Today
Wed 22 September 2021

A small carpeting supplier has been contracted again by the Government, having already been awarded deals for personal protective equipment worth £5.3 million

A company aiming to be “the first choice global provider of high quality carpet, tile and rug” has been chosen by the Government to supply lateral flow COVID-19 tests, Byline Times can reveal.

Government documents published last week show that Hotel Logistics Limited was commissioned to supply a batch of rapid testing kits, delivered between 30 September and 15 October.

While the contract was only for a relatively small amount, £28,050, it confirms a trend during the Coronavirus pandemic: the awarding of public sector work to private companies with a questionable track record in the services they have been asked to deliver.

It seems likely that Hotel Logistics acted as a middle man, importing the goods rather than producing them. Indeed, the contract stipulates that “the tests were imported from China on behalf of the state and were delivered to Public Health England (PHE) in Porton Down”.

It is unclear whether these testing kits met the relevant specifications, however, as they were undergoing an assessment and approval process at the time the contract was drawn up.

This deal is one of £10.5 billion worth of contracts awarded without competition during the COVID-19 pandemic so far – taking advantage of a legal loophole that allows for rapid procurement in the event of an emergency.

Hotel Logistics is a small company based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. “Our aim is to become the first choice global provider of high quality carpet, tile and rug,” its website reads.

The company’s latest accounts, released in April and referring to the 12 months up to May 2019, show just £20,664 in net assets. It also appears as though Companies House had initiated action to strike the firm off its register, presumably because its accounts were so late.

A man named Douglas Campbell states on LinkedIn that he is the firm’s managing director and says that Hotel Logistics recently merged with Chinese company Haima Corporation, “the world’s largest producers of carpet, tile and rug”.

This relationship presumably provides access to Chinese factories, although this hasn’t been confirmed by the company, which has failed to respond to Byline Times’ multiple requests for comment.

This isn’t the first time that Hotel Logistics has made a foray into pandemic procurement. As revealed by Byline Times in October, the company has been awarded Government contracts worth £5.3 million for the supply of gloves.

Despite this, neither the Hotel Logistics nor the Haima Corporation website lists healthcare procurement as a specialism.


Procurement Panic

The Government’s procurement process during the pandemic has been an issue of ever-growing public and political concern.

A series of recent reports by the Government’s spending watchdog – the National Audit Office (NAO) – have validated concerns about private sector deals awarded during the pandemic, which cost an estimated £18 billion in the period to August.

The Government’s desperate attempt to procure protective equipment and testing supplies was not accompanied by an equal concern for transparency, the NAO notes. During its investigations, the watchdog found “a lack of documentation recording the process for choosing the supplier, the justification for using emergency procurement, or any considerations around potential conflicts of interest”.

This private sector procurement effort has been expensive – with the Government paying billions more than in normal times – and has categorically failed to fashion the “world-beating” pandemic response promised by Boris Johnson. The UK’s ‘Test and Trace’ system, for example, has repeatedly missed key targets.

Even so, the Government is planning another £16.2 billion splurge on private sector contractors in the coming months, in a desperate final attempt to revive the programme. Much of this taxpayer cash is set to be spent on lateral flow tests – part of Johnson’s ‘Moonshot’ mass community testing regime – in the midst of scientific concerns about the efficacy of this technology.

In Liverpool, lateral flow tests picked up just 50% of positive cases identified by the “gold standard” (and slower) PCR tests, according to Birmingham University biostatistics professor Jon Deeks. What’s more, 30% of high-viral-load cases were missed by the rapid tests. Greater Manchester and Sheffield have consequently both instructed care homes not to use lateral flow devices.

The implementation of mass testing is also fatally undermined – no matter how accurate the tests – by a lack of public adherence to isolation instructions. The proportion of people fully complying with self-isolation requests may range from 10% to 59%, the NAO says.

A pandemic cannot be controlled if people continue to go about their daily business, knowing they are carrying the disease – no matter how many tests are conducted.

The Labour Party is consequently calling on the Government to invest in local services – which are more trusted and demonstrate better value for money – a case that is also made by the politically independent NAO.

The Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has on all key metrics been the worst in Europe. The Prime Minister’s scandal-strewn CV has somehow managed to degenerate even further.


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