It took the last Tory government the best part of 18 years to become mired in sleaze, but Boris Johnson’s administration is smelling of it already. Whether doling out lucrative contracts, helping billionaire property developers cut costs, or handing out lifetime seats in the House of Lords, the guiding principle seems to be brazen cronyism, coupled with the arrogance of those who believe they are untouchable and that rules are for little people.
This week came word of at least £156m of taxpayers’ money wasted on 50 million face masks deemed unsuitable for the NHS. They were bought from a private equity firm through a company that had no track record of producing personal protective equipment – or indeed anything for that matter – and that had a share capital of just £100. But this company, Prospermill, had a crucial asset. It was co-owned by one Andrew Mills, adviser to the government, staunch Brexiteer and cheerleader for international trade secretary, Liz Truss.
Somehow Prospermill managed to persuade the government to part with £252m, boasting that it had secured exclusive rights over a PPE factory in China. Just one problem. The masks it produced use ear loops, when only masks tied at the head are judged by the government to be suitable for NHS staff. If the government wanted to spend £156m on masks for the nation’s kids to play doctors and nurses, this was a great deal. But in the fight against a pandemic, it was useless.
… Ayanda is not the first unlikely winner of covid-related contracts awarded by the Johnson government. Another lucky supplier is Crisp Websites, a company whose main business is pest control (trading as Pestfix) and which, despite having assets of only £19,000 and just 16 employees, won a £108 million contract for PPE. Clandeboye Agencies Ltd, a confectionery wholesaler, won another £108 million contract, despite lacking prior experience in this area.
And SG Recruitment UK, a healthcare recruitment firm, won a £24 million contract to provide overalls for healthcare workers. While SG Recruitment was at least somewhat experienced in the healthcare industry, its poor financial health made it a risky proposition for providing this critical public service. Auditors had issued a “going concern” warning five months earlier, flagging that the company’s liabilities exceeded its current assets by £376,000. Given recent experience of outsourcers going bust and leaving the government with hefty bills and unfinished projects, SG Recruitment also seems an odd choice.