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Sun 20 September 2020
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The biggest recipient of Government PPE spending has been a firm with ties to a fundamentalist religious sect, finds Byline Times

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The Government has awarded a colossal £240 million contract for personal protective equipment (PPE) to a firm founded and run by leading members of a hardline, conservative religious sect which preaches that the outside world is morally corrupting, Byline Times can reveal.

Earlier this week, the Government released documents showing that it had given a £239.6 million contract to Unispace Global Health for the supply of full-body overalls, to be used by healthcare workers. The contract was awarded on 21 April – at a time when more than a thousand people a day were dying in the UK from COVID-19 – and concluded on 21 May.

While this contract was being delivered, the company was also awarded a £103.7 million contract for the supply of examination gloves. Revealed by the Government last month and reported on by Byline Times, the contract began on 16 May and ended a day later.

This week, the Government further announced a deal worth £113.95 million handed to Unispace Global Health for the provision of face masks on 26 April.

Taken together, these three contracts appear to represent the largest amount of taxpayer cash handed to a single firm for the supply of PPE during the Coronavirus crisis – from the contracts that have so far been revealed by the Government.

Second on the list is Ayanda Capital Limited – commissioned to deliver £252.5 million worth of masks in April. This deal was brokered by a Government advisor, yet evidence obtained by the Good Law Project suggests that none of the masks have yet been deployed in the NHS.

Roughly £150 million worth of masks provided by Ayanda simply aren’t fit for use in the NHS, due to the ear fastenings not meeting safety standards, while the remaining masks were undergoing further safety tests earlier this month.

The money earned by Unispace Global Health dwarfs this outlay, however, with the firm amassing Government PPE contracts worth more than £450 million.


An Exclusive Deal

Unispace Global Health is a subsidiary of Unispace – a global commercial interior design firm.

Two people have significant control of Unispace Global: Anthony Hazell and Gareth Hales. The former is Unispace Global Director and the latter is CEO.

Unispace was bought by private equity firm CPE Capital for $400 million in December 2019, though Hales and Hazell appear to have retained control of Unispace Global, which generated revenues of £56 million in 2018.

Aside from his business interests, Australian Gareth Hales also has religious commitments, as the son of Exclusive Brethren world leader Bruce Hales. Unispace admits that the founders of the company met through the church in 2008, although denies that the company is owned or run by the Brethren directly.

The Exclusive Brethren is a subset of the Plymouth Brethren – an evangelical Christian movement – that believes and practices a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. The name of the group stems from the idea of separation: that Brethren members should avoid contact with non-Brethren as much as possible, because the outside world is morally corrupting. Members are generally expected not to socialise, eat or drink with outsiders.

“We have to get a hatred, an utter hatred of the world,” world leader Bruce Hales said in 2006. “Unless you’ve come to a hatred of the world you’re likely to be sucked in by it, and seduced by it.”

The 45,000 Brethren members worldwide – and roughly 20,000 in the UK – are encouraged to be educated at Brethren-run schools, of which there are hundreds across the world, find employment at a Brethren business and marry a Brethren partner.

Earlier this month, Byline Times uncovered that roughly a dozen companies with links to the Exclusive Brethren had been awarded Government Coronavirus contracts worth up to £300 million. These new £350 million contracts for Unispace Global Health takes the total up to well over half a billion.

According to The Times, more than 1,000 UK businesses run by the Brethren turn over £2 billion a year, while UK Brethren charities achieved revenues of £138 million in 2013 alone.

This money has helped to fund a lobbying effort in the UK. In 2017, after a concerted £2 million campaign, the Charity Commission agreed to overturn an earlier decision to refuse the Brethren charitable status.

Conservative MP Peter Bone supported the church’s position and even tabled a motion in Parliament aimed at amending the Charities Act to restore the presumption that all religious groups are for the public benefit and therefore can be charities. Conservative MP Charlie Elphick also accused the Charity Commission of trying to suppress religion in this case.

Responding to Byline Times, the Brethren said: “The Plymouth Brethren Christian Church is a place of love and worship, not of business and politics. Our church is politically neutral and as a church we have never donated to, or campaigned for, political parties. If an individual church member decided to back a particular party, candidate or cause, that’s a matter for them.

“Like any other religious group or church, many of our members run their own businesses, and these organisations are completely separate from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. Any contractual agreements between the Government and these independent businesses are totally unrelated to the church.”


Corona-Contracts

Half a billion pounds distributed to Brethren-linked firms represents roughly 10% of the total cash piled into PPE procurement contracts by the Government in recent months.

Many of these deals have been awarded to firms with questionable records in both business and healthcare.

For example, earlier this week, Byline Times revealed that the Government granted a £8.4 million contract to a dormant firm to supply hand sanitiser – not the first sleeping firm given a whopping PPE deal by Boris Johnson’s Government.

Not only this, other Coronavirus-related contracts have also been awarded to companies with close links to the Conservative Party.

Aside from the Ayanda deal, the Government has given Coronavirus contracts worth nearly £1 million to Public First – a public affairs company founded by a former colleague of Dominic Cummings and the co-author of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto.

An additional beneficiary has been Topham Guerin – the controversial communications firm that worked with the Conservative Party during the 2019 UK General Election. The company, now run by the sister of a Conservative lord, has been granted an initial £3 million deal to help to deliver online COVID-19 communications.

These contracts have been enabled by a loophole in EU law that allows governments to rapidly grant public sector contracts to private firms without going through the usual process of competition, during an emergency. The Government has made full use of this slipstream – shelling out billions to the private sector in just a few months.

Not all the contracts stand up to scrutiny.

Unispace and the Department of Health and Social Care have been approached for comment.

Editorial Note

This article was updated on 29 August to take into account the £113.95 million contract for face masks.


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