Revealed: How ‘unfit’ PPE helped former playboy buy two mansions

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Glove tycoon Robert Gros splashed millions on luxury homes and planned to build cinema, disco and golf simulator

An estimated £27m worth of gowns supplied by Gros’s company were later deemed “not fit for use”. Image: Katia Ponnampalam, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A former ‘playboy’-turned-businessman made a fortune supplying PPE during the pandemic, even though the NHS may be unable to use millions of the gowns his company delivered, openDemocracy can reveal.

Chemical Intelligence Limited was awarded a £126m contract to supply 21 million medical gowns that were desperately needed to protect NHS workers treating Covid patients in May 2020. But data released to openDemocracy through freedom of information law shows the Department of Health and Social Care later deemed 4.5 million of them – worth an estimated total of £27m – “not fit for use” in the NHS. 

Lawyers acting on behalf of Robert Gros, the sole owner and CEO of Chemical Intelligence, said Gros could not comment because he “did not recognise these figures or amounts”.

The bumper PPE contract allowed Gros, 51, to turn around his business, which had made losses two years running prior. Chemical Intelligence declared profits of £33m for the year up to September 2020 according to accounts filed on Companies House. It had just two employees, including Gros, when it landed the multi-million pound government contract.

Gros personally splashed out on a £4m country pile just four months after he clinched the PPE deal. In 2021, after his company reported a further £31m in profits, he bought a second £2m country home and asked for planning permission to fit a basement bowling alley in the first.

The businessman then paid himself £7m in dividends in January 2022 – after having already loaned himself £6m the year before. Two months later, he transferred £40m in dividends to a holding company that he entirely owns. 

Gros would only answer our questions through his lawyers, who told us that he has paid all the necessary corporation tax and that the £4om would “continue to be reinvested” in his business.

The £126m contract was one of many for which the government apparently paid over the odds as demand for PPE skyrocketed during the pandemic and it did not have enough stockpiled. Gowns cost the government 1,260% more than they did before the pandemic, according to the National Audit Office.

A fifth of gowns supplied by Chemical Intelligence were labelled “not fit for use” because they “failed the technical, clinical or regulatory compliance assessment”, openDemocracy understands. The department would not elaborate on why the gowns failed checks, but according to the data released under FOI their value has been written down to £0.

“The department has processes in place to review the quality of PPE and determine whether products are suitable to be released to the frontline,” said a spokesperson. “Upon receipt, a sample of each product is reviewed by DHSC’s Technical and Regulatory Assurance team.

“A proportion of this stock was classified as ‘do not supply’. Stock in this category has not necessarily fallen short of standards and in many cases these products can be used in other settings.”

Gros’s lawyers insisted that all the PPE the company had supplied was “fit for purpose and use”, suggesting the DHSC may have been mistaken in its record-keeping. The department confirmed that Chemical Intelligence also supplied £35m worth of face masks and disposable surgical aprons under separate contracts also awarded in 2020, none of which was deemed unusable.

Of the £12bn the government spent in total on PPE, £4bn worth cannot be used by the NHS because it doesn’t meet the right standards, according to a 2022 report by the Public Accounts CCommittee of MPs.

Gros’s lawyers said that the sharp rise in profits for Chemical Intelligence was not all down to PPE deals he struck during the pandemic, and threatened openDemocracy with an injunction if we revealed details about his mansions.

The businessman, who had a reputation as a “playboy” in the late 1990s after dating a string of soap stars, appears to have made the most of his new fortune. The Cambridgeshire house he bought a few months after the contract was signed had six bedrooms, four reception rooms, a swimming pool and a gym, all heated by three boilers.

Three months later, he lodged a planning application with Cambridge City Council to more than double the size of the property. The proposed plan included the addition of a basement housing a dance floor, a two-lane bowling alley, a golf simulator, a room for arcade machines and a cinema.

Gros was forced to withdraw the application after it was rejected by planners for being too “modern” in style; neighbours had also raised concerns about the potential noise from the proposed bowling alley and dance floor. He resubmitted a new application in November, which was approved in April.

In June 2021, through another company of which he was the sole owner, Gros bought a second mansion with six bedrooms, three garages and an outdoor pool for £2m in a neighbouring village.

Chemical Intelligence, which Gros founded in 2012, develops medical examination gloves, which have been licensed to and manufactured by Malaysian firm Hartalega since 2017.

Hartalega is one of several Malaysian glove manufacturers that have been accused of using modern slavery. A leaked report by the Home Office in 2019 found there was “strong evidence” to suggest that the majority of Malaysian glove manufacturers that supply the NHS, which include Hartalega, “exhibit forced labour indicators”.

