Iain Duncan Smith accused of ‘brazen conflict of interest’ over £25,000 job

Duncan Smith was a director of Byotrol between June 2009 and May 2010 and has previously declared share options. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

The Guardian
By Ben Quinn

Ex-Tory leader chaired government taskforce that recommended new rules benefiting firm he was employed by

Iain Duncan Smith is facing questions over his £25,000-a-year second job advising a multimillion-pound hand sanitiser company after he chaired a government taskforce that recommended new rules benefiting the firm.

The MP and former Conservative party leader chaired the Task Force on Innovation, Growth, and Regulatory Reform, which reported back in May after he and two other MPs were asked by Boris Johnson to recommend ways of cutting supposed EU red-tape.

However, the fresh spotlight on moonlighting by MPs has now prompted questions about the taskforce’s recommendations that alcohol-free hand sanitisers should be formally recognised as suitable for use in the UK.

The report made no reference to Duncan Smith’s relationship with Byotrol, which provides the NHS with 92% of its non-alcohol sanitiser. It retains the former Tory leader as an adviser for £25,000 a year, according to his declaration in parliament’s register of members’ interests.

In a message to investors after the recommendations of Duncan Smith and his fellow former ministers George Freeman and Theresa Villiers, Byotrol welcomed how an “influential UK government-sponsored taskforce has recommended a regulatory ‘green light’ for alcohol-free hand sanitisers”. Its directors were also quoted in a report as saying that it delivered a “powerful boost” to the firm.

The taskforce said in its report: “Current guidelines in the UK on non-alcohol based hand sanitisers are unclear. As a result, there is confusion in industry and among consumers as to what products are safe and effective to use, and we may be unnecessarily limiting the range of sanitising products available.” It called on the government to review guidance “to place alcohol- and non-alcohol-based on a level playing field”.

Duncan Smith was a director of Byotrol between June 2009 and May 2010 and has previously declared share options. Both have been approached for comment.

Byotrol, which is based in Cheshire, said in August that its revenue almost doubled and its pre-tax profits rocketed by more than 600% following “exceptional demand” for its sanitising technologies due to the pandemic. It reported a revenue of £11.2m for the 12 months to 31 March, up from £6m the previous year.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “The prime minister needs to explain why he think it is justified for one of his MPs to be paid by a company that stands to benefit from a recommendation of a taskforce chaired by that same MP. This is exactly the kind of brazen conflict of interest that proves that the Conservatives think it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

“Did this MP declare an interest when these matters were discussed and reported on by the taskforce? Why is the prime minister failing to act over these glaring conflicts of interest?”

Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, said: “The informality of a government taskforce might seem like an agile way to develop new policy but without basic governance arrangements it provides an open door to vested interests. If those proposing a major reform [could] benefit from it financially, this should at least be a matter of public record and probably should be subject to independent review.”

The health sector featured prominently in the recommendations of the taskforce, which called for the ripping up of EU data protection laws and the system for clinical trials for drugs. Brexit afforded the UK a “one-off opportunity” to set out a bold new UK regulatory framework, it said.

Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, is one of a number of Conservatives who have been moonlighting in the health sector. As well as being retained by Byotrol, Duncan Smith is a member of the international advisory board of Tunstall Health Group, earning £20,000 a year for up to 30 hours of work on top of his basic annual MP’s salary of £81,932.

Others Tory MPs working in the healthcare sector – in some cases for companies that have benefited from lucrative Covid-19 contracts – include Steve Brine, a former junior health minister.

Brine works with Remedium Partners, a recruitment agency for the NHS, and also for Sigma Pharmaceuticals. NHS test and trace announced in May that Sigma would provide lateral flow device test kits to community pharmacies. Brine’s declaration in the register of members’ interests states that he is a “strategic adviser” to Sigma and receives £1,666 a month. “I am a strategic adviser to both, not a lobbyist,” he said.

Richard Fuller, the MP for North East Bedfordshire, earned £65,000 from a second job at venture capital firm Investcorp Securities Ltd, which included £30,000 for “consultancy work on the impact of Covid on portfolio companies”. Those companies included Cambio, a private health firm which secured a £63,000 NHS contract without competition from other providers.

Alun Cairns, the former Welsh secretary, took a job advising a science company, BBI Group, involved in Covid testing in July during a period when the government was under pressure to increase testing.