David Ross co-chairs the Events Research Programme (ERP) which is overseen by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and tests the return of events in the age of coronavirus. The co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, he has a relationship with the Prime Minister and other senior members of the party spanning at least 15 years.
Last year, Johnson faced questions about whether Ross funded a holiday to Mustique with Carrie Symonds. The PM had registered the trip as a £15,000 gift from Ross. Ross later denied it and said he helped Johnson find accommodation on the private island:
Meanwhile, while Mayor of London, Johnson nominated Ross to the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games.
And the Prime Minister is not the only party member Ross is linked to. In 2014, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove wanted to appoint Ross to lead school inspectorate Ofsted. But as Ross also runs the David Ross Foundation, which is responsible for some 30 academies and free schools, it was decided this would be a conflict of interest.
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Under David Cameron’s leadership, he was also a member of The Leader’s Group – a network in which top donors were rewarded with access to the PM in exchange for donations. Ross gave Cameron gifts when he was prime minister, flying him from London to West Yorkshire in a helicopter, for instance.
Ross, who has an estimated fortune of £1bn has also donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party, including £250,00 for the 2019 general election campaign and a £10,000 donation to Johnson in July 2020.
His involvement in ERP comes amid growing concerns about “cronyism” in the Conservative government. This week it was revealed that health secretary Matt Hancock has shares in a company owned by his sister, which also has contracts with the NHS.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is calling for a full inquiry, after it was revealed that former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied government ministers on behalf of Greensill Capital. As part of a network that is still emerging, it has also been revealed that Bill Crothers worked as a senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office while working part-time for Greensill Capital. He later became a director of the company.
And it is not the first time there has been cause to link Ross with cronyism. In 2011, the National Gallery added a portrait of Ross to its permanent collection while he sat on the gallery’s board as a trustee.
According to a notice posted on the government’s website: “The Events Research Programme aims to examine the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from attendance at events and explores ways to enable people to attend a range of events safely.”
The programme is running eight pilot events between April and May and is using them to develop data around reopening the events industry.
On Saturday 17 April, one thousand fans attended the snooker World Championship in Sheffield, and while a third of the venue’s capacity was used and attendees were tested and distanced, no masks were worn at the event.
The other co-chair of the group is Sir Nicholas Hytner, a theatre director.
Indy100 has approached DCMS for comment.