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Sun 25 October 2020
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The Government has awarded massive COVID-19 contracts to a firm owned by a Conservative backer without competition, reports Sam Bright

The Government awarded two contracts worth a total of £81.8 million to a firm co-owned by a Conservative Party donor – taking its overall Government earnings during the Coronavirus crisis to more than £148 million.

Documents released by the Government on 7 September show that it awarded two contracts to Meller Designs Limited in June for the supply of hand sanitiser and face masks. The former contract was worth £2.6 million, while the latter was valued at £79.2 million.

Both of these contracts were awarded without competition, taking advantage of a loophole in EU law, allowing governments to rapidly procure personal protective equipment (PPE) in the event of an emergency.

These contracts add to the £65.8 million deal for the supply of face masks awarded to Meller Designs in May, the details of which were released in July. The company also scored a £1.1 million contract for the supply of hand sanitiser in the same month.

The co-owner of the firm, David Meller, has donated nearly £60,000 to Conservative politicians and the central party since 2009, including £3,250 to Michael Gove’s unsuccessful leadership campaign in 2016.

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In more normal times, Meller Designs supplies home and beauty products to high-street retailers, including Marks & Spencer. However, during the pandemic, the firm has turned its retail and manufacturing knowledge to the supply of PPE, and has been pleased with the results.

A Meller Designs spokesperson told the Times in August, when details of the first £65.8 million deal emerged: “We are extremely proud of the role we played at the height of the crisis and managed to secure more than 150 million items of PPE.”

And you can see why the firm would be pleased. Meller Designs recorded turnover of £12.8 million in 2019 and £13.7 million in 2018. If the company didn’t trade for the rest of 2020, its turnover would have increased elevenfold on the previous year, based on these Government contracts alone.

In total, it’s believed that Meller Designs has agreed at least seven contracts with the Government for the supply of PPE, meaning that several still haven’t been publicly released.

Meller Designs: Cheat Sheet

  • Firm co-owned by David Meller, who has donated nearly £60,000 to Conservative politicians and the central party since 2009.
  • Company usually supplies home and beauty products to high-street retailers.
  • Government has released four PPE procurement contracts given to the firm, amounting to £148 million.
  • Meller Designs turnover stood at £12.8 million in 2019.
  • Details of further PPE contracts handed to the firm are expected to be released.

Meller Designs has been approached for comment on the newly-released contracts.


The Big Picture

As we have been chronicling at Byline Times, the Government has shelled out billions in PPE deals to private firms during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The UK’s PPE arsenal was depleted at the beginning of this crisis, with no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the Government’s pandemic stockpile when COVID-19 reached the UK.

Since then, a regular stream of equipment has been making its way to the frontline, but not without a huge cost to the taxpayer – and a general lack of transparency about the benefactors.

Likeminded colleagues established in August that at least £180 million worth of PPE deals had been handed to firms with links to the Conservative Party. Adding to this outlay, earlier this week Byline Times revealed that a £93.8 million contract for the supply of face masks had been awarded to a company that has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives since 2016. These latest contracts handed to Meller Designs takes the estimated total to more than £350 million.

Meanwhile, there is widespread doubt about the value for money that has been delivered by Government procurement contracts. The Government has for example spent £364 million on coverall bodysuits, yet has only delivered 432,000 for use in health and social care services. That’s £840 a pop.

What’s more, Government documents reveal that huge public sector contracts have been granted to firms with little experience in the field of PPE procurement – or indeed any field whatsoever. This includes a dormant firm handed contracts worth more than £52 million, and a 44-day-old company granted a £122 million contract.

These contracts may have delivered all the equipment the Government asked for, but we simply don’t know, because the details are being kept secret.

This has prompted scrutiny from parliamentarians, with Labour MP Rushanara Ali pressuring Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions to explain who has benefitted from his Government’s largesse.

“The Government has rightly vowed to ‘demonstrate value for money on every pound of taxpayers’ money’ spent,” Ali said in a follow-up letter to the Prime Minister.

“It is vital that taxpayers know that, despite the scale of the challenge and the huge sums involved, public money is not being misdirected or wasted, and that ministers are fulfilling their duty as the guardians of the public’s money.”

So far, the Government has conducted its COVID-19 procurement business largely in the dark. It will face mounting pressure, and scrutiny, if it continues to do so.


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