Government ministers splurged at least £150 million buying masks with the wrong kind of straps from a ‘family office’ owned through an offshore holding firm.
Ayanda Capital Limited won a £252 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, without any competitive tender process.
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.
According to The Times, the contract included an order for 50 million high-strength ‘FFP2’ medical masks – costing between £150-180 million, comprising the entire health system’s expected annual consumption.
Officials have now admitted that the 43.5 million Chinese-made FFP2 did not meet the requisite standards and could not be used in the NHS, legal documents revealed. They have elastic ear loops instead of straps that tie around the back of the wearer’s head, raising concerns that they can not be securely fixed.
Links to Truss
Ayanda Capital – which is based in London – has no history of PPE procurement, and claims to specialise in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing”. The government paid the company £41.25 million of the £252 million contract up front.
The deal was brokered by Andrew Mills who, as TLE revealed last month, is one of twelve advisers to the Board of Trade, chaired by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. According to LinkedIn, Mills has been a ‘Senior Board Adviser’ to Ayanda Capital since March.
Mills reportedly made the initial approach to the government in the name of Prospermill, a small firm he set up with his wife last year – which has not yet filed any accounts and has just £100 of share capital.
Horlick has sought to blame the government for the problems with the mask, telling The Times that at a “late stage in our contract” officials had asked to switch the small number of FFP2 masks not then delivered “to headbands from early loop design [and] we are working with [the Department of Health and Social Care] to try to assist them with this matter”.
‘Real cause for alarm’
The revelation that tens of millions of masks are not fit for purpose came in response to a legal case brought by the Good Law Project, which is pursuing a judicial review of how ministers awarded three lucrative PPE contracts to firms with little or no expertise at the height of the pandemic.
Jolyon Maugham QC, Director of Good Law Project said: “Good Law Project wrote to Government on three contracts each worth over a hundred million pounds – with respectively a pest control company, a confectioner and a family hedge fund.
“Each of those contracts has revealed real cause for alarm – including, on Ayanda, that around £150m was spent on unusable masks. What other failures remain undiscovered?
“We also do not understand how Government came to place – and this is Government’s own story – a £250m contract with a family owned hedge fund at the direction of a box fresh £100 company owned by an advisor to and enthusiastic supporter of Liz Truss.”
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.
The National Audit Office has been urged to investigate the multi-billion pound procurement of PPE during the Covid-19 pandemi, while the National Crime Agency – the UK’s answer to the FBI – is now monitoring PPE procurement for suspected fraud.
Julia Patterson, founder of Every Doctor – a non-profit campaign group bringing the case against the government with Good Law Project – said:
“It is horrifying that during the worst crisis in the NHS’s history, the government entrusted large sums of public money in the hands of companies with no experience in procuring safe PPE for healthcare workers.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said they were unable to comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.