Starmer says PM’s family interests show ’emerging pattern of behaviour’

Politics

Labour says there is an emerging “pattern of behaviour” after a company partially owned by the prime minister’s wife was revealed to have received taxpayer cash.

It comes after it was revealed that Akshata Murty held shares in a childcare company which stands to benefit from policy announced in the budget.

Ms Murty, who is the daughter of an Indian billionaire and was independently wealthy before marrying Rishi Sunak, controls an investment company called Catamaran Ventures Ltd.

As first reported by The Times, Catamaran has a stake in Study Hall – an education/technology start-up.

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In 2022, Study Hall received a £349,976 government grant through a body called Innovate UK, which is at an arm’s length from the national administration and helps companies developing new products or services.

Sir Keir Starmer was speaking from Blackpool as he campaigned ahead of Thursday’s local elections.

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He said: “I think there are questions to answer in relation to this, there seems to be an emerging pattern of behaviour here, so I think the sooner those questions are answered the better.”

Study Hall was founded by Sofia Fenichell, who previously ran a company called Mrs Wordsmith which collapsed in 2021 after also receiving state support, The Times reports.

The money given to the current venture covers the period between August 2022 and August 2023 – and so the bid would have been made before Rishi Sunak became prime minister, but likely while he was chancellor.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with an ice cream at Notarianni Ices during a visit to the seaside resort of Blackpool, Lancashire, whilst campaigning for the local elections on May 4. Picture date: Monday May 1, 2023.
Image:
Sir Keir was campaigning in Blackpool today

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According to Companies House, Ms Murty’s Catamaran Ventures holds 2,474 shares in Study Hall.

Decisions on what Innovate UK will invest in are made up by a panel of funders.

There is no suggestion of Ms Murty doing anything wrong, and she owns stakes in numerous companies – but this will likely increase calls for more transparency about her and her husband’s money and business interests.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “All declarations have been made, and due process followed to the letter.”

Mr Sunak is now subject to a parliamentary probe over why he did not declare his wife’s interest in a company called Koru Kids.

This childcare agency benefited from the budget in March of this year, but Mr Sunak did not mention his family’s role when speaking to MPs at the Liaison Committee – although he has since separately registered it on his list of ministerial interests.

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The Cabinet Office spokesman added: “The interests published are those that the independent adviser judges to be relevant – or could be perceived to be relevant – to each minister’s specific role and responsibilities.

“As set out in the document, the independent adviser has scrutinised the declarations made by all ministers, and he is ‘content that any actual, potential or perceived conflicts have been, or are in the process of being resolved’.”

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