THE TRANSPARENCY GAPGovernment Publishes £4.2 Billion in PPE Contracts a Year Late
The Prime Minister previously claimed that ‘all the details are on the record’, reports Sam Bright
The Government has published at least 31 contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), worth a total of £4.2 billion, more than a year after they were signed, Byline Times can reveal.
On Wednesday, the Government’s ‘Contracts Finder’ portal was inundated with newly released deals signed by the ‘Collaborative Procurement Partnership’ – part of the NHS supply chain.
All of the contracts commenced between 1 April 2020 and 13 May 2020 – during the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. The largest contract published was for £1.8 billion of PPE, supplied by Full Support Healthcare (FSH). The deal commenced on 1 April last year and concluded on 27 April.
Speaking to MPs in May, the owner of FSH said that she had warned Government officials about PPE shortages in December 2019 and had started to increase the procurement of equipment. FSH had millions of items of PPE waiting on planes in February and March, she said, yet her firm did not receive the go ahead to supply the Government until April.
In February, a High Court judge ruled that the Health and Social Care Secretary had acted unlawfully by failing to publish the details for billions of pounds worth of Coronavirus contracts within the 30 day limit required by law. Mr Justice Chamberlain, said that Matt Hancock had breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.
It took more than 400 days for the vast majority of the 31 contracts mentioned here to be released.
Challenged in the House of Commons on 22 February about the High Court ruling, the Prime Minister claimed that all the necessary details about Government COVID-19 contracts had been released. “All the details are on the record,” he said. “The contracts are there on the record for everybody to see.” These statements were false.
This is not the first time that Boris Johnson has misled MPs over PPE. As Byline Times has previously reported, Johnson and the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove have both claimed that 99.5% of the PPE procured by the UK “conformed entirely to our clinical needs”. However, the most senior official at the Department of Health and Social Care has now testified to say that that one in 10 of all PPE in storage is not of high enough quality for use in a clinical setting – amounting to 2.9 billion items of PPE, costing £1.5 billion.
The issue of PPE procurement has been controversial throughout the pandemic. Scrambling to import goods to boost the nation’s rapidly-dwindling stockpile, the Government ended up contracting a number of firms with peculiar backgrounds. For example: a hotel carpeting company, a naval design firm, a Florida fashion designer, a four-month-old DNA analysis firm, a one-year-old ‘micro’ firm, a small “luxury packaging” company, a one-month-old firm owned by offshore finance specialists, a dormant firm, a company owned by an individual listed in the Panama Papers, a fast fashion supplier, and a lifestyle company with no employees or trading history.
“Everything to do with Hancock and procurement was a disaster, particularly the PPE situation,” wrote the Prime Minister’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings this week. “The lack of PPE killed NHS and care home staff in March-May.”
Hancock, in response, claims that there has never been a “national shortage” of PPE during the pandemic. This claim has been contradicted by frontline health workers, some of whom were forced to used big bags and other improvised equipment during the early stages of the crisis. It was also contradicted by Public Health England last April, when it made clear that “re-use of PPE should be implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place… Compromise is needed to optimise supply in times of extreme shortages”.
Despite this, transparency from the Government about the supply of PPE has been distinctly lacking. The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.