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Latest 02 March 2024

Winner of huge public contracts becomes Tories’ biggest ever donor

A company run by the Tories’ largest donor, Frank Hester, now wants to roll out AI solutions across the NHS. His ‘long conversations’ with the Prime Minister must be disclosed.

Frank Hester, who has made a fortune supplying computer systems to the NHS, has just become the Conservative Party’s biggest ever donor. This week, the Electoral Commission will report a second gift of £5m to the Tories – taking his total to a cool £10m.

Hester is adamant that his donations have nothing to do with the £135m his company, The Phoenix Partnership, has already received from the Department of Health and Social Care for supplying computer systems to the NHS. According to the Telegraph, he just thinks the country is “blessed” to have Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister.

However, the Phoenix Partnership has recently announced it has “a suite of AI solutions about to launch, focussed on the NHS’s key clinical and operations priorities”. And Hester boasted: “I’ve had some quite long conversations with Rishi about AI and it’s not just that he understands it,” Hester said, “we were talking about different algorithms.”

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But so far, official records – which run up to September 2023 – make no mention of the Prime Minister’s cosy chats with Hester. Perhaps one of them was during the £16,000 helicopter ride Hester’s company gave Sunak in November.

Most of the contracts have been awarded through Government framework agreements stretching back to 2009. But Hester’s record donations also seem to have won him a direct line to Downing Street.

The Government is lining up massive spending on AI services for the public sector. And the industrial-scale – and unlawful – cronyism we’ve exposed emphasises the importance of ensuring our future isn’t carved up in backroom deals.

We approached both The Phoenix Partnership and Number 10 for comment. It’s time we stopped the merry go round where the winners of huge public contracts make record breaking donations to the Conservative Party.