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Wed 12 August 2020
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The handing of Coronavirus contracts to companies with questionable experience in providing personal protective equipment in health settings continues

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The Government’s NHS procurement splurge is continuing apace, while doubts continue to be raised about the suitability of some private sector suppliers.

Billions of pounds of taxpayer cash is being spent in a desperate attempt by the Government to replenish stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) that are being consumed during the Coronavirus crisis.

Using a European loophole – designed for emergencies – the Government has been able to award these huge contracts without competition. In the past week, a new tranche of deals have been published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and three in particular might raise questions for the Government.

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A document published by the Government on 24 July shows that it awarded a £3.8 million contract for the supply of PPE to a company called Trade Markets Direct.

Companies House records show that the firm has only one director, Garry Edward Morrill, and was in fact listed as “dormant” in July 2019.

Its website provides details of the company’s procurement work, mentioning that it is registered to trade products in China and Singapore.

“Trade Markets Direct work direct with a City of London based Wealth Management company who are the exclusive Wealth Manager for a European Bank,” the website states. “The Bank works under the authorisation of the Anjouan Offshore Finance Authority and holds an International Banking License and a Brokering and Clearing House International License. Trade Markets Direct work directly with Singapore / Shanghai supply route and lock in the orders to the UK with guaranteed despatch and delivery.”

However, Morrill’s background isn’t exclusively, or even largely, in PPE procurement. He is listed as an advisor to an e-sports agency called TwogBiz, which describes him as a “fourth generation bookmaker, early adopter of gambling technology in the internet, bet brokerage and gambling games development consultant”.

His LinkedIn profile shows that Morrill was for 25 years the director of operations at Taffy – a family-owned racetrack bookmaker.

What’s more, Morrill’s gambling industry exploits landed him in the Panama Papers – the tranche of leaked documents released in 2016 revealing the use of offshore havens by businesses and wealthy individuals. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows that Morrill was the director and judicial representative of three gambling companies registered in Malta – 2 Bet Malta Limited, Quickflutter.com Limited, and World Betting (Malta) Limited.

International firms profit from a corporation tax rate of as little as 5% in Malta.

While it has only been released in the past week, the Government’s contract with Trade Markets Direct began on 18 April, ending a day later, which suggests that Morrill’s company was commissioned to supply a single batch of PPE.

Trade Markets Direct has been approached for comment.


RETIRED TROOPS

Another beneficiary of the Government’s rush to procure PPE has been a small firm called DTC Consulting.

On 28 May, the company was handed a £2.5 million contract to supply face masks. The contract ended on 30 May but was only published five days ago.

The experience of this company in the field of PPE supply isn’t immediately obvious. DTC Consulting specialises in helping firms to meet international trade (ISO) standards, including those relating to quality and the environment. Its website states that “DTC Consulting has helped a large number of clients in different industries grow their businesses by winning more bids, improving efficiency and reducing waste through maintaining appropriate ISO standards”.

Companies House records show that the firm, like Trade Markets Direct, is owned by one person, in this case a man called Douglas Thornton. The filing history doesn’t reveal a great deal about the company, aside from the fact that it was nearly struck off the Companies House register last year.

Byline Times contacted Thornton who confirmed that DTC Consulting works in the field of international standards, not PPE procurement. However, he pointed out that he has past experience of providing logistical support for the British Army, which included managing the supply of protective equipment in the Falklands and Iraq.


FAST FASHION

After failing to stockpile gowns, visors, swabs or body bags prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Government had a lot of catching up to do.

In the scramble to plug widespread shortages across the medical profession, the DHSC turned to a company that knows how to produce garments at pace.

Another Government contract released on 24 July, yet signed in late May, shows that taxpayers funded a one-off delivery of goggles from fast fashion supplier Elite Creations UK.

The contract was worth a whopping £19 million, despite the DHSC acknowledging that Elite Creations is a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). Indeed the company’s total revenue for the whole of 2019 was just under £3 million – a fraction of the value of this single contract.

The company’s website currently doesn’t work, but its LinkedIn profile says that Elite Creations designs and sources “products ranging from belts, bags and jewellery to scarves and footwear for retail chains right across UK and Europe”.

Medical-grade goggles are not mentioned.

Elite Creations director Nitesh Sakhrani has been approached for comment. DHSC has been approached for comment on all of the contracts.


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