Top members of the last government administration did not leave ministers’ meetings where coronavirus business support schemes were being discussed in March 2020, despite declaring conflicts based on their private business interests.
The Ministerial Code states that members with interests ‘should remain entirely detached from the consideration of that business’ and that ministers ‘may consider it prudent to withdraw from the meeting to prevent any accusation that their continued presence may influence the judgement of the other ministers present’.
However, it is understood that the then Attorney General said they could stay.
Former chief minister Howard Quayle and the then minister for enterprise Lawrence Skelly both declared their ownership of tourism-related businesses during a Council of Ministers meeting on March 16, 2020, but both remained present.
This information was revealed by a freedom of information request to the government.
At another meeting on March 22 where the support schemes were again being discussed, Mr Skelly did not declare his interest, while Mr Quayle did so and then went on to play an active role in the meeting – for example by ‘advising that eligibility to the various schemes needed, as far as practicable, to be verified to ensure that businesses were not making a claim via their business interruption insurance and also via the various financial support schemes’.
In several other Council of Ministers meetings where support schemes were discussed, in May and June neither Mr Skelly nor Mr Quayle declared interests or absented themselves from the room.
However, the former chief minister did absent himself from a virtual (Microsoft Teams) meeting in September, as the owner of tourist accommodation.
Mr Skelly, despite his own interests previously declared in other meetings, took over and chaired this meeting.
Mr Quayle rejoined the meeting after various decisions were made, including that to extend the salary support scheme until March 2021 at a cost of £4.2 million.
The next year on January 14, 2021, at a Council of Ministers meeting where it was agreed to reintroduce the business support scheme during the circuit breaker lockdown, former infrastructure minister Tim Baker advised that he was a shareholder in a company that may benefit from the scheme, but did not leave the meeting.
Mr Baker had not previously declared an interest at other Council of Ministers meetings at which he had been present.
At this same meeting, then minister for home affairs Graham Cregeen also advised that his relations ‘might also benefit from self-employed business support’ but did not leave the room.
Mr Baker and Mr Cregeen went on to declare interests at subsequent meetings during that year, but did not leave the room.
Mr Quayle also absented himself from a virtual meeting on August 5, where an extension to the travel and tourism sector was being discussed.