Today
Mon 29 November 2021

The firm is owned by the wife of a horse breeder who has donated thousands to the Health and Social Care Secretary, reports Sam Bright

A firm owned by a family associate of Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock was awarded a Government contract for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) worth £14.4 million.

The Government today released details of the contract awarded to CH&L Limited in April for isolation gowns. The owner of the firm has told Byline Times that, due to “unforeseen logistical circumstances,” the contract was not fulfilled and the deposit paid by Hancock’s department was returned to the Government.

CH&L Limited was incorporated in January 2020 with one director – a Mr Chun Lei Li. In June that year, Frances Stanley was appointed as the second director of the firm, and later in the year appears to have become the sole person with significant control of the company.

The firm does not seem to have a website, though its Companies House page states that it is an agent “specialised in the sale” of products, and also a supplier of “human health activities”.

Chun Lei Li appears to be a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a member of the Newmarket Chinese Medicine Centre.

For her part, Stanley is a director of Newmarket Racecourse, based in Hancock’s West Suffolk constituency, and has direct ties to the local MP.

Primarily, her husband Peter Stanley – also in the horse racing business – donated £5,000 to Hancock’s office in June 2019. When asked about his donation to Hancock, Stanley was later quoted as saying that the minister “recognises that horse racing is more of an industry than a sport,” adding, “he knows better than most that we are a huge export industry and foreign currency earner.”

Frances Stanley appears to have worked with Hancock on various projects related to Newmarket – sitting on a delegation with the MP about investment in local rail services, for example.

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The commercial alliance of British horse racing, the Jockey Club, is also based in Newmarket and Hancock has been a vocal advocate for the sport in the past. The minister has received substantial funding from individuals linked to the sport, with estimates suggesting he has fundraised nearly £70,000 from horse racing benefactors.

Dido Harding, appointed by the Government to run the nation’s testing and contact tracing programme, also holds a board position at the Jockey Club – alongside Peter Stanley.

In this context, it is worth remembering that the Government, controversially, allowed the Cheltenham horse racing festival to go ahead in mid-March last year. Held over several days, the festival attracted more than 250,000 visitors, including a final-day crowd of nearly 70,000, and was accused of being a COVID-19 super-spreader event. The UK entered a nationwide lockdown barely 10 days after the conclusion of the festival.

“We had wanted to help source PPE at a time when the country urgently needed supplies and so put forward a detailed proposal to DHSC,” Frances Stanley told Byline Times. “This proposal was accepted and a deposit was paid by DHSC. However, due to unforeseen logistical circumstances, we weren’t able to help and the deposit was returned in full to DHSC. I had planned to donate any profits to a local charity. At no point did I ever talk to Matt Hancock about our plans to help, only DHSC purchasing officials involved in the process.”

The links between COVID contracts and Conservative Party donors has been a concern of public bodies and MPs for months. Indeed, just last week, Byline Times revealed that Conservative donors have won contracts worth £881 million during the pandemic so far.

MPs have therefore taken up the case and two weeks ago a ‘Crony Bill’ was introduced to the House of Commons by Scottish National Party MP Owen Thompson. If passed, the legislation would ensure that MPs can interrogate ministers about any personal, political or financial connections they may have to a company that is awarded a Government contract. 

By the looks of this contract, Hancock would be the first to take the stand.

“Thanks to the combined effort of Government, NHS, armed forces, civil servants and industry we have delivered over 8.1 billion items of PPE at record speed – helping protect healthcare staff on the pandemic frontline,” a DHSC spokesperson said.

“Due diligence has been carried out on every contract and as the NAO’s report into PPE procurement makes clear, ministers have no involvement in deciding who is awarded contracts.”

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