A boss at the PR firm handed £670,000 of taxpayers’ cash by the government’s vaccine tsar works with Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law and runs a caviar company, where he touts himself as an expert on “indulgence”.
Angus Collingwood-Cameron is the company secretary of Admiral Associates, which has reportedly been hired by the under-fire head of the government’s vaccine taskforce, Kate Bingham, to oversee her media strategy.
Company filings reveal that Collingwood-Cameron is also a director at the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, which is run by Sir Humphry Wakefield, the father-in-law of Boris Johnson’s top aide.
The Liberal Democrats said the revelations “beggar belief” and called for Bingham to quit, while Labour said the public deserve “urgent answers” on the contract.
It came after the Sunday Times reported that Bingham, who is married to Tory minister Jesse Norman, had already spent £500,000 on a team of eight full-time consultants from London PR agency Admiral Associates.
They are contracted to the end of the year, which means each consultant is being paid more than £83,000 for about half a year’s work – more than the prime minister’s average salary, the report said.
Whitehall insiders have indicated that Bingham is expected to leave her role when her contract expires at the end of the year.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven said the contract for Admiral Associates was a “colossal waste” of taxpayers’ money.
He told HuffPost UK: “Over the weekend, the reports that £670,000 of taxpayers’ money had been spent on PR consultants at the hands of the government’s vaccine taskforce rightly outraged many.
“However, the fact that one of the directors at the firm in receipt of this huge sum of money not only advertises his expertise in ‘indulgence’, but also happens to be a director at Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law’s country estate, really beggars belief.
“Once again we are seeing this government putting lining their friends’ pockets ahead of getting a grip on the spread of this virus.
“Rather than spending money on Caviar consultants, this government should be using taxpayers’ money wisely, especially when in contrast so many families are struggling to get by.
“Not only must the government make it clear to parliament and the public what these consultants offered that their civil servant press officers didn’t to justify this payment, but considering the clear colossal waste of taxpayer’s money it is only right Kate Bingham and others involved in such scandals resign.”
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said the decision to hire the PR advisers was signed off by officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“Specialist communications support was contracted by the vaccine taskforce for a time-limited period in line with existing public sector recruitment practices and frameworks,” he said.
Asked whether the PM had full confidence in Bingham, the spokesperson said: “Yes. The work of the vaccine task force is obviously of great importance and we have secured agreements for 350m doses overall of six leading vaccine candidates.”
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “These revelations raise yet more serious questions about how taxpayer money is being spent during the pandemic and how the government is being run.
“The public deserve urgent answers as to how a small PR agency [whose boss is linked to Cummings] was simply gifted such a large contract – and what exactly was delivered for such a price tag.
“The prime minister must be transparent about the processes he has put in place to allow such potential breaches of public trust.”
Responding to a question from Lord Scriven on the revelations, business minister Lord Callanan told the Lords: “Dominic Cummings had no role whatsoever in any of these procurement processes or in any of these appointments.
“The specialist communications support was contracted by the vaccines taskforce.
“Details of all arrangements and all firms and contract labour used by the taskforce will be published in due course with the usual transparency arrangements.”
Later on Tuesday, a No.10 spokesperson said: “It is ridiculous to make such an imaginary and tenuous link. Dominic Cummings has never heard of Georgina or Angus Cameron.
“Specialist communications support was procured by the vaccine taskforce in line with proper practice.”