The UK parliament’s standards watchdog has opened a probe into Rishi Sunak over allegations he failed to declare that his wife had a financial interest in a company that could profit from policy changes by his government.
The investigation, which became public on Monday, comes after complaints that the prime minister did not disclose that his wife, Akshata Murty, held shares in Koru Kids, which registers childminders.
The company, one of six agencies named by the government for childminders to use, was set to benefit from a pilot of incentive payments announced in the Budget last month.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the government would offer “payments of £600 for childminders who sign up to the profession, rising to £1,200 for those who join through an agency” in a push to reverse a “significant decline in childminders over recent years”.
Daniel Greenberg, parliamentary commissioner for standards, gave no details of the allegation. But a person familiar with the process confirmed that the investigation, which opened on April 13, concerned Koru Kids.
Downing Street said: “We are happy to assist the commissioner to clarify how this has been transparently declared as a ministerial interest.”
Greenberg said the probe was into an allegation under paragraph six of the parliamentary code, which says MPs must “always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest” to the Commons or its committees. Declarations also apply to close family members of MPs.
On March 28, Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, probed Sunak’s possible interest in childcare at a meeting of the Commons liaison committee.
McKinnell asked Sunak why the government had chosen to offer childminders a higher bonus if they registered themselves through an agency.
After Sunak told her the system had been “designed with the sector”, McKinnell asked if he wished to declare anything in relation to the issue.
According to a transcript of the session, Sunak replied: “No. All my disclosures are declared in the normal way.”
Asked if Sunak understood he had separate duties to note his interests in the written register of interests and declare any relevant interests when discussing them, Downing Street later said the commissioner had indicated he would address that.
Number 10 added that Sunak’s view had been reflected in a letter he sent to the Liaison committee on Monday, in which he insisted that Murty’s stake in Koru Kids had been “rightly” declared to the Cabinet Office.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the government’s failure to update the rules on ministerial interests or publish the register in almost a year had left a “transparency black hole”, adding: “[It] is enabling the prime minister and those he has appointed to dodge proper scrutiny of their affairs.”
Companies House, the UK corporate register, shows that Murty holds two batches of shares in privately held Koru Kids. She holds 20,000 ordinary shares and 7,100 Series A ordinary shares in the company. There are four different share types issued in the company and it has 67 separate batches of shares.
Because the group is exempt from filing a public profit and loss account with Companies House, it is not clear what dividend or other earnings her shareholding might yield.
If Greenberg finds an MP has failed to declare an interest but the MP disagrees, Greenberg can pass the matter for investigation to the House of Commons standards committee. The group has the power to impose sanctions, including suspension from the Commons, although they are rarely used over declarations.