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23 February 2024

Revealed: the Tory peer linked to £3.8bn in government contracts

New analysis reveals the scale of spending on companies in which John Nash has declared a financial interest.

By Will Dunn

Companies connected to the Conservative Party donor, life peer and former minister, John Nash, have received more than £3.8bn from government spending in the last eight years.

New analysis of government invoices by the New Statesman reveals the huge scale of public spending on companies in which Nash has a financial interest. Using invoice data collected by the public-sector procurement platform Tussell, the analysis shows that in less than a decade, companies linked to Nash have been paid more than 180,000 times by government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, police services and a wide range of other public bodies. 

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Nash or any of the companies to which he is connected. However, the breadth and scale of spending with these companies raises the question of whether it is appropriate for someone to occupy central roles in the operation of government while the companies in which they invest receive very large amounts of public money. 

Much of this spending has been with one company, Softcat, which has billed the public sector for £2.97bn across more than 47,000 invoices since 2016. Nash was a director of Softcat until 2013, and retains a significant shareholding: a recent filing with the London Stock Exchange shows he owns nearly six million shares in the company, with a value (at time of writing) of more than £88m. In 2023 alone, dividends paid on a stake this size would have been in excess of £2.2m.

The largest proportion of the money spent with Softcat – peaking at £343m in 2022 alone – was with the NHS. A further £731m was paid across more than 130,000 invoices to another major NHS provider, Care UK Community Partnerships, a company in which Nash has declared a shareholding in the House of Lords register of interests, and of which he was previously the chairman.

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Members of the House of Lords are required under current rules to declare any company in which they have invested more than £100,000, or in which they have a controlling interest. Nash has declared a financial interest in 75 companies in the most recent register of interests, of which at least 22 have received public money.

Companies in which Nash is an investor have also received grants of public money. Vertical Future, a vertical farming company based in London, has been awarded £573,000 in resource grants by Innovate UK since June 2020.

Four companies in which Nash has declared a financial interest were also the recipients of government loans from the Future Fund, which was set up by Rishi Sunak in April 2020 to keep companies afloat during the pandemic. Sorted Holdings, of which Nash was a shareholder until July 2023, received an £11.6m loan from the Future Fund and co-investors in 2021.

The New Statesman has repeatedly tried to contact Nash through the House of Lords but received no comment.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP, former chair of the Public Accounts Committee and member of the UK Governance Commission, said it was “completely inappropriate that an individual with political power and influence should be placing himself in a position to be accused of a conflict of interest at this scale”.

Hodge added that for a peer and former minister to receive millions of pounds from companies that profit from state spending “simply adds to the public’s view that everybody in politics is only in it for themselves”.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life told the New Statesman that while it does not comment on individual cases, “All holders of public office are expected to demonstrate the seven principles of public life – honesty, objectivity, openness, selflessness, integrity, accountability and leadership. These principles are a personal responsibility and also articulated in codes of conduct across the public sector.”

Nash, a venture capitalist and founder of the private equity firm Sovereign Capital, is a prominent political donor, having given almost £600,000 to the Conservative Party, according to data from the Electoral Commission. His wife, Caroline Nash, has donated more than £215,000. He became a non-executive director at the Department for Education in 2010 before being made schools minister in 2013. He has never been elected as an MP, but was able to become a minister when he was made a life peer, Baron Nash of Ewelme, by David Cameron.

In 2020, Nash was appointed by Boris Johnson as the government lead non-executive. In this powerful but little-understood role, Nash worked with Cabinet ministers to appoint and manage the non-executive directors, or Neds, who sit on the board of every government department. Neds were introduced in the 1990s to bring private-sector expertise into government, and they advise departments on issues including the recruitment of senior executives and procurement.

As a life peer, Nash also has the opportunity to vote on how the government procures goods and services from companies. He has voted on amendments to the Procurement Bill seven times in the past 18 months.

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