• Tuesday, May 21, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Sunak’s childcare policy under fire as Akshata’s firm set to benefit

The pilot scheme could lead to an increase in the number of childminders and generate more business for firms such as Koru Kids, a firm in which the prime minister’s wife is a shareholder

Akshata Murty and Rishi Sunak

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Questions have been raised about a potential conflict of interest for Rishi Sunak, as his wife’s childcare firm, Koru Kids, is set to benefit from significant budget changes. Akshata Murty, the prime minister’s wife, is a shareholder in the company, which is expected to receive funding from a pilot scheme designed to encourage people to become childminders.

The scheme, which offers £1,200 to individuals who train to become childminders through an agency, is part of Jeremy Hunt’s proposal.

During his appearance before the liaison committee on Tuesday (28), Sunak made no mention of his wife’s stake in the childcare industry when discussing the proposed changes.

When asked by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell if he had anything to declare, he responded by saying, “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.”

The Cabinet Office was informed about Murty’s involvement with Koru Kids earlier, but it was not considered necessary to include in the public register of ministerial interests, which was last updated in June 2022.

The register only mentions Sunak’s wife owning a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd, without specifying any of its shareholdings.

After the reports were initially revealed by a newspaper, the Liberal Democrats called on Sunak to ensure he had not violated the ministerial code regarding his handling of the conflict of interest.

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem chief whip, wrote to Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, highlighting the provision in the code which requires ministers to avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.

It also mandates them to steer clear of any potential conflicts between their ministerial role and private financial interests to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has called on Rishi Sunak to clarify why his wife’s shareholding in Koru Kids was not deemed necessary to include in the register of members’ interests. Rayner has stated that Sunak must provide an explanation and take steps to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest.

Following the reports of Akshata Murty’s shareholding in Koru Kids, Rishi Sunak’s press secretary stated that the details were not public but would be included in the upcoming statement of ministers’ interests in May.

The press secretary also explained that ministers declare their interests to the Cabinet Secretary in writing, as per the ministerial code. The prime minister had followed this process meticulously, the press secretary added.

MPs and others cannot access the declarations made to the Cabinet Office immediately. When questioned about this issue, Sunak’s press secretary stated that MPs are generally required to mention any declared interests if asked about them in a committee.

However, as per the press secretary, Sunak was not specifically asked about the interest in question.

As part of the government’s childcare reforms, a pilot scheme was introduced in the Budget on 15 March, offering bonuses for childminders. Hunt, the minister responsible for the pilot, announced that incentive payments of £600 would be made to childminders who join the profession directly, rising to £1,200 for those who sign up through an agency.

This pilot scheme could lead to an increase in the number of childminders and generate more business for firms such as Koru Kids.

Koru Kids is among the six childminder agencies listed on the government’s website. The agency has expressed its support for the government’s childcare reforms, including the new incentives for childminders.

On its website, Koru Kids mentions that new childminders would receive a bonus of £1,200 if they sign up through an agency such as Koru Kids, which provides community, training, and ongoing support.

(With inputs from The Guardian and BBC)

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