The health secretary, Sajid Javid, is facing questions over share options he continues to hold in the hi-tech US company he worked for until rejoining the cabinet in June – and which operates in the healthcare sector.
Javid was paid the equivalent of £150,000 a year by C3.ai, a California firm specialising in artificial intelligence (AI), from October last year until he was given the job of health secretary.
As part of his remuneration package, he was also given “an option for 666.7 shares per month”.
According to the health secretary’s current entry in the register of MPs’ interests, he continues to hold these options, which he reports have a market value of approximately £45,000.
The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, has written to the prime minister’s ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, to ask him whether this represents a conflict of interest.
“In September, the secretary of state’s department announced that the use of AI would shorten waiting lists in our NHS,” she wrote, suggesting the idea the Department of Health could spend taxpayers’ money on AI “could clearly be perceived as beneficial to an AI company”.
The ministerial code states that “ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their ministerial position and their private financial interest”.
Employee share options usually allow the recipient to buy a set number of shares at a predetermined price, sometimes on a particular future date.
Their value fluctuates with the company’s share price, so they are used to give staff an interest in the company’s value appreciating. Details of when Javid’s options can be cashed in have not been published.
C3.ai is a California-based tech firm which floated on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2020. Among nine industry sectors listed on its website, it includes “healthcare” and “government”.
It has a UK subsidiary, and is now recruiting sales and marketing staff in the UK. Javid advised the firm on “the global economy, geo-politics and market opportunities”.
The NHS was already increasing spending on AI before Javid arrived in post, but he recently highlighted its potential role in tackling health injustices.
“Technology, particularly AI, can be an incredible force for good. It can save valuable clinician time and help provide faster, more accurate diagnosis, so patients can access the care they need as quickly as possible,” he said. “It can also help us better understand racial differences so we can train our workforce to look for different symptoms or complicating factors, diagnose faster, and tailor treatments.”
Javid held the post at C3.ai alongside another advisory role, with US bank JP Morgan from August 2020 to June 2021, for which he was also paid the equivalent of £150,000 a year. He took up that role six months after resigning as chancellor. Javid previously worked for JP Morgan before entering parliament. Both of these jobs were cleared with the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which vets jobs for former ministers.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “The secretary of state has acted in line with the ministerial code and has properly declared these share options in the usual way.”
Aides suggested he had begun the process of divesting himself of the options when he became health secretary, but that the process was difficult because the market for share options is not very liquid.
Javid unexpectedly became health secretary in June, when Matt Hancock resigned after being caught on camera in a clinch with Gina Coladangelo, a longtime friend who had been brought on to the DHSC’s payroll.