“Clear answers” are needed from Sun on childcare policy, says Labour

Labor has called for “clear answers” about Rishi Sun’s involvement in developing childcare policy after the Treasury revealed officials met with a company part-owned by the prime minister’s wife ahead of the March Budget.

Opposition shadow children and junior minister Helen Hayes said it “raised eyebrows” that Treasury officials met ahead of the Budget with a company the Prime Minister personally profited from.

The Treasury revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Financial Times that its officials met with a representative of Koru Kids, the agency representing childminders, on February 22 this year.

The company was later one of the six that the list as part of the budget announcement for childcare agencies approved by the Treasury on 15 March, which aimed to increase the number of registered childcare providers.

The deal has sparked controversy because childminders who register with the agencies receive a £1,200 incentive from the government. Those who register directly with Ofsted, the government’s education watchdog, will receive £600.

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After the budget, Labor questioned the rationale for further encouraging registration through private companies. Further controversy arose after Sunak did not comment to ask questions in March before the House of Commons Liaison Committee that his wife Akshata Murthy is a shareholder of Koru Kids.

When asked by the committee if he had any interest in making a statement on the matter, Sunak replied: “No. All my postings will be published as usual.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, Hayes said: “The fact that the Treasury has met with a company that the Prime Minister personally benefits from ahead of the Spring Budget will raise eyebrows.”

The Parliament’s Commissioner for Standards, Daniel Greenberg, announced in April that he was investigating Sunak based on a section of the Parliament’s rules on failure to disclose a relevant interest. Representatives are obliged to mention their own or their close relatives’ relevant interests when they are discussed in parliament.

The government has also been criticized for taking too little time to consider the plans before making them public.

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“The public deserve a clear answer from the government about the role the Prime Minister has taken in her government’s rushed childcare plans,” Hayes said.

Treasury officials met with Tiney, one of the other companies on the six-person register, on February 23 this year and again on February 24, 2022.

There is no indication that finance ministry officials were aware of Murthy’s stake in Koru Kids when they met the company.

The government said it was “absolutely routine” for finance ministry officials to “engage a wide range of stakeholders across a range of sectors” ahead of the budget.

The government added that it is focusing on increasing the number of childcare providers available so that parents across the country have more “choice, affordability and availability”.

He said the higher pay for those using childcare agencies reflected the higher costs of the route.

“This ensures that both roads are fairly incentivized,” he added.

Downing Street, meanwhile, reiterated on Friday that it insists the prime minister has complied with his obligations by declaring his interest on the ministerial interests register.

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“All the interests of the prime minister were declared in accordance with the procedure specified in the ministerial code,” the statement said.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/ae611e3d-428b-4e43-a1db-eaeed926d4b8