A former Tory councillor was awarded a £120m government contract for personal protective equipment which is not being used because of quality fears.
Steve Dechan, who owns medical device manufacturer Platform-14, had his offer to get PPE from China fast-tracked through a government “VIP” lane, the Independent has reported.
According to The Sunday Times, only 274,200 shields out of the 120 million ordered have been delivered to the NHS.
The cost of shields used so far come to £423 per piece – even though they can be purchased online for less than £1.
Less than 1 in 400 face shields have been used because the regulator believes they do not meet the standards required, but despite this, the government overrode their authority and approved them this year. This means that when the pandemic was at its peak, they could not be used.
Dechan told The Sunday Times that his products did meet the “required standards”.
“As an NHS supplier for nearly 10 years, we will continue to provide innovative solutions and support trusts and patients across the UK,” he said.
The news comes after last year a report has revealed the government established a fast-track VIP lane to buy PPE worth billions of pounds from little-known companies with Tory party contacts.
The National Audit Office (NAO) found that suppliers with links to Tory politicians were ten times more likely to be awarded contracts than those who applied to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The NAO said the government’s procurement efforts during the coronavirus crisis “diminished public transparency”, and accused officials of failing to meet “standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust”.
By the end of July, more than 8,600 contracts worth close to £18 billion had been awarded – and £10.49 billion of those were awarded directly to the supplier without any competition or tendering process. In some instances, due diligence was not carried out until weeks after contracts were awarded.
The “high-priority lane” was open for companies referred by government officials, ministers, MPs and peers – sources “considered to be more credible”, the report said.
Roughly one-in-ten suppliers processed through the VIP channel – 47 out of 493 – obtained lucrative PPE contracts, compared to less than one-in-a-hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane.
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, said the government’s procurement efforts had “ridden roughshod over the taxpayer and ripped up too many of the rules that guard against cronyism.”
“It’s bad enough that it set up a ‘high-priority lane’ to fast-track companies with the right connections,” she said. “But the failure to track how half the companies had ended up on it made it impossible to ensure proper safeguards were in place.”
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “While we recognise that these were exceptional circumstances, it remains essential that decisions are properly documented and made transparent if government is to maintain public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately and fairly.”
Related: Tory-linked firms given VIP access to PPE contracts worth billions – report