A UK parliamentary investigation into a company’s £200m contract to supply personal protection equipment during the Covid pandemic says it cannot comprehensively conclude its offer was treated differently from others.
Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman own the Ballakew estate in St Mark’s.
Both strenuously deny any involvement with PPE Medpro.
A National Crime Agency investigation into the company was launched in May 2021.
Meanwhile, a House of Lords Commissioners for Standards inquiry into Baroness Mone’s alleged involvement in procuring contracts for PPE Medpro has been put on hold pending the conclusion of the criminal investigation.
The DHSC has also launched a civil case against the company seeking to recover taxpayers’ money in relation to the £122m surgical gowns contract.
Last December, the House of Commons debated and agreed that all papers, advice and correspondence involving Ministers and special advisers relating to contracts for PPE awarded to PPE Medpro by the DHSC should be released to the PAC.
The committee says it has been careful not to disclose material that could impact on the ongoing investigations and for this reason, it does not currently intend to publish the information it has received.
PAC chairman Dame Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The conclusions included in this report are limited by nature. This is due both to the imperative to not impact ongoing investigations, and the fact the PAC has seen only a snapshot of procurement processes specifically relating to PPE Medpro.’
The report says there were ‘serious defects’ in government’s stewardship of public money during a time when the DHSC was ‘panic-buying’ PPE during the initial stages of the Covid crisis.
But it adds: ‘However, from the evidence in the materials made available to us we cannot comprehensively conclude whether emails from Baroness Mone and the route through the High Priority Lane led to the PPE Medpro offer being treated differently by government than other offers made in the same way during those abnormal times.’
As part of its response to the Covid pandemic the DHSC needed to buy a huge amount of PPE very quickly.
In 2020–21, it spent more than £12bn on PPE through what the PASC has previously found to be a ‘haphazard purchasing strategy’, including a series of contracts let with unproven, newly created, companies.
The department’s approach to contracting for PPE was rushed and outside the usual procurement route. This led to many risky contracts. The result was some £9bn written off, including £4bn of PPE that cannot be used in the NHS.
Because there was no national centralised model for procuring and allocating PPE to the health and social care sectors that needed it at the time, the DHSC established a parallel supply chain and a ‘High Priority Lane’ (known generally as the ‘VIP’ lane).
This allowed referrals of potential suppliers from MPs, Peers, ministers, and senior officials.
Later, in January 2022, the High Court ruled that the use of the High Priority Lane was unlawful.
PPE Medpro was one of the private companies awarded valuable contracts having been referred through this High Priority Lane by Baroness Michelle Mone. PPE Medpro was set up on May 12, 2020.
It was awarded its first contract, worth £81m, a month later on June 12 to supply 210 million face masks. The department awarded a second contract a couple of weeks later on June 26, worth £122m for sterile surgical gowns.
The PAC reported early on in the pandemic that there were fundamental flaws in central procurement and local distribution of PPE.
It highlighted that the need to operate at speed was not a justification for rushing into contracts without adequate due diligence or regard for public money. Hundreds of millions of pounds were wasted on poor quality and unusable PPE.