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Sat 17 April 2021

The owner of a medical company that won huge PPE contacts has donated to Boris Johnson’s party

A former Conservative councillor, whose medical firm has been awarded £276 million in Government contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic, has now donated thousands to the party, Byline Times and The Citizens can reveal.

As reported by The Times, P14 Medical has been awarded sizeable contracts to supply masks and gowns to the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis. A Gloucestershire-based firm specialising in medical devices for people with chronic pain, it recorded a loss of almost £500,000 in 2019.

The firm is owned by Steve Dechan, who resigned as a Conservative councillor in August due to media scrutiny of the contracts. When asked about the deals, he told The Times: “We’ve absolutely done this on merit. We’ve sent things by plane, by train, by ship. We’re delivered everything we were asked to deliver.”

New Electoral Commission records show that Dechan donated £7,500 to the Conservative Party on 20 October 2020. The donation was received by the party’s local Stroud branch, where Dechan was a councillor. It appears as though this is the first time he has donated to a political party.

Back in November, The Times reported that Dechan had recently bought a £1.5 million, 17th Century Cotswolds mansion with 100 acres of land. Responding to the story on Twitter, Dechan confessed that he had done “very very well out of pandemic”, but said that his firm delivered 120 million face shields and 15 million gowns “in record time”.

Dechan has also said that his firm was not channelled through the Government’s ‘VIP’ lane – which prioritised companies with ties to MPs, ministers and officials – and provided evidence to The Times to corroborate this.


Out of the Ordinary

The Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been regularly punctuated with stories of contracts going to firms with ties to the Conservative Party.

In its haste to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers and to construct a testing and contact tracing operation, the Government dispensed with normal procurement procedures – instead triggering emergency conditions that allowed contracts to be awarded without competition.

In the period up to November, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that £10.5 billion worth of Government contracts had been awarded without competition.

Concern has been heightened by the fact that many of these deals have gone to firms with political connections. As revealed by Byline Times and The Citizens, contracts worth £900 million have been awarded during the pandemic to companies that have donated £8.2 million to the Conservatives, either directly or through their owners.

This has triggered a public and political backlash, and the Government is currently faced with several judicial reviews, brought by the Good Law Project, to establish whether it has acted lawfully. One of these cases, in relation to contract transparency, found that Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully by failing to publish details of the deals within the statutory time frame.

Following this ruling, a global coalition for transparency and anti-corruption has put the UK ‘under review’. “The UK Government’s reputation for openness and accountability is in freefall,” the Open Government Partnership has said.

The NAO concluded in November that it could not cannot “give assurance that [the] Government has adequately mitigated the increased risks arising from emergency procurement or applied appropriate commercial practices in all cases”.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of history, Scottish National Party MP Owen Thompson has introduced a ‘Crony Bill’ to the House of Commons, in an attempt to hold the Government to account for conflicts of interest associated with public sector contracts. 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. The Conservative Party has not so far declared its support for the proposal.

Neither Steve Dechan nor the Conservative Party responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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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