Thursday, May 30

Hunt lands £15m payout as NHS crisis deepens



Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is to land more than £15m from an education business he helped set up, even as he fights an increasingly intense political battle over the NHS’s latest winter crisis.

Sky News has learnt that Hotcourses, a listings service set up by Mr Hunt and his business partner Mike Elms in 1996, is expected to announce this week that it has been sold for between £30m and £35m.

A deal was said by a legal source to be close to being signed on Sunday evening.

Filings at Companies House suggest that Mr Hunt owns approximately 48% of the shares in Hotcourses, meaning a takeover worth £35m would yield a payday for the cabinet minister worth £16.8m.

The latest register of MPs’ interests says only that he holds more than 15% of the business.

The prospective buyer of Hotcourses, which recently set up an international advisory group to accelerate its overseas expansion, is understood to be an Australasian company with operations in the education sector.

It is not the first time that Mr Hunt has closed in on a big windfall from Hotcourses’ sale.

In 2013, the company’s shareholders – excluding Mr Hunt – held detailed talks with Inflexion Private Equity about a takeover, but abandoned the discussions after failing to agree terms.

The Health Secretary, who was expected to lose his job in Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle last summer but was instead retained in the post, has had no active role in the running of Hotcourses since becoming the MP for South West Surrey in 2005.

His shares are held at arm’s length, according to previous reports.

Nevertheless, the intense political debate about the NHS will make the timing of the sale awkward for Mr Hunt.

PA Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt He is far from the only Cabinet minister facing questions about their private wealth, even after a purge of ministers with close ties to Mrs May’s predecessor, David Cameron.

Mrs May herself has been urged to disclose the contents of a blind trust held in her name, which was created when she became PM last summer.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has denied suggestions by the British Red Cross that the NHS’s problems amount to “a humanitarian crisis”.

This weekend, Mr Hunt was plunged into a deepening row over the alleged “scapegoating” of GPs after Mrs May signalled that doctors’ surgeries should extend their opening hours.

Hotcourses was set up to provide listings information about evening, training, university and other courses.

Now employing more than 200 people, Mr Hunt established the business when he returned to the UK after two years in Japan teaching English and learning Japanese.

It now claims to be the world’s largest course database, and last year’s accounts filed at Companies House show that it acquired the UK’s leading university ranking website, The Complete University Guide, and made more than £2m in profit in the year to July 2015.

The Health Secretary has received several million pounds in dividends since Hotcourses was founded, including almost £1m last year.

An adviser to Mr Hunt refused to comment on the deal on Sunday evening.