Taxpayer cash has been splurged on contracts that haven’t delivered, reports Sam Bright

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Nearly £300 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied to the NHS can’t yet be used in the health service, reports have revealed.

An investigation by the Good Law Project has found that millions of items of PPE, commissioned during the first phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, haven’t made their way to the frontline, despite the huge cost to the taxpayer.

According to the Good Law Project, roughly £150 million worth of masks provided by the firm Ayanda Capital aren’t fit for use in the NHS, due to the ear fastenings not meeting safety standards. Ayanda Capital was awarded a £252 million contract in April to supply masks – the largest private PPE contract that has been released by the Government to date. While the remaining masks supplied by the company aren’t affected by the fastening issues, they are undergoing further safety tests and are currently being withheld from the NHS.

Meanwhile, isolation suits provided by the pest control company Pestfix, under a £32 million contract, are also awaiting testing, as are the gowns provided by the confectionary wholesaler Clandeboye, which was awarded a £108 million contract by the Government.

The deal between Ayanda Capital and the Government was brokered by Andrew Mills, who both acts as an adviser to the Board of Trade, part of the Department of International Trade, and a senior board adviser to Ayanda.

Ayanda specialises in private equity and trade financing, according to its website, and is registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. According to Jolyon Maugham, founder of the Good Law Project, Ayanda was only commissioned to produce the masks because a similar deal with a firm called Prospermill – set up by Mills and his wife – fell through.

Maugham suggests that Ayanda could have made up to £50 million profit on this contract, despite the fact none of its equipment is yet usable in the NHS.

Competition and Cronyism

There are mounting concerns about the way the Government has handled an outpouring of public money during the Coronavirus pandemic. Using a European law designed for “emergencies”, the Government has granted huge contracts to firms without competition or scrutiny.

This has led to some questionable contracts being awarded. For example, last week Byline Times revealed the Government had awarded three multi-million pound PPE procurement contracts to a fast fashion company, a one-man firm specialising in international trade (ISO) standards, and a business owned by a gambling industry specialist previously listed in the Panama Papers.

Meanwhile, other contracts have attracted accusations of cronyism on the part of the Government. In addition to the Ayanda contract, facilitated by Government insider Mills, the policy and polling specialists Public First won a deal with the Cabinet Office worth £840,000. This company is co-owned by James Frayne – former colleague of Downing Street chief aide Dominic Cummings – and Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.

All of this is being sold to the public using the services of the firm Topham Guerin, which has received a £3 million contract to run the Government’s online Coronavirus communications, as revealed by Byline Times. Topham Guerin, a company that proudly specialises in “sh*tty memes”, previously worked on the Conservative Party’s 2019 election campaign.

The Good Law Project is bringing a legal case against the Government to get to the bottom of its PPE procurement splurge. We imagine this is justifiably causing a few sleepless nights in Government.

The Cabinet Office denies awarding the contract to Public First due to its owners’ relationship with Conservative Party figures, saying that “the Government works with a number of suppliers to provide polling and focus group work and has done for decades”.

In reference to Topham Guerin, the Cabinet Office said: “Topham Guerin was procured to produce a digital strategy to support the Government’s COVID-19 public campaign. 

“The approach helped to increase the effectiveness and engagement of our public health messages, reaching tens of millions of people across TV, outdoor, print and digital channels.”


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