A Parliamentary investigation has been launched into a peer with links to a firm fast-tracked through the PPE VIP lane.
The House of Lords standards commissioner will investigate Baroness Michelle Mone and her “alleged involvement in procuring contracts for PPE Medpro leading to potential breaches”. The inquiry will look into whether the Conservative peer broke seven accounts of the House of Lords code of conduct.
It was revealed in November 2021 that Mone had referred PPE Medpro Ltd to the government’s ‘VIP procurement fastlane’ in May 2020.
The commissioner will investigate whether Mone used her position to “accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence”, and whether she failed to register interests “that might reasonably be thought to influence [her] parliamentary actions”.
The investigation follows complaints by the Labour peer and former MP George Foulkes after leaked documents from the Guardian alleged that Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, were involved in PPE Medpro.
The investigation is likely to examine Mone’s connections with the company’s director, Anthony Page, who has worked as a director at Barrowman’s firm Knox House Trust for almost 11 years.
PPE Medpro, which was established just weeks before it was awarded two government contracts, was awarded a contract worth £80.85m to supply 210m face masks on 12 June 2020.
The company secured a second contract two weeks later worth £122m to supply 25m surgical gowns. Both contracts were awarded without competitive tenders.
Baroness Mone told Supply Management in a statement: “I completely refute these allegations. I was asked to help at a time of national emergency. I declared all necessary interests and have done nothing wrong. I will cooperate fully with any investigation.”
If Mone is found to have breached the House of Lords code of conduct, she risks losing her peerage. The exact consequences would be determined by the conduct committee.
Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, a non-profit campaigning organisation that has been campaigning against the use of the government’s VIP fastlane to award public contracts, told SM: “We welcome the investigation into whether Baroness Mone’s involvement with the enormous PPE Medpro contracts broke the House of Lords’ code of conduct.
“The Good Law Project continues to work to uncover the true nature of involvement of government ministers in the winning of contracts by their VIP associates.”
The investigation follows a High Court ruling which found the government’s procurement VIP lane to refer PPE suppliers to be “unlawful”.
The VIP lane was set up in March 2020 to streamline referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials in efforts to boost the UK’s PPE supply.
The National Audit Office found firms referred for public contracts through the VIP lane were 10 times more likely to win them.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told SM: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff on the frontline, with over 16.5bn PPE items delivered so far.
“Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously. All offers underwent a rigorous financial, commercial, legal and policy assessment, led by officials from various government departments.’’
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