Michael Gove steered contracts worth £164m to a company co-owned by Conservative Party donor David Meller © Leon Neal/Getty Images
Michael Gove steered contracts worth £164m to a company co-owned by Conservative Party donor David Meller © Leon Neal/Getty Images

Call for PPE contracts probe after leaked list shows Tory party links

17 November 2021

A leaked list shows 47 firms were awarded contracts totalling almost £5bn after being fast tracked by leading Conservative party politicians through a procurement ‘VIP lane’. 

The VIP lane, which was set up by officials during the early stages of the pandemic to tackle the PPE shortages, allowed ministers, MPs, Lords and government officials to recommend firms that could help secure supplies.

However, the system has been called “corrupt” after it emerged Conservative Party-affiliated companies were fast-tracked to contracts through the scheme, according to the list leaked to Politico.

Four Tory MPs and three peers have now been named as referrers for the companies that won contracts worth billions of pounds. Many of the contracts were awarded without public tender due to the ​​“extreme urgency” brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Fashion company Meller Designs, which was co-owned by Conservative Party donor David Meller, was awarded three PPE contracts worth £164m from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), after being referred by then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove. 

Meller had donated £60,000 to the Conservative Party since 2009, and a further £3,250 to Gove’s party leadership bid in 2016, according to campaign group the Good Law Project. He worked as Gove’s chair of finance on his campaign. 

When the contracts were awarded, Gove was a minister in the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for government procurement. 

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, specifically called out Gove’s referrals while he was in the Cabinet Office, and called for the government to publish the full details of PPE contracts affiliated with the Conservative Party. 

She said: “It shows just how engulfed in corruption this government is that the minister in charge of procurement and ensuring that contracts are awarded to the best bidder and represent value for money for the taxpayer was helping his own donor to get VIP fast-track access to contracts.

“It is time this corrupt government published the full details of every PPE and testing contract awarded to companies with links to the Conservative Party, Conservative ministers and Conservative MPs so we can get to the bottom of the lobbying, dodgy deals and special favours that have been done using taxpayers’ money like a get-rich-quick scheme for Conservative donors and mates.”

A spokesperson for Gove said: “The former minister for the Cabinet Office played no role in the decision to award any PPE contract, and all ministerial interests were properly declared to officials.”

Contracts awarded to PPE Medpro worth £200m have also come under fire after it was revealed Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone – whose business associate Anthony Page founded PPE Medpro – referred it into the VIP lane. 

PPE Medpro was awarded a contract worth £80.85m to supply 210m face masks on 12 June 2020. The company secured its second contract two weeks later worth £122m to supply 25m surgical gowns. Both contracts were awarded without competitive tenders. 

A lawyer for Baroness Mone previously claimed that she hadn’t “had any role or function in the company, or in the process by which the contracts were awarded”. 

Matt Hancock, former health secretary, also referred four companies for contracts, including Excalibur Healthcare, JD.com, Monarch Acoustics Ltd and Nine United Ltd. Former Conservative Party chairman and adviser to the DHSC during the pandemic Andrew Feldman referred three companies for successful contracts.

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “We can at last see, in relation to the £12.5bn spent on PPE, the vast financial rewards you could reap if you had a minister looking out for your interests.

“There was no good reason – but there were obvious bad reasons – for the government to keep the public in the dark about these links.

“We now need some transparency about the equivalent VIP lane for Test and Trace contracts, on which £37bn of public money was spent.”

He called for an investigation into “any transactions that have hallmarks of out-and-out corruption”.

The National Audit Office found companies referred through the fast-lane were 10 times more likely to be successful in their bids than companies whose applications were processed through normal channels.

Campaign group Open Democracy had previously issued a Freedom of Information request for the government to publish the names of the companies that had received PPE contracts after being referred to the priority lane. 

However, the government had not released this information, and the list was instead leaked by Politico. 

A government spokesperson said: “At the height of the pandemic there was a desperate need for PPE to protect health and social care staff and the government rightly took swift and decisive action to secure it. Ministers were not involved in awarding contracts.”

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