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Wed 29 September 2021

The Conservative Party’s coffers have been boosted by some of the individuals and firms that have benefitted from public sector deals during the Coronavirus crisis

More than £600,000 has been donated to the Conservative Party by firms and individuals that have been awarded some £400 million in public contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic, Byline Times can reveal.

Yesterday, the Electoral Commission published its latest tranche of data for political party donations, covering the first quarter of 2021. The data shows that six individuals and firms that have benefitted from Government contracts during the crisis – which have previously donated to the Conservatives – have given generously to the party in recent months.

As previously revealed by Byline Times and The Citizens, contracts worth some £3 billion have been awarded to Conservative associates and donors during the pandemic.

This figure includes Efficio, which describes itself as “the world’s largest procurement consultancy”. It was previously owned and overseen by Livingbridge – an investment company controlled by Oluwole ‘Wol’ Kolade, who also sits on the board of NHS Improvement with ‘Test and Trace’ chair Baroness Dido Harding.

Since October 2020, Kolade has personally donated £205,888 to the Conservative Party. A member of the exclusive ‘Leader’s Group’, reserved for high-value donors, Kolade had previously donated close to £700,000 to the party in recent years.

Efficio has won at least £11 million in direct COVID-19 contracts during the pandemic so far. In previous correspondence with Byline Times, Efficio would not comment on the specifics of the awarded contracts but described Livingbridge as “a minority investor in our business”. In February, Livingbridge announced that it had agreed to sell its stake in Efficio to the company’s management team. 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.”

Another large donor to the Conservative Party in recent months has been Bloor Holdings Limited – owned by billionaire John Stuart Bloor. The firm donated £150,000 to the central party on 17 March this year.

Another one of Bloor’s ventures, Pickerings Hire, has previously been awarded a £14.4 million contract by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for the “maintenance and removal of specialist trailers and hire of equipment including services in relation to the LTS project”. The LTS project is not publicly defined, but other companies commissioned to work on the scheme have assisted with the construction of modular buildings for the UK’s COVID-19 testing programme.

As previously reported by Byline Times and The Citizens, Bloor has donated £3.1 million to the Conservatives since 2007.

Meanwhile, Softcat is an IT company that appears to have won some £16.2 million in COVID-related contracts. One of the company’s directors, Vin Murria, donated £50,000 to the Conservatives in January via her company, VM.AV Corporate Services Limited.

Softcat also boasts Lord John Nash as an ex-director and current shareholder. Lord Nash is a Conservative peer and non-executive director at the Cabinet Office who has donated £90,000 to the Conservatives since October 2020. He and his wife have now donated more than £667,000 to the Conservative Party in recent years. As previously revealed by Byline Times and The Citizens, Lord Nash holds a £100 million stake in Softcat, while public sector work accounts for 35% of the firm’s total gross invoiced income.

In December 2020, it was revealed that Medacs, a company run by Impellam, had won a £350 million contract to supply medical and clinical services in laboratories. Former Conservative treasurer Lord Michael Ashcroft has a significant interest in Impellam. Lord Ashcroft donated £50,000 to the party in February this year – understood to be the membership fee for the Leader’s Group.

Lord Ashcroft has now personally donated more than £200,000 to the party since the pandemic began – and more than £6.2 million since 2001, personally and through his company, Bearwood Corporate Services.

Lord Ashcroft’s spokesman told the Guardian that he was not involved in the negotiation of Medacs Healthcare’s contract with the DHSC and did not know about it until after it had been awarded.

Impellam said that the company “has not benefited from any connections that any non-executive may hold”. Indeed, Lord Ashcroft currently acts as chairman of the company. “The non-executive directors do not have any involvement in the award of contracts or the operational, day-to-day management of the company,” it added.

Finally, Rigby Group Plc. has donated £70,000 to the Conservative Party since October last year. Byline Times has previously revealed that Specialist Computer Centres (SCC), owned by Rigby Group PLC, was awarded a £2.1 million contract to supply 10,000 technology devices to schools. In 2019, the firm gave £50,000 to the Conservatives, which followed a donation of £55,000 in 2017. 

All of these firms and individuals were approached by Byline Times for additional comment, though none would respond on-the-record. There is no suggestion that any of them are inappropriate public sector suppliers. All were awarded contracts relating to their specialist areas of work.

Nor is there any direct evidence to suggest a causal link between donations to the Conservative Party and the awarding of Government contracts. Throughout the pandemic, the Government has insisted that due diligence was conducted on all deals, and that suppliers were selected by officials, not ministers.

However, it is reasonable to ask whether the political system should allow the beneficiaries of public contracts to donate to the governing party – and whether this creates an inherent conflict of interest.

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