The government is facing a string of legal challenges after it awarded multimillion pound contracts for PPE to a number of obscure companies – including a sweet wholesaler and a ‘family office’ owned through an offshore holding firm.
Ayanda Capital Limited won a £252.5 million contract to supply an undisclosed number of face masks to the Department of Health and Social Care in April, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The firm – which describes itself as “a London-based family office focused on a broad investment strategy” – is owned through a Mauritius-based holding company and headed by Tom Horlick, a former director of investment bank Kleinwort Benson.
Its website states that the company specialises in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing”.
Details of Ayanda Capital’s contract with the government, published on the European Union’s Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) website, reveal that only one tender was submitted for the lucrative contract.
The firm also appears to have existing links with the government. Andrew Mills – who, according to LinkedIn, has been a ‘Senior Board Adviser’ to Ayanda Capital since March – is one of twelve advisers to the Board of Trade, chaired by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
TED filings also reveal that the government purchased £18.5 million worth of facemasks from a company called Aventis Solutions Limited – an employment agency with net assets of £322.
The cases were highlighted in a series of tweets by Jolyon Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project and a vocal anti-Brexit campaigner.
Maugham told TLE: “The more we scratch the surface about the PPE contracts awarded by the government, the more serious questions that arise.
“Enormous amounts of public money have been dished out, seemingly without any advertising or tendering process.
“To protect public funds and to try and prevent further PPE procurement failures, we intend to get answers.”
Good Law Project is already demanding a judicial review into the government’s awarding of a £108 million PPE contract given to PestFix – a little-known pest control firm based in Sussex, with just 16 members of staff.
According to filings on Companies House, Crisp Websites Limited – which trades as PestFix – has cash assets of just over £19,000. It was reportedly the only bidder for the PPE contract.
A further £108 million in contracts was handed out to a company called Clandeboye Agencies Limited – a sweet wholesaler with no proven expertise or experience in supplying PPE.
In a statement, Good Law Project said: “Where was this contract advertised? If it was advertised, surely other companies would have bid for it? Good Law Project has spoken to another big market participant who told us that no one in the market knew that the contract was up for grabs.
“How was Crisp Websites Limited put in a position to spend these vast sums of money? Was cash just handed over to it?
“It’s hard to imagine a good reason why this contract would be given to this company selection. And failures in PPE provision make it vital we understand where procurement is going wrong.”
The revelations pour fresh scrutiny on the government’s scramble to procure vital PPE as its efforts to tackle coronavirus deteriorated.
A shipment of more than 400,000 protective gowns from Turkey – initially heralded by ministers as “very significant” was delayed in May – before being rejected by inspectors as faulty.
Meg Hillier MP – chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which is looking into PPE procurement – said: “We saw all of this coming, for months and in fact years.
“We could have planned for emergency procurement too, in reality there should have been no need to resort to rushed awards of potentially dodgy contracts.
“And our inquiry revealed, straining all credulity, that Government did not include the economic aspects in its pandemic planning at all.
“It’s not good enough to say, as seems to be the official line now, that the future will judge.
“The pandemic is still active now, and we’re at risk of a second wave. We can’t keep losing time – and lives – to these late, lacking decisions and processes.”
The government said it was unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but stressed that all PPE is tested to ensure it meets safety standards and provides adequate protection to health and social care workers.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Coronavirus has placed unprecedented global demands on PPE supply chains.
“Almost 28 billion items of PPE have been ordered overall from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply in the coming months.
“We have a robust process which ensures that orders are of high quality standard, meet commercial due diligence and checked for risk and fraud.”
Ayanda Capital did not respond to a request for comment.
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