Covid procurement falls victim to whiff of cronyism

Yet it also speaks directly to much wider concerns over the Government’s handling of the pandemic.

In one case, highlighted by a recent National Audit Office report, the Department of Health awarded a series of contracts collectively worth £135.5m for Chinese ventilators to a company only formally incorporated as little as eight months ago called Excalibur Healthcare Services.

The cost averaged £50,000 for each of the 2,700 ventilators supplied, machines that normally sell for around £8,000.

The company cites frenzied international competition for ventilators at the height of the first wave of infection as justification for the prices charged, and claims that its profit margin on the deal was not excessive.

Growing political tensions between Britain and China are said to have further upped the ante. Even so, the taxpayer was well and truly fleeced, this for equipment that in the end was not even needed.

Still at least on this occasion, the Government cannot be accused of cronyism. Sir Chris Evans, the serial biotech entrepreneur who controls and chairs Excalibur, is a major Labour Party donor.

In a number of other directly awarded contracts, six of which are the subject of legal challenge by the Good Law Project, there are clear connections between the companies involved and Government insiders or one time associates.

The most notorious of these was the award of £252.2m of contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) to a Mauritius-based finance company, Ayanda Capital, headed by the former Kleinwort Benson director Tim Horlick.

A substantial proportion of the face masks supplied were later designated sub-standard. It is unclear whether the Government is seeking repayment for these supplies.

The initial approach to the Government was made by Andrew Mills, an adviser to the international trade secretary, Liz Truss. Horlick strongly refutes any suggestion of cronyism. Mills also says his position at the Board of Trade played no part in the contract.

In another case being challenged by the Good Law Project, a political research company called Public First was directly awarded five contracts for polling and focus group activity on Covid-related matters.

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