Today
Fri 7 May 2021

The owner of a private equity company has donated £10,000 to Matt Hancock, and sits on the board of NHS Improvement. One of his firms has won Government Coronavirus contracts worth millions

A private equity firm run by a colleague of ‘Test and Trace’ boss Baroness Dido Harding, who has personally donated nearly £700,000 to the Conservative Party in recent years, has seen one of its businesses awarded at least £5.9 million in Government contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic – potentially stretching to £8.4 million.

Oluwole ‘Wol’ Kolade is the managing partner of Livingbridge, a global investment company that in 2019 logged revenues of £20 million. Kolade is listed by Companies House as the one “persons with significant control” of Livingbridge EP LLP.

Since 2002, Kolade has made more than 20 personal donations to the Conservative Party, amounting to £678,000. This has included a £10,000 donation in 2019 to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, and donations amounting to £39,854 this year – while one of his firms was receiving Government contracts.

Kolade is also a member of the elite Conservative ‘Leader’s Group‘ dining society – that provides access to senior Tory politicians for large donations. Kolade was one of the most prolific attendees of Leader’s Group meetings between 2013 and 2018, according to openDemocracy, attending 13 events. Membership of this group allowed Kolade to have a private dinner with former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Alongside his private equity role, Kolade is also a non-executive director of NHS Improvement – the body responsible for overseeing NHS trusts. The chair of NHS Improvement is Baroness Dido Harding, who also runs the UK’s COVID-19 ‘Test and Trace’ system.

Livingbridge invests in a large array of companies and it is unclear how much influence is wielded by Kolade over the various projects.

However, since last April, a company linked to Livingbridge, called Efficio, has won COVID-19 contracts worth at least £5.9 million. Efficio describes itself as “the world’s largest procurement consultancy” and has won contracts from the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England for a range of critical services, including:

  • Consultancy and supply chain support for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Supporting the procurement and commercial management of testing services
  • Supporting the effective delivery of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Consultancy support on ventilator and PPE distribution

Companies House records show that Livingbridge holds between 50% and 100% of the shares in Efficio Global Limited – the parent company for the various Efficio subsidiaries. Livingbridge also appears to control a firm called FIS Nominee Limited, which owns all of the ordinary class-A shares in Efficio.

Of the contracts won by Efficio during the Coronavirus pandemic, one has been granted without competition and five have been awarded through a framework agreement. The latter is effectively a shortlist of firms, selected through competition, that are able to bid for Government contracts in a certain field.

Efficio would not comment on the specifics of the awarded contracts but described Livingbridge as “a minority investor in our business”. A spokesperson added: “We are proud to partner with colleagues in the public sector and of the work we have done together during this period of unprecedented national challenge.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “To rapidly build the largest diagnostic network in British history we drew on the expertise and experience of both public and private partners, and every penny spent has been with aim of saving lives… Proper due diligence is carried out on every single Government contract.”

Livingbridge has not responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.


Dissipating Trust

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Efficio or Livingbridge, nor that that they are unsuitable recipients of Government contracts – both appear to be experienced firms.

Rather, the story described above fits a common pattern seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has concerned ordinary citizens, experts and MPs alike.

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.

Just yesterday, for example, Byline Times and The Citizens revealed a series of contracts worth £2.5 million – for the provision of services relating to the UK’s COVID-19 contact tracing app – awarded to a firm that has donated more than £240,000 to the Conservative Party in recent years.

This concern motivated a report by the Government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), last November. The NAO described how the Government used a “high-priority” lane to speed up the procurement process for firms that had been referred by MPs, ministers and officials. It also noted lax Government processes for noting potential conflicts of interest, with “a lack of documentation recording the process for choosing the supplier”.

MPs are consequently now seeking to clamp down on this system, whereby the Government can award contracts to firms with links to the regime without adequate process or scrutiny.

On Wednesday, 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. 

Both the NAO and Thompson noted that the Government’s questionable procurement processes have undermined trust in the system, even if many of the links have been simply coincidental. It is therefore in everyone’s interests, especially the Conservative Party’s, to support reform.

Additional reporting by Stephen Delahunty, 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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