The chair of the government’s vaccine taskforce has reportedly used £670,000 of the taxpayers’ money on her own team of PR consultants.
Kate Bingham was appointed in May and since June has used eight-full time PR consultants, on the equivalent of £165,000 salaries, to oversee her media strategy, according to the Sunday Times.
Documents leaked to the newspaper show she has already spent £500,000 on the team from London PR agency Admiral Associates, which is contracted until the end of the year.
The decision was not signed off by the business secretary Alok Sharma but by civil servants, despite concerns the consultants would duplicate the work of communications staff at BEIS.
The consultants are reported to have helped Bingham prepare for media appearances, draft statements and oversee a vaccines podcast called Covid-19: The Search for a Vaccine.
The government is already facing accusations of cronyism following the appointment of Baroness Dido Harding, whose husband is Conservative MP John Penrose as head of the Test and Trace system.
This recent episode will only add fuel to the fire. Married to Conservative MP Jesse Norman, Bingham is a friend of the Johnson family having attended school with the PM’s sister Rachel and university with Boris Johnson.
The Sunday Times also reported that Bingham is due to appear at a conference hosted by Californian biotech firm Biocom, which charges $2,460 a ticket. She is reportedly advertised solely as head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce to discuss finding and manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine.
It comes after the Sunday Times reported Bingham had shown “official sensitive” government documents at a $200-a-head conference last month. Bingham showed a list of vaccines the UK government is closely monitoring at a “premier webinar networking event” for women in private equity.
The vaccine tsar rejected the allegations and told a joint select committee last week that the report was “nonsense”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible”.
The government defended Bingham and said she had focused “on publicly available information and said little that expert delegates at the conference could not deduce themselves.”
Last night, Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, told the Sunday Times: “At a time of national crisis, people don’t want to see huge sums of taxpayers’ money needlessly sprayed on spin doctors or management consultants.
“There needs to be a breakdown of this expenditure and proper justification as to how it actually helps the national effort in tackling this pandemic.”