A company with mysterious investors and links to the Isle of Man received government contracts worth £ 200 million to supply the UK with personal protective equipment (PPE) after it was placed in a ‘high priority lane’ for well-connected companies , The Guardian may reveal.
PPE Medpro has not disclosed the identities of the financiers and businessmen behind the venture, and it is unclear how its PPE supply offer was processed through a channel created for companies referred by politicians and senior officials.
PPE Medpro was awarded your first contract, for £ 80.85 million to supply 210 million masks, June 12. The company ensured its second contract two weeks later, for £ 122 million, to supply 25 million surgical gowns. Both contracts were awarded directly by the government without competitive bidding under the Covid-19 emergency regulations which have waived normal requirements.
Two of the three directors of the company, Anthony Page and Voirrey Coole, are also directors of Knox House Trust, which is part of Knox Group on the Isle of Man, a tax advisory and wealth management firm led by businessman Douglas Barrowman.
Page is also registered with Companies House as the sole owner of PPE Medpro, although he has said there is a “group behind PPE Medpro” whose members have decades of experience in distributing medical products. Page has refused to identify the investors due to unspecified “confidentiality obligations”.
The National Audit Office said in a report last month that early in the pandemic, as the government grappled with the urgent need to provide PPE to frontline workers, it established a high-priority lane to assess and process potential leads of “Government officials, offices of ministers, deputies, members of the House of Lords, senior NHS personnel and other health professionals.”
Businesses processed through the high priority lane were 10 times more successful at obtaining PPE contracts, the NAO found, leading to question whether some companies benefited from political connections.
Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) Minister Lord Bethell said earlier this month that the government did not plan to reveal which companies were given high priority, because “there may be associated business implications.” However, a government spokesperson confirmed to The Guardian that PPE Medpro’s offer to supply PPE was indeed processed through the high priority lane.
The NAO report said 47 companies were awarded contracts after being processed through the high priority lane, but it identified only two: Ayanda Capital and another, Pestfix, which DHSC said had been put in that lane by a initial error. Therefore, PPE Medpro is only the third company that has been identified as being processed through the high priority lane, and the first that the government itself has revealed as being referred to in that way.
DHSC declined to say how or why the PPE Medpro offer was given high priority, or who referred the company. Page told The Guardian through his attorney that he did not know there was a high priority lane. He said the UK government “requested help” from the group behind PPE Medpro, which had previous experience in the industry, and that the contracts were awarded because the company could deliver the PPE reliably and at competitive prices.
The contract had been under discussion “for a considerable time” before PPE Medpro was incorporated on May 12, it said. When asked how the UK government knew about the group behind PPE Medpro and how the request for assistance was made, Page, through his lawyer, declined to elaborate.
It also did not respond to a question about how the Knox House Trust came to provide services to the group, including the addresses of PPE Medpro and its registered office in London.
Barrowman, the founder and chairman of the Knox Group, is married to Michelle Mone, former owner of Ultimo lingerie and fellow conservative. He also has a connection to Page, who was previously his company’s registered secretary, MGM Media, which, according to her Register of the House of Lords, manages your personal brand.
An attorney for Mone and Barrowman told The Guardian that neither of them is an investor, director or shareholder of PPE Medpro, and that neither had any role or function in the company, or in the process by which the contracts were awarded.
Page said that neither he nor anyone involved with PPE Medpro approached any parliamentarians, peers, government officials, ministers, NHS personnel, or other health professionals as part of the government’s approach to the provision of PPE, and that all discussions were with the “right and appropriate individuals” within the public administration.
“PPE Medpro was not awarded the contract due to personal or company connections to the UK government or the Conservative party,” he said.
The government has rejected accusations of having operated a “chumocracy” in awarding contracts during the pandemic. The Minister of the Cabinet Office Julia Lopez said last week that the high priority lane was “a separate mailbox” created to assess the influx of offers to classify credible leads. “All the PPE offerings went through the same eight-stage controls. This was not a case of special treatment for the friends of the ministers. “
Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said the government should disclose all businesses that passed through the high priority lane. “Little by little companies will emerge that won very lucrative public contracts after having passed through the VIP lane,” he said. “There is great public interest in the government explaining precisely who was put in that lane and why.”
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