Matt Hancock has been accused of using a personal Gmail account to conduct government business as officials warned against “optics” not to record important decisions.
The Sunday Times reported that minutes of the meeting viewed by the newspaper revealed that the former Health Secretary had been using a private email address since March 2020, which meant that key decisions and their rationale were not recorded or could be difficult to access for future investigation dealing with the coronavirus.
The Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) insisted that all ministers conduct their government business through the departmental email addresses.
But minutes of a meeting between senior officials from the department in December reportedly showed that David Williams, who was then the department’s second permanent secretary but has since moved to the Department of Defense, warned that Mr. Hancock was “only” concerned with his private office “Via Gmail account”.
The Sunday Times reported that Mr Williams said that “the SOS (Secretary of State) does not have a DHSC inbox” and that Health Secretary Lord Bethell also “routinely uses his private inbox” but that official accounts were later provided.
He said he “doesn’t think there has been any improper action on behalf of the ministers, but can clearly see that the visuals suggest otherwise”.
Cabinet guidelines state that when personal accounts are used for government business, either the sender or the recipient must “take steps to ensure that the relevant information is accessible (e.g. it can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Security risks can also exist when sensitive information is sent via private email.
The latest allegations against Mr Hancock come after his resignation on Saturday after the release of footage showing him violating social distancing guidelines by kissing assistant Gina Coladangelo.
The emergence of CCTV from Mr Hancock’s former office is seen as a security issue in itself, as Northern Irish Foreign Secretary Brandon Lewis said the DHSC will be trying to figure out how the footage was released as former cabinet ministers said they never had cameras in their offices .
Mr. Hancock is also being put on trial for the appointment of Ms. Coladangelo, a close friend he first met at university, first as an unpaid advisor in the department and then as a non-executive director.
Shadow Housing Secretary Lucy Powell said the email allegations go beyond other serious concerns.
She told Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News: “The Prime Minister seems to have a really dangerous blind spot when it comes to these issues and we are now also finding out that Matt Hancock used his own personal Gmail account to be effective Negotiate and discuss very large NHS contracts.
“This is in addition to other questions related to Michael Gove, Priti Patel and other government-paid jobs, and whether they are carried out according to the well-known principles of public life and the ministerial code of conduct that the Prime Minister unfortunately disregards seems whenever it suits him. “
A DHSC spokesman told the Sunday Times, “All DHSC ministers understand the rules of personal email use and conduct government business only through their departmental email addresses.”