Lawyers acting for Chemical Intelligence said that the company “takes the issue of modern slavery extremely seriously and carried out its own due diligence to seek to satisfy itself that throughout the manufacturing process all of the correct procedures and safeguards are in place”.

Chemical Intelligence was one of 58 suppliers awarded a contract to supply medical gloves to the NHS in January 2022, but no information has been published on whether it has yet done so.

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

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Continue ReadingRevealed: How ‘unfit’ PPE helped former playboy buy two mansions

Morning Star: Starmer’s NHS ‘vision’ dodges the three big issues: investment, pay, and privatisation

Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos
Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos

EVERYONE who works in or depends on the NHS should be deeply concerned at Keir Starmer’s vision for the service.

Like so many cheerleaders for public-sector “reform” — which has invariably meant fragmentation and privatisation over the last 40 years — he accuses those calling for higher investment of avoiding the big issues. Yet that is what he is doing.

Starmer dodges questions on NHS pay, despite ongoing disputes involving doctors, nurses, paramedics, porters and domestics.

These disputes have prompted the biggest strikes in NHS history this year — but Labour is “not focused” on pay rises, he says.

That’s not good enough from the leader of a party founded to represent organised labour. Especially since we know from his previous comments that they regard inflation-proofed pay demands as “unaffordable.”

Starmer says the NHS cannot cope with more years of Tory government, and he is right. But on a prospectus like this — no promises on investment, no promises on pay, blind faith in “technology” and continued exploitation by the private sector — its agony would continue on his watch, too.

Continue ReadingMorning Star: Starmer’s NHS ‘vision’ dodges the three big issues: investment, pay, and privatisation

Anti-strike law: Paul Nowak perfectly dismantles bill ahead of Parliament vote

The legislation is an attempt to ‘drive a wedge between working people’

General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Paul Nowak took to the airwaves this morning to speak out about the anti-strikes bill which will be voted on by MPs this evening.

He slammed media accusations of union ‘scare tactics’ by laying out the reality of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which could see workers lose their job for taking strike action.

As media presenters sought to play down the implications of the bill, Nowak said threatening workers with the sack was ‘untenable’ and that the real reason it was being put through was to ‘demonise trade unions’ and ‘drive a wedge between working people’.

“There is no public appetite at all to see nurses, paramedics, teachers, railway [ workers …] sacked for exercising what most people will think as a fundamental British liberty, the right to strike,” Nowak said on Sky News.

“To remove it would put the UK as a real international outlier.”

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Extinction Rebellion NL protests government subsidies to fossil fuels at A12 (yet again)

Translation of by

Between two and three hundred protesters will join a seven-day march from Arnhem to The Hague, organised by Extinction Rebellion. They will start on Sunday and walk along the A12. The march ends on 27 May, the day the group plans to block the A12 in The Hague again to protest against government subsidies to the fossil industry.

It is the seventh time that Extinction Rebellion is planning to block the A12. At the last demonstration on 11 March, some 700 activists were eventually detained.

Video of March 2023 protest.

During a demonstration by Extinction Rebellion on the A12 in The Hague a symphony orchestra played the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no.7. By doing so, the orchestra supported the demand of XR to stop the yearly 17.5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies by the Dutch government. The musicians are convinced that the beauty of music and of people connecting through music will also disappear if the climate crisis exacerbates.

At the moment the orchestra entered the road, police began to demand the protesters to leave or face arrest. Threatened by the deployment of water cannons, the orchestra decided to play anyway, which seemed to have a de-escalating effect. With this action the orchestra showed in a democratic way that beauty is tarnished.

Violinist Vera Beths : “Nature is a great source of inspiration for composers. You can find everything in it; harmony, dissonance, rhythm and form. We are in the process of disturbing this balance systematically. That has to stop. We have to start listening again.”

Continue ReadingExtinction Rebellion NL protests government subsidies to fossil fuels at A12 (yet again)

Climate activists protest at Rome’s Trevi fountain

Activists from Italy’s Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) group turn Rome’s Trevi fountain black. Ultima Generazione is Italy’s group within the international Action Network. Italy has recently experienced extreme rain and flooding with at least 15 people killed.

Italy’s deadly floods are yet another example of climate change extremes, experts say

Floods that sent rivers of mud tearing through towns in Italy’s northeast are another drenching dose of climate change’s all-or-nothing weather extremes, scientists say. 

It is something that has been happening around the globe.

The coastal region of Emilia-Romagna was struck twice. First by heavy rain two weeks ago on the drought-parched ground that could not absorb it leading to overflowing riverbanks overnight. This was followed by the deluge that killed 13 and caused billions in damages this week. 

More than 10,000 people fled their homes, some plucked from rooftops or balconies by rescue helicopters and others ferried out on dinghies. 

Continue ReadingClimate activists protest at Rome’s Trevi fountain