Home Business News Fast-track VIP lane Covid contracts were 80% more expensive than other suppliers

Fast-track VIP lane Covid contracts were 80% more expensive than other suppliers

by LLB staff reporter
11th Dec 23 1:12 pm

According to internal documents from the Department of Health and Social Care, seen by Good Law Project, VIP lane suppliers were paid on average 80% more per unit than other suppliers.

Some contracts were agreed at more than four times the average unit price.

And a quarter of the money awarded through the VIP lane was wasted on equipment that couldn’t be used. Last year, Spotlight on Corruption revealed that VIP firms supplied £1bn worth of PPE that was not fit for purpose, amounting to 26% of the money spent in this way.

Good Law Project has been passed a spreadsheet giving details of thousands of different PPE contracts from 2020, which includes figures for the unit price for almost all of these contracts. This information – which the Government redacted from published material – allows us to compare the prices paid for medical equipment sourced via the VIP lane with the prices paid via standard routes.

The majority of VIP lane companies signed at least one contract at above the average unit price.

One example is Meller Designs Ltd, a fashion company owned by David Meller, a longstanding Tory donor, who has given more than £68,000 to the party and supported Michael Gove’s leadership campaign in 2016. After contacting both Lord Bethell and the office of Michael Gove, his firm bagged six contracts to make medical equipment worth £163m

  • Of the six contracts, three were paid above the odds, at between 1.2 and 2.2 times the average unit price.
  • The average price for medical gowns was £5.87. The gowns bought from Meller Designs cost £12.64. £8.46m worth of the equipment was unsuitable for use in an NHS setting.
  • The company made over £13.2m in post-tax profits for the period ending December 2020, whereas the year before it cleared just £143,000 – an increase of around 9000%.

Another example: in April 2020, Andrew Mills – an adviser to the Government’s Board of Trade under Liz Truss – brokered a deal for Ayanda Capital to supply masks. This investment firm had no experience in supplying medical equipment, but snagged a contract worth over £252m.

According to the documents seen by Good Law Project, these masks were supplied at between 1.8 and 2.6 times over the average paid for similar items – the Department of Health and Social Care does not contest these figures, but Ayanda Capital says it does not recognise them. 50 million of them were deemed unusable in an NHS setting, wasting more than £145m.

The National Audit Office launched an investigation that found this deal was awarded without proper oversight, and highlighted how no conflicts of interest were registered on a standard form which failed to mention Mills’ role at Ayanda.

Susie Flintham’s father died of Covid in March 2020 having caught it in hospital. She is now a spokesperson for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign.

She said, “I saw with my own eyes that there wasn’t enough PPE while my dad was in hospital, and it was my dad who paid the price. These contracts are another example of the government’s prioritisation of their own interests over the safety of the public, whilst at the same time tanking the economy and misusing public funds.”

Good Law Project Executive Director, Jo Maugham said, “Instead of focusing on getting legitimate suppliers through the door, ministers were doing the best for their mates – handing out contracts at four times the going rate. And turning up a mountain of duff PPE. And so far we’ve seen zero contrition at the Covid inquiry.

“Recovering the billions wasted and pursuing those who made a fortune while ordinary people suffered is an obvious first step for an incoming administration. We will support a future Government to claw back money from Covid contracts.”

Carol Vorderman added, “Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor, has promised that if Labour comes to power she will immediately appoint a Covid Corruption Commissioner. I look forward to that.

“The profiteering from the pandemic through the VIP Lane, and the government secrecy and denial about it, angers so many of us.

“When children were using their little 3D printers to help, and others were doing all they could, the attitude of government was astonishing. They have issued no apologies. We aren’t letting it go. If we did, then what have we all become?”

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