Labour asks watchdog to investigate Sunak over wife’s interest in startup fund | Rishi Sunak | The Guardian

Labour has written to the standards watchdog to ask whether Rishi Sunak should have declared that companies co-owned by his wife were given £2m through his government scheme to help startups in the pandemic.

Lucy Powell, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, wrote to the commissioner for standards to ask whether they should have been declared in parliamentary proceedings, after the Guardian reported that four companies linked to Akshata Murty had received investments from the Future Fund.

None of Murty’s investments that benefited from the Future Fund appear publicly on Sunak’s register of ministerial interests and he did not reveal them when mentioning the scheme in the House of Commons.

Critics have raised concerns over a lack of transparency and the potential for a perceived conflict of interest given Sunak launched the scheme to help startups – a sector in which his wife is a known investor – despite warnings that the fund may not represent value for money.

Murty had a financial interest in Carousel Ventures, which owns an underwear business, as well as Mrs Wordsmith, an education company; Digme Fitness, a gym business; and The New Craftsmen, a furniture firm – all of which received loans from the Future Fund that later converted into equity stakes.

In her letter, Powell asked Daniel Greenberg, the commissioner, whether Sunak should have declared the interests when talking about the Future Fund during parliamentary proceedings.

“Members are required to declare any financial interests which satisfy the test of relevance, including indirect financial interests, such as the financial interests of a spouse or partner, or another family member,” she said.

“Despite this, the prime minister has talked about the Future Fund multiple times in the House of Commons without declaring his wife’s interests relating to businesses benefiting from this fund.”

Sunak launched the Future Fund to help emerging businesses during the pandemic but it has since been heavily criticised. The scheme allowed any eligible company to access funding if they had match funding from investors and passed required checks, so neither ministers nor the British Business Bank had a role in selecting which firms got money.

Powell highlighted that Sunak had been caught failing to abide by the rules of the house before when he did not mention his wife’s investment in a firm called Koru Kids when it was due to benefit from a policy announced in the budget.

“The public will rightly be concerned by conflict of interest, given the prime minister set up a £1bn Future Fund to help start ups against civil service advice and then four companies linked to his wife benefited,” she said.

“I would be grateful if you could investigate this situation, and report on whether the code has been breached, particularly: should the Future Fund loans to companies linked to the prime minister’s wife have been declared orally by the Rt Hon Member for Richmond (Yorks) when he mentioned the Future Fund in the house?”

A government spokesperson said: “Labour are showing their true anti-business colours in attacking a scheme that supported a range of businesses through the pandemic. Labour backed the Future Fund when it was introduced and were aware of the eligibility criteria for the scheme, so this is a deeply cynical U-turn on their position.”

The ministerial register declares that Murty owns Catamaran Ventures and is a venture capital investor with a number of shareholdings, without specifying them.

Sunak’s adviser on ministerial interests, whom he appointed this year, has said declaring all shareholdings would be an “excessive degree of intrusion into the private affairs of ministers that would be unreasonable, particularly in respect of their family members”.

However, in April this year Sunak had to declare that his wife had a shareholding in Koru Kids. The standards commissioner also found that Sunak should have declared the interest when asked about it in a select committee hearing.