Conservative peer Michelle Mone has been in the news over the past week concerning a firm linked to her that used the government’s controversial “VIP Lane” for PPE procurement. However, the Good Law project linked a number of companies to former health secretary Matt Hancock, two of which did not even need to be awarded the VIP treatment.
Earlier this year, the High Court ruled the fast-track lane was unlawful. Companies were given access without tender, and therefore gained an unfair competitive advantage.
Companies connected to Hancock
There are six companies that were connected to Matt Hancock during his time as the Secretary of State for Health. Nothing illegal is known of any of these companies.
The framing of when this took place is important. The government response is that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a global shortage, and increased demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). Number 10 originally cited no longer being part of EU as the reason it hadn’t joined their procurement scheme, but this was later found to be inaccurate.
As Downing Street secretly ramped up its VIP lane, UK suppliers and manufacturers of PPE felt ignored by the Department of Health. Meanwhile, other less experienced companies, such as Dyson were given high-profile contracts which, for a variety of reasons, it did not follow through on.
Matt Hancock put four companies into the VIP lane comprising 8.5% of all the firms listed, and representing the second highest rate of referral. They were:
Monarch Acoustics Limited
Nine United Limited
JD.Com is also known as JingDong. It’s one of the largest retailers in China and a Fortune 500 company. Excalibur Healthcare is now known as International Medical Supplies Limited, and was incorporated on 20January 2020, just ten days before the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. Monarch Acoustics limited was formed in 1989 and is listed as being a ‘manufacture of office and shop furniture’, but it is clear that this has since changed, as noted in their recent filings with Companies House.
None of these companies were associated with the infamous former “Pub Landlord”
The Daily Mail reported on 3 July 2021 that a former pub landlord and acquaintance of Matt Hancock, who had been awarded a £30 million contract to provide vials for Covid-19 test kits had purchased a £1.3m house shortly after. The director of the company, Alex Bourne, had allegedly sent a WhatsApp message to Hancock offering his services. Both Bourne and Hancock denied any wrongdoing as there was no contract directly with the Department of Health.
Bourne’s company, Hinpac, was later investigated by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and did not have previous experience in manufacturing medical supplies.
Company run by his sister
In April 2021 it was reported that Hancock held 20% of the shares of a company, owned by his sister, called ‘Topwood Limited’. The firm had been placed on a framework to provide services to the NHS. The company would not be awarded any contracts.
Number 10 claimed it was a ‘minor breach’, but Lord Geidt, the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests, said it represented “a conflict of interest”. Matt Hancock denied any knowledge of the decision to add the company to the framework.
His breach and denial would lead to accusations of ‘cronyism’ by Labour in the House of Commons.
Whilst Hancock has denied cronyism and any improper conduct, there are other constituents and companies that reached out during the pandemic who believe they did not get the support that they should have, given the unprecedented circumstances.
Philip Priestley, who won an award for supplying laptops to schools during the Covid-19 pandemic, took to Twitter to point out the lack of support he had received from Hancock, his MP. He writes:
We remain bemused that for all our efforts not a penny was given to support us by central government despite our persistent efforts to gain their support. We remain convinced that because nobody got a kick back and there was no profit involved they weren’t interested.
Now, as Hancock has to deal with the new reality after his stay in the Australian jungle, perhaps it is not just his recent associations with wildlife and celebrities that need to be a focus for discussion.