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Sun 5 December 2021

Another company with links to the ruling party has been awarded multi-million-pound deals during the Coronavirus pandemic

A firm that has donated more than £240,000 to the Conservative Party has won Government deals worth £2.5 million during the COVID-19 pandemic, Byline Times and The Citizens can reveal.

Since April 2020, ANS Group has been awarded four contracts for the supply of IT “cloud” services to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England. ANS Group appears to be providing services to host and maintain the Government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, launched last September, seemingly working in conjunction with Amazon Web Services.

In addition, ANS claims that it is working with Microsoft and the ‘Test and Trace’ programme to “help local authorities identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools”.

The firm – which posted revenues of £50 million last year and has won awards for its work – is evidently a big-hitter in its field. It certainly doesn’t correspond with the litany of businesses, documented by Byline Times, that have been awarded COVID-19 contracts despite having little or no experience.

However, the contracts awarded to ANS Group do correspond with another trend witnessed during the pandemic.

Indeed, the firm was founded – and is owned – by a Scott Fletcher, a Conservative Party donor.

Fletcher founded ANS in 1996 and it is claimed that the company was one of the UK’s “early movers in cloud computing”. While he resigned his ANS directorship in 2016, Fletcher is the owner of Project Daytona Limited, which owns ANS’ parent company, Project Daytona Bidco Limited.

The latest company accounts for ANS Group, for the period up to 31 March 2019, state that the “ultimate and controlling parent” for Project Daytona Limited, and by virtue ANS Group, is a firm called Lowry Trading Limited.

Fletcher is one of two shareholders in Lowry Trading, having founded the company in 2007. The latest ANS Group accounts state that “the company considers Scott Fletcher to be the ultimate controlling party of the company”. The only other director of Lowry Trading is an individual named Stephen Fletcher.

Since 2014, Lowry Trading Limited has donated £240,500 to the Conservative Party. This includes £25,000 to the central party in 2014, £25,000 in 2016, £50,000 in 2017, £37,000 in 2018, £100,000 in 2019 and £3,500 to the local Broxstowe Conservative Party in the same year.

Unlike many other deals awarded during the Coronavirus pandemic – which have been given out without competition – the contracts awarded to ANS Group functioned through a framework agreement. This is effectively a shortlist of firms, selected through competition, that are able to bid for Government contracts in a certain field.

ANS Group and Scott Fletcher have been approached for comment.


Tory Trend

While it is entirely unknown whether ANS Group benefitted from its owner’s political ties, this story does correspond with a marked trend during the pandemic – with many high-value contracts awarded to firms that have donated to and/or supported the Conservative Party.

In total, The Citizens has estimated that Government contracts worth £2.1 billion have been awarded to Conservative donors and advisors during the Coronavirus pandemic. The contracts have ranged from the procurement of personal protective equipment, to the delivery of testing services and market research.

In the past fortnight, Byline Times has reported on two firms, both of which have boosted the Conservative Party’s bank account in recent years, that have won contracts for the provision of school laptops during lockdown.

Concerns about the political connections of outsourcing firms were validated in a National Audit Office (NAO) report last November. The spending watchdog found “a lack of documentation [from the Government] recording the process for choosing the supplier, the justification for using emergency procurement, or any considerations around potential conflicts of interest”.

Staggeringly, the Government did not identify any conflicts of interest in the case of Ayanda Capital – a firm commissioned to supply £155 million worth of face masks – even though the deal was brokered and signed by Andrew Mills, who simultaneously served as a senior advisor to Ayanda and was a member of the Government’s Board of Trade.

Health Minister Lord James Bethell admitted to the House of Lords, just a couple of weeks before the release of the NAO’s report, that the Government had used “informal arrangements” and personal contacts when identifying companies to supply services during the pandemic.

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Consequently, some MPs have taken up arms in the effort to prevent this from happening again. Yesterday, a ‘Crony Bill’ passed its first hurdle in the House of Commons. Introduced by Scottish National Party MP Owen Thompson with cross-party support, the proposed legislation would ensure that MPs can interrogate ministers in the House of Commons about any personal, political or financial connections they may have to a company that is awarded a Government contract. 

The Bill is not backed by the Conservatives. However, Boris Johnson’s party would surely face a public relations nightmare if it attempts to vote down a relatively benign piece of anti-cronyism legislation. Byline Times and The Citizens will certainly not let it off the hook.

Additional reporting by Iain Overton and Max Colbert

The Citizens is a non-profit organisation that has been investigating contracts awarded during the Coronavirus pandemic. Follow the group on Twitter @AllTheCitizens

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