The government’s spending on personal protective equipment is coming under growing scrutiny, after it emerged that the UK had spent more on items like gloves, masks and gowns than any other country in the EU.
Faced with public outrage over the critical lack of PPE for frontline healthcare workers at the height of the pandemic in March, ministers scrambled to purchase supplies – much of it overpriced and, in some cases, faulty.
It spent £3.2 billion on medical and protective equipment – over €1 billion more than Germany, the next biggest buyer of PPE in Europe.
Research by Spend Network – a consultancy – found that Britain accounted for 30 per cent of the overall EU-UK spending on PPE, the Financial Times reported.
The firm’s founder, Ian Makgill, said that the fact other countries spent less “may not mean that they go without, as many have more established manufacturing sectors that can flex production to meet the needs of their governments”.
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.
The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit campaign group, is suing the government over its awarding of a £108 million contract to Pestfix, a pest control company with net assets of £19,000 and 16 staff.
One firm, Ayanda Capital Limited, won a £242.5 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 an investment bank.
Of the UK’s PPE contracts, 73 per cent were concluded without any competition or tender process – compared with 61 per cent across the rest of Europe.
The Department of Health and Social Care – headed by Matt Hancock – remains the biggest buyer of PPE in Europe, with 137 contracts totalling nearly £1.9 billion. None of those deals were subject to competition, Spend Network said.
Despite the extraordinary levels of spending, a top parliamentary committee warned recently that NHS and care workers risk being left without adequate PPE if Britain suffers a second wave of pandemic.
The Public Accounts Committee said that the government had not reacted with “sufficient urgency” to address shortages, suggesting it does not understand what protective equipment frontline workers need, or how to distribute it to hospitals and – most crucially – care homes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the front line — with more than 2.4bn items delivered to date and over 30bn items ordered to provide a continuous supply now and for the future.
“We have a robust process in place to ensure that orders are of a high standard and meet commercial due diligence.”