Anything that the former health secretary Matt Hancock says has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. His Pandemic Diaries were serialised in the Daily Mail in early December and immediately provoked angry and dismissive responses about their accuracy.
But some of his comments have a ring of truth – those about the contact the Tory peer Michelle Mone had with him over PPE contracts.
Michelle Mone and the PPE contracts
Hancock claims that he felt pressured by Mone’s “extraordinarily aggressive” lobbying to try to help a firm win a contract to supply Covid lateral flow tests.
He continues, “She claims the firm, which makes lateral flow test kits, ‘has had a dreadful time’ trying to cut through red tape and demanded my ‘urgent help’ before it all comes out in the media. ‘I am going to blow this all wide open’, she threatened”.
He said he chose to ignore the message, adding: “I will simply not reply… I won’t be pushed around by aggressive peers representing commercial clients.”
The Tory peer is now engulfed in accusations about her links to the two large contracts which were secured by PPE Medpro in 2020 and were valued at £203mn, as well as what happened to the excess profits.
For nearly 18 months she and her husband Douglas Barrowman constantly dismissed, denied or played down any links to the company.
However, in November 2021 the Good Law Project filed a freedom of information request that led to the information commissioner ordering the government to publish the names of both the companies that had received contracts through the VIP lane and those who had referred them. When it did so, PPE Medpro was on the list, with the name of the VIP who initially referred the company to the government: ‘Baroness Mone’.
Investigation into Mone
On 23 November David Conn published the results of a two-year investigation, ‘The yacht, the wedding and £29m: Michelle Mone’s life during the Covid crisis’, in The Guardian. He revealed that Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business
This was followed by a report in the Sunday Times which claimed Mone had ‘bullied and hectored’ Michael Gove and Lord Agnew in order to secure contracts for PPE Medpro. Now Mone and her husband are the subject of police investigation and she is also facing a House of Lords standards probe over lobbying while not declaring her interest in PPE Medpro.
Mone said on 6 December she was taking a ‘leave of absence’ from the House of Lords to clear her name.
Another PPE scandal was revealed in the same issue of the Sunday Times.Philip Johnson’s company Ramfoam made a £70mn profit on a contract for PPE that was mostly unused. He has paid himself £13mn and celebrated his birthday by eating a ‘briefcase of cash’ cake on a private yacht.
Ramfoam was awarded a £149mn contract by the Department of Health and Social Care. Ministers did not put the contract out to competitive tender, citing emergency procurement rules.
In response to the Sunday Times story, a member of Johnson’s family posted an image of them boarding what appears to be a private jet with the caption ‘Living up to what the paper said’.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has been prominent in her criticism of the Tory government, pointing out: “Zero – that’s the number of times this government has come clean on this dodgy Medpro scandal.”
Tip of the iceberg
The scale of waste and profligacy these PPE cases reveal is the tip of the iceberg. They stand in stark contrast to government opposition to trade union demands, after years of austerity, for wage increases to cope with inflation and the cost of food and energy.
VIP treatment and fast lanes for Tory cronies, austerity and roadblocks for the rest of us.