Today
Tue 25 January 2022

Evidence, exclusively seen by this newspaper, suggests that officials are trying to find new uses for visors purchased from one firm during the first wave of the pandemic, Sam Bright reveals

Personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased by the Government during the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic is now set to be sent for recycling, Byline Times can reveal.

This newspaper obtained an email from the recycling firm Suez, in which it approached firms about assisting with the recycling of PPE. According to the email, sent by a senior commercial manager at Suez, “the boxes of aprons, and visors are currently in shipping containers across the UK”.

“We could either deliver the containers full of boxes for you to separate, or break them down into the recyclable parts,” the email continued. “This is a massive contract that will continue for a couple of years.”

The email contained an attachment, showing the specification of the products that need to be recycled. The specification included an image of a box, embossed with the words ‘DHSC UK’ – appearing to contain face visors produced by a firm called Medco Solutions.

The box shows a contract reference number – 8205 – which corresponds with a £33.4 million contract awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care to Medco Solutions in June 2020 for the supply of face visors. The contract was awarded without a competitive bidding process.

It now appears that at least some of this PPE is to be recycled. Given the loose packaging and the storage of the visors in shipping containers, it seems highly unlikely that the PPE has been used.

It has previously been revealed that the Government is storing huge quantities of PPE in shipping containers due to a lack of warehousing space. This is reportedly costing £1 million a day, while the Department of Health and Social Care has spent a total of £7 million this summer purchasing shipping containers. Drone images appear to show that up to 1,000 containers are being stored at Mendlesham Airfield, adjacent to the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk.

The amount of Government-owned PPE being processed by Suez is not known.

The company declined to comment. Neither the Department of Health and Social nor Medco Solutions responded to Byline Times’ requests for comment, despite multiple approaches.

The Government has previously admitted that, of the £14.6 billion spent on PPE during the pandemic, some £2.8 billion has been found to be unusable. By the end of July, the Government was engaged in “commercial discussions” – “potentially leading to litigation” – in relation to 40 PPE contracts with a combined value of £1.2 billion, covering 1.7 billion items of sub-standard equipment.

There is no evidence to suggest that the equipment supplied by Medco fits into this category, nor is there any suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Medco or Suez.


The Great Procurement Scandal

As has been extensively reported by Byline Times, the Government’s procurement of PPE during the Coronavirus crisis has been mired in controversy.

When COVID-19 first hit the UK in 2020, the Government over-estimated the capacity of its PPE stockpile – causing a belated rush to procure equipment while frontline health workers were forced to use makeshift masks and aprons.

The UK therefore entered the market for PPE when international demand was at its highest – when prices were rising rapidly amid a scramble for equipment. Thus, the Government paid dramatically inflated prices. The National Audit Office, the independent spending watchdog, has previously concluded that if the UK would have been able to purchase PPE at the same unit prices as 2019, it would have paid just £2.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the Government abandoned formal procurement processes – instead using “informal arrangements” to distribute contracts – in the words of former Health Minister Lord James Bethell. Businesses with close ties to the governing Conservative Party therefore benefitted, as ministers and aides rummaged through their phonebooks for firms that could deliver PPE.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

In total, at least £3 billion in COVID contracts have been awarded to Conservative donors and associates – according to Byline Times‘ calculations. The Government is now facing a series of legal cases about how it distributed contracts during this period.

What’s more, the Government now has a headache about how to store and distribute the vast amounts of PPE that it has acquired – some of which cannot be used.

The BBC revealed earlier this week that a box of PPE that cost the taxpayer £1,000 at the outset of the pandemic has recently been sold for just £5. The buyer received 250 items for £5, which is slightly more than the £4.20 paid per single item by the Department of Health and Social Care less than a year earlier.

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, said that Byline Times‘ latest story was a “devastating indictment” of the Government’s procurement practices, through which “we’ve seen that billions of pounds have been wasted”.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said that the “incompetence and mismanagement” uncovered has been “staggering”.

“Millions or billions that should have gone to support frontline workers in the fight against COVID is going to waste,” he said. “We’re starting to learn the real cost of a process that gave contracts to those with political connections and cut out those with actual expertise.”

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.