines her job leading the vaccine taskforce with her role as managing director of SV Health Investors, a private equity firm.
Government sources have suggested that the documents were already in the public domain and were incorrectly labelled by the government as “official sensitive”.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “As part of her role she was taking part in close discussions with a wide range of pharmaceutical and manufacturing firms.”
According to a video of the event obtained by the newspaper, she showed financiers a detailed list of vaccines which the UK government was closely monitoring and could later invest in. Bingham said: “We haven’t necessarily signed contracts with all of them so far. But they’re all in our sights.”
Several of the vaccines are owned or funded by publicly traded companies.
Bingham also described the types of vaccine to which the government will turn its attention next. The “sort of thing we need” for midway through next year, she said, were “oral, transdermal, even intranasal” — applied through the mouth, skin and nose.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, wrote to Simon Case on Monday asking for him to launch a swift inquiry.
Among the questions Reeves has asked the cabinet secretary to address were whether any aspects of the information the chair of the UK government vaccine taskforce shared at this online conference were not already in the public domain; how the government might ensure that any unfair advantage given to participants or commercial delegates will be dealt with; and who in government was consulted before Bingham agreed to take part in the conference.
She continued: “Precisely who is the current chair of the UK government vaccine taskforce accountable to? Under what UK government code of conduct does this role fall? Will the government publish which code of conduct this is and the full details of it to reassure public confidence?
“What measures has government taken to both ensure transparency and prevent conflicts of interests or perceived conflicts of interest?”
The government released a statement stating that they were addressing inaccuracies in Sunday’s report, without specifically identifying the alleged inaccuracies.
“The fact of her appearance and the content of her presentation received approval from officials at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in line with the process governing such engagements. Bingham focused on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not deduce themselves,” the statement said.