British ministers called for the release of documents related to PPE contracts

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UK ministers have been urged to release all correspondence about how the government awarded more than £200 million in personal protective equipment contracts to a company called PPE Medpro in 2020, which recent reports suggest led to significant financial gain for Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mona.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labor Party, told the House of Commons on Thursday that leaked documents to the Guardian newspaper had exposed “a total failure of due diligence and a conflict of interest at the heart of public procurement” relating to Medpro.

The UK government spent more than £13bn on PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic and has been accused of failing to do enough due diligence in awarding contracts with billions wasted on fraud and unused equipment.

The High Court ruled in January that the the government had acted illegally in running a special VIP lane for potential suppliers of personal protective equipment who had connections to politicians or government officials.

Early in the pandemic, Medpro was awarded two £80m and £122m contracts to provide the government with PPE without tendering on the recommendation of Mone, a lingerie entrepreneur.

“In May 2020, PPE Medpro was set up and awarded £203 million in government contracts following a referral from a Tory peer,” Rayner told MPs.

“It now appears that tens of millions of pounds of this money ended up in offshore accounts linked to those involved, profits made possible through the companies’ personal connections to ministers and the Tories’ VIP track, which was declared illegal by the High Court. “

That This is reported by the Guardian on Thursday that a document from HSBC indicated how Mone and her children received £29m of profits from the PPE contracts through an offshore trust.

Properties linked to Mone and her husband were raided in April as part of a National Crime Agency investigation into PPE contracts awarded during the pandemic.

Last year, after Mone denied any involvement with PPE Medpro, it emerged she had been the “referral source” between the government and the company and helped place it in the VIP lane.

Earlier this year, data from Freedom of Information requests revealed that Mone had corresponded with cabinet minister Michael Gove and Theodore Agnew, a Tory colleague and then minister responsible for procurement, via Agnew’s personal email, in an attempt to secure PPE Medpro a contract for face masks.

One of PPE Medpro’s directors, Anthony Page, had been the registered secretary of MGM Media – the company that manages Mone’s personal brand, according to the House of Lords register of financial interests – until he left the role on the same day PPE Medpro was set up.

Page is also a director of the Knox House Trust, part of the Knox group, a group of companies founded by businessman Douglas Barrowman, Mone’s husband.

Mone has repeatedly denied any relationship with PPE Medpro.

Rayner told the Commons that ministers had so far refused to publish correspondence relating to the award because they were awaiting the outcome of a “mediation process” between the company and the government, which has been going on for about a year.

“What due diligence was done in awarding the Medpro contract?” she asked.

“Today’s (Guardian) reports relate to just one case, but this government has written off £10 billion only of personal protective equipment that was deemed unfit for use, unusable, overpriced or not supplied. The priests seem to have learned no lessons and learned no shame.”

Neil O’Brien, Under Secretary of State for Primary Care and Public Health, said PPE Medpro had been “an underperforming contract”.

He told the Commons: “The first step is to send a pre-action letter outlining a claim for compensation, followed by legal action in the event that a satisfactory agreement is not reached. We have not reached a point where there is reached a satisfactory agreement at this time.”

O’Brien defended the government’s record on procuring PPE, saying 9,000 people had come forward and offered to provide PPE. At the time, there was a “global battle” for protective equipment with bidders “staring” at each other, he said.

The minister said the VIP lane was set up to handle the “large” number of potential contacts coming through to ministers.

“It didn’t guarantee a contract,” he said. “Ninety percent of the bids that went through that were not successful, and every single bid that went through that route went through the same, exact same eight-step process as all the other contracts that look at quality, price, bona fides.”

Mone did not immediately respond to the FT’s questions.

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