Revealed: Former Tory chairman was secretly appointed as COVID advisor

The revelation raises fresh questions about the sometimes cosy links between ministers and lobbyists.

Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said the government should not be giving privileged access to power to “friends and donors”.

“The fact they do so time and time again, and with such little transparency raises grave concerns about what looks to be blatant cronyism,” she said.

Neither Lord Feldman nor Tulchan received any payment for the advisory work and there is no suggestion that the peer was involved in any procurement decisions. Tulchan said Lord Feldman stopped sitting in the Lords in June this year to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

David Cameron’s best friend

Once described by David Cameron’s as “one of my oldest and best friends”, Feldman attended Oxford with the former prime minister and was put into the House of Lords in 2010. He is director of the Conservative Foundation which aims to raise funds to ‘safeguard the Conservative Party’s finances’.

Feldman joined Tulchan in 2018. The PR firm’s clients include Bunzl, the FTSE 100 listed supplier to the NHS, which received contracts to supply PPE during the pandemic including a £18m order for type IIR masks, a £27m contract to supply examination gloves and a £17m deal to provide FFP3 masks — all awarded without a competitive tender process.

However, Bunzl pointed out that those orders were from NHS services in Scotland and Wales under their “longstanding” existing framework procurement arrangements which have been in place for many years. “Bunzl did not receive any orders for PPE from the central government procurement process convened by the Cabinet Office during the pandemic,” it said.

The agency also previously represented Syncona, a healthcare investment firm, which took part in seven meetings attended by Bethell, Feldman and health secretary Matt Hancock between April and June this year. Syncona ended its contract with Tulchan in June 2019.

Separately, Lord Feldman has a senior adviser role at TowerBrook Capital Partners, an investment management firm, which has “actively pursued” investments in the “healthcare arena for more than a decade”, according its website.

Among its investments was medical outsourcing firm Independent Clinical Services, which provides services to NHS including agency workers. TowerBrook, which declined to comment, announced it had sold ICS in September. ICS also declined to comment.

In a statement Tulchan said the peer was asked by the government in March if he would volunteer to help its COVID response: “This role was advisory and Andrew took no part in decisions made to award contracts or place orders with any companies. We disclosed our full client list.”

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