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Sun 20 September 2020
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The Government has shelled out more than £840 per bodysuit delivered to the NHS, reports Sam Bright

The Government has spent £364 million purchasing ‘coveralls’ from private companies during the Coronavirus pandemic – but has delivered just 432,000 items for use in health and social care services.

Government documents show that it has awarded several multi-million-pound contracts to private firms for the supply of coveralls – full body boilersuits – over recent months. However, similarly, Government statistics up until 23 August show that fewer than 500,000 coveralls have been delivered to the frontline, including just 15,000 in the most recent week recorded.

In contrast, well over 400 million aprons, 500 million face masks, 45 million eye protectors, and nearly two billion gloves have been delivered to health and social care services during the course of the pandemic.

Taken together, this represents a Government outlay of £842.60 per coverall delivered.

In relation to these deals, Labour MP Dawn Butler said: “£364m for just 432,000 coveralls does not appear to offer value for money… We must hold the Government accountable and ask serious questions of the way in which they are awarding procurement contracts and to whom. We cannot allow this current approach to become the new normal.”


Private Sector Contracts Awarded For the Exclusive Supply of Coveralls

CompanyContract Start DateContract End DateContract Value
SG Recruitment UK Ltd26 April26 April£23.9 million
Medicine Box Ltd25 April25 April£40 million
Kau Media Group Ltd25 April25 April£19.5 million
Tower Supplies11 April24 April£20.3 million
Tower Supplies17 April25 April£20.3 million
Unispace Global Health21 April21 May£240 million
TOTAL
£364 million

The Firms

The companies awarded the coverall contracts have interesting backgrounds.

SG Recruitment Limited specialises in hiring nurses, including in the UK, it claims by “using the surplus nursing workforce in the Philippines to alleviate the shortages elsewhere”.

Its website states that its parent company, Sumner Group Health, is a registered supplier of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS.

For its part, Kau Media Group is a small digital marketing agency based in London’s Hammersmith. Its website states that it specialises in social media, search engine optimisation, online advertising and e-commerce. Nothing is mentioned about the supply of PPE.

Unispace Global Health, meanwhile, is owned by an interior design company and has close ties to a fundamentalist evangelical church, the Exclusive Brethren.

The CEO of Tower Supplies, Charlie Aris, also has links to the church. Aris was trained at UBT – a Brethren-controlled company that provides corporate and leadership courses. It also appears as though Aris was educated at Focus School, Wilton Campus, which is a Brethren faith school. Tower Supplies claims it is the UK’s “#1 safety, workwear and PPE supplier”.

“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,” the Brethren previously told Byline Times. “Any contractual agreements between the Government and these independent businesses are totally unrelated to the church.”


Incompetence and Cronyism

Ultimately, the Government holds responsibility for the individual contracts and the system of PPE procurement that has been established. Officials pick the firms and grant the contracts. The firms themselves are merely acting in their commercial interest: attempting to make money.

Yet, in many ways, the Government’s procurement system hasn’t stood up to scrutiny. Using a loophole in EU law that allows for competition to be abandoned in the event of an emergency, Boris Johnson’s administration has shelled an estimated £5 billion on private sector PPE procurement in a matter of months.

The full receipts of these contracts have yet to be revealed, but we know that some have come up short.

For example, a £250 million deal brokered by a Government advisor has reportedly yet to deliver a single mask that can be used in the NHS. More than half of the masks simply aren’t fit for use, due to the ear fastenings not meeting safety standards, while the remaining masks were undergoing further safety tests in early August.

The chief executive of Ayanda Capital insists all its masks have met Government safety standards.
 
Last week, Byline Times also revealed that the Government had awarded an £8.4 million deal for the supply of hand sanitiser to a dormant firm that doesn’t appear to have traded since it was formed in 2016. A separate company, listed as dormant in July 2019, was also awarded a £3.8 million contract to acquire PPE.

Then there are the links to the Conservative Party of those who have been awarded contracts.

Public First – a public affairs company founded by a former colleague of the Prime Minister’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings and the co-author of the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto – has benefitted from Coronavirus contracts to the tune of £1 million. Plus, Topham Guerin – the firm employed by the Conservatives to run the party’s social media during the 2019 General Election – has scored a deal worth £3 million.

For a party that is allegedly so cautious about spending the public’s money, the Conservatives haven’t flinched at shelling out billions of pounds in private sector contracts, even when many of them haven’t produced the goods.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.


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