All the evidence indicates that senior Cabinet ministers facilitated the awarding of COVID contracts to favoured suppliers, reports Sam Bright

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In response to an avalanche of stories about Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her advocating on behalf of PPE Medpro, a firm awarded £200 million in PPE contracts during the pandemic, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock have tried to pivot the story away from them.

Gove, who was involved in the process through which PPE Medpro won contracts through the expedited ‘VIP’ lane, allegedly claimed that Mone was a “right pain in the arse” in her pressuring of ministers. This has been reflected by former Health Secretary Hancock, who claims that the peer sent him an “aggressive” email urging him to help a separate company to secure contracts.

The name of this company has now been revealed to be LFI Diagnostics, with the Guardian reporting that former Health Minister Lord James Bethell had to warn Mone during her communications of “the need for propriety in all dealings with officials”.

While Mone’s apparent belligerence has been asserted on multiple occasions – with a senior NHS official claiming that Mone was “incandescent with rage” about the alleged treatment of PPE Medpro – the Government and these senior ministers in particular were far from faultless in their handling of the PPE process.

‘VIP’ Firms Referred by Tory MPs and Peers for PPE DealsSee Profits Soar

Sam Bright

Indeed, we know that Gove referred three firms to the notorious VIP lane, the use of which has been found to be unlawful by the High Court, while Hancock referred four.

One of the companies referred by Gove was Meller Designs, ultimately awarded PPE contracts worth more than £170 million. One of the co-owners of Meller Designs during the pandemic – David Meller – has donated nearly £60,000 to Conservative politicians and the central party since 2009, including £3,250 to Gove’s unsuccessful leadership campaign in 2016. The Guardian has reported that Meller agreed to serve as the finance chair of Gove’s short-lived party leadership campaign in 2016.

Byline Times previously revealed that Bethell held a meeting with Meller Designs on 6 April 2020 and, a month later, the firm began winning PPE contracts worth millions of pounds. Bethell said that “informal arrangements” were used to select suppliers, when he was questioned about the deals awarded to Meller Designs. “We relied on a very large network of contacts,” he said.

There is no other evidence that Meller’s political connections helped to secure favourable treatment for his firm, nor is there any suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Meller or his company, but this potential conflict of interest was not logged by the Government when it released details of the meeting and the contracts.

A Meller Designs spokesperson previously told the Times that – “We are extremely proud of the role we played at the height of the crisis and managed to secure more than 150 million items of PPE” – but the firm has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Byline Times.

In the year ending December 2020, Meller Designs logged profits of £13.1 million, up from just £144,000 the year before.

As for Hancock and his claims to have been resistant to outside pressure, it was revealed in private messages released by the Government that the former Health Secretary was successfully lobbied by then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson to consider the firm Randox for the provision of COVID testing services. Paterson was a paid consultant for the firm at the time.

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After the Government was slow to award contracts to the firm at the outset of the pandemic, Hancock forwarded Paterson’s concerns to officials, noting that he was “very worried” about the matter and adding that: “If we are treating other companies like this we are failing”.

A spokesperson for Hancock told the Guardian, in relation to the case of PPE Medpro and Michelle Mone, that “ministers refused to be pushed around”.

Randox ended up winning £700 million in Government contracts. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the firm and a spokesperson told Byline Times that: “Randox contracts were awarded in full compliance with Government procedures and protocols in place at a time of the emerging pandemic.” The firm has repeatedly denied that Paterson was involved in the awarding of the contracts.

Bethell, meanwhile, was involved in 27 meetings with companies at the outset of the pandemic that went on to win £1.14 billion in contracts. Due to an ‘administrative error’, these meetings were declared on official registers eight months late and 14 months after they took place.

In total, more than £3 billion in COVID contracts were awarded to Conservative Party donors and associates during the pandemic.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told the Guardian that: “Ministers have no involvement in deciding who is awarded contracts”.

A lawyer representing PPE Medpro added that: “For the time being we are instructed to say that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong.”

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