The Times reported on “Vaccine tsar Kate Bingham” running up a £670,000 PR bill. But that’s only the thin end of the wedge.
Boris Johnson went to Eton at the same time as Tory Jesse Norman MP, who is married to Kate Bingham. Now, with appearances at £2,000-a-head conferences and a huge PR bill, her conduct is worrying Whitehall.
Since June she has used eight full-time consultants from Admiral Associates, a London PR agency, to oversee her media strategy.
SV Health Investors raised its first biotech fund, which has closed at its hard cap of $265m. The IMF is SV’s first dedicated biotech fund and it will aim to turn scientific breakthroughs into biotech companies producing high impact precision medicine drugs for poorly treated diseases. The fund secured investments from pharmaceutical companies, family offices, pension funds and charities such as Cancer Research UK.
“Our goal is to transform healthcare one investment at a time, by supporting the entrepreneurs who create and build breakthrough companies and treatments”.
According to leaked documents, Bingham has already spent £500,000 on the team, which is contracted until the end of the year. It means each consultant is on the equivalent of £167,000 a year — more than the prime minister’s salary.
Bingham, 55, below, is said to have “insisted” on hiring them despite concerns they would duplicate the work of about 100 communications staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), in which her taskforce sits. The decision was signed off by civil servants, not Alok Sharma, the business secretary.
A brochure refers to Bingham in her government role and not as managing director of SV Health Investors, the venture capital firm. It says she will discuss her efforts to “find and manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine”. The disclosures will add to pressure for Bingham to resign.
BEIS declined to give detail of the consultants’ work. They are understood to help Bingham prepare for media appearances, draft statements and to oversee a vaccines podcast on Spotify. One Whitehall source said “I don’t know what they do.” Another said “They’re bossing around civil servants but no one knows who they are, what their experience is or what authority they have.”
A third Whitehall source said the team of consultants helped Bingham with day-to-day “comms works”, such as appearing in interviews and preparing press statements, and had set up a podcast co-presented by Bingham called Covid-19: The Search for a Vaccine. Yet despite average earnings equivalent to £167,000 a year the consultants have not helped Bingham answer a number of questions stemming from last week’s revelations.
On Wednesday, Bingham told a joint select committee that our report last week was “nonsense”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible”. Asked if she had disclosed information not in the public domain to the financiers, she told MPs “No.” The Times then sent BEIS a list of statements made by Bingham during the talk, asking for evidence that the information was already public. None was supplied.
It is unclear how Boris Johnson came to appoint Kate Bingham to chair Britain’s vaccine taskforce, because there was no formal process. The 55-year-old venture capitalist’s establishment connections are unlikely to have hurt, however.
Bingham went to school with Johnson’s sister, Rachel, and studied at Oxford at the same time as the prime minister. In May, Johnson called Bingham and asked her to take the role, prompting her to say “I’m not a vaccine expert, why should I be the right person?” Johnson reassured her the skills she had gained working in private equity would help. On saying yes, Bingham became a more influential public servant than most ministers. She is responsible for investing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ funds in Covid-19 vaccines that could offer a route out of repeated lockdowns as soon as next spring.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and by her own admission “I’m not a vaccine expert, why should I be the right person?” that point is proved. But, as the Times shows, follow the money! It always takes you to the mostly anonymous financiers, who are always into the public money, taxpayers’ money. Look for cronies, look below!