Thursday, 08 September 2022 08:34

Tory-Linked PPE Firm Issued with Winding Up Order By HMRC

A company with links to a prominent Conservative peer that secured a fast-track government PPE contract during the COVID pandemic has been slapped with a winding up petition by HMRC.

PPE Medpro Ltd was incorporated on 12 May 2020, just days after Tory peer Michelle Mone contacted procurement minister Theodore Agnew with an offer to source personal protective equipment for the NHS from Hong Kong. Mone took the step having apparently first consulted Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

Within six weeks, the company was handed two separate contracts worth a total of £200 million. As part of the government’s ‘VIP lane’ fast-track scheme to supply the NHS and care sector with enough personal protective equipment at the height of the pandemic, PPE Medpro did not have to go through a competitive tender for either contract.

Problems arose when a batch of 25 million surgical gowns supplied by PPE Medpro were rejected for not meeting clinical standards. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been involved in a dispute with the firm trying to recover the money it paid for the defective gowns.

The company has also come under investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) regarding whether it acted fraudulently in supplying faulty PPE.

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The fact that the winding up petition has been served by HMRC suggests that PPE Medpro has failed to pay its taxes, although there is as yet no detail about the nature of its liabilities or how much it owes.

The case once again draws attention to government procurement practices during the pandemic. The ‘VIP lane’ scheme has been widely criticised for cronyism and for being open to abuses by those with links to government.

For her part, Baroness Mone has always denied having any formal role in PPE Medpro Ltd - even though the Isle of Man home she shares with her husband, the financier Douglas Barrowman, was raided by the NCA as part of its investigations into the company. Barrowman has not denied having financial ties to the firm.

PPE Medpro’s apparent link to a prominent figure in the Tory party guarantees the story a high profile. But the truth is, under-resourced bodies like HMRC and the Insolvency Service are struggling to cope with a wave of potential fraud and maladministration cases in the wake of the pandemic.

While much attention - and resource - has gone into the much-discussed abuse of business support and recovery schemes, other areas like PPE procurement remain woefully under investigated.

And perhaps purposefully so. After handing out billions in public cash to companies with little or no scrutiny and due process - not to mention the evidence of links to political allies and associates - thorough independent investigations into business practices around pandemic PPE supply could prove very embarrassing for the government indeed.

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