ARTICLE OF THE WEEK NEW YORK TIMES.

A gem of a story about Tory corruption from the NY Times. Don’t count on the BBC running any of this. Please share widely and keep this as a reference – I know I will. Leah Gunn Barrett

Waste, Negligence and Cronyism: Inside Britain’s Pandemic Spending

In the desperate scramble for protective gear and other equipment, politically connected companies reaped billions.

By Jane BradleySelam Gebrekidan and Allison McCannDec. 17, 2020

As the Covid-19 lockdown went into effect in March, areas like London’s South Bank, across the Thames from the British Houses of Parliament, became deserted.Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — When the pandemic exploded in March, British officials embarked on a desperate scramble to procure the personal protective equipment, ventilators, coronavirus tests and other supplies critical to containing the surge. In the months following those fevered days, the government handed out thousands of contracts to fight the virus, some of them in a secretive “V.I.P. lane” to a select few companies with connections to the governing Conservative Party.

To shine a light on one of the greatest spending sprees in Britain’s postwar era, The New York Times analyzed a large segment of it, the roughly 1,200 central government contracts that have been made public, together worth nearly $22 billion. Of that, about $11 billion went to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative Party, or with no prior experience or a history of controversy. Meanwhile, smaller firms without political clout got nowhere.

“The government had license to act fast because it was a pandemic, but we didn’t give them permission to act fast and loose with public money,” said Meg Hillier, a lawmaker with the opposition Labour Party and chair of the powerful Public Accounts Committee. “We’re talking billions of pounds, and it’s quite right that we ask questions about how that money was spent.”

The procurement system was cobbled together during a meeting of anxious bureaucrats in late March, and a wealthy former investment banker and Conservative Party grandee, Paul Deighton, who sits in the House of Lords, was later tapped to act as the government’s czar for personal protective equipment.

Eight months on, Lord Deighton has helped the government award billions of dollars in contracts –– including hundreds of millions to several companies where he has financial interests or personal connections.

The contracts that have been made public are only a part of the total. Citing the urgency of the pandemic, the government cast aside the usual transparency rules and awarded contracts worth billions of dollars without competitive bidding. To date, just over half of all of the contracts awarded in the first seven months remain concealed from the public, according to the National Audit Office, a watchdog agency.

The British central government published data on pandemic-related contracts worth $22 billion awarded from January through November. Many more contracts remain secret.

Taken together, about half of that $22 billion went to companies with political connections, no prior experience or histories of controversy.

About $5 billion went to politically connected companies. Some had former ministers and government advisers on staff. Others donated to the Conservative Party.

Around $6 billion went to companies that had no prior experiencein supplying medical personal protective equipment. Fashion designers, pest controllers and jewelers won lucrative contracts.

More than $5 billion was awarded to companies with histories of controversy, from tax evasion and fraud to corruption and human rights abuses.

But that’s only half the story. It is impossible to know how much the government has spent on Covid-19 procurement.Sources: Tussell, U.K. Government Companies House database, U.K. Electoral Commission, Parliament’s Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Times investigation was based on contracts compiled by Tussell, a research firm that tracks public spending. It also relies on other public records, and interviews with dozens of government officials, lawmakers, business owners, doctors and nurses.

All of the companies named in this article have denied wrongdoing, and there is no evidence to suggest that government officials were engaged in illegal conduct. But there is ample evidence of cronyism, waste and poor due diligence. Some of it has been documented by the British media, but the scale of the problem is wider than previously known.

In the government’s rush to hand out contracts, officials ignored or missed many red flags. Dozens of companies that won a total of $3.6 billion in contracts had poor credit, and several had declared assets of just $2 or $3 each. Others had histories of fraud, human rights abuses, tax evasion or other serious controversies. A few were set up on the spur of the moment or had no relevant experience — and still won contracts.

The Department of Health and Social Care, which led the government’s pandemic procurement, said in a statement that “proper due diligence” was carried out for all contracts.

“We take these checks extremely seriously,” a spokesman for the department said in an emailed statement.

The government was undoubtedly in crisis in March, with Mr. Johnson putting the country on a “war footing.” Many companies, such as the fashion brand Burberry, did create new production lines and successfully produce critical supplies.

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., at a hospital in Cambridge in May. Officials shelled out billions in contracts for coronavirus tests, vaccines and P.P.E.Pool photo by Neil Hall

Nevertheless, the crisis gave way to a system that was neither fair nor equitable, critics say. Suppliers who answered the government’s call say the publicly advertised procurement system run by Lord Deighton was at best slow and at worst unresponsive.

Junior staffers reviewed thousands of proposals and passed on a chosen few to their bosses, who often had only a day to sign off on contracts, according to a government official involved in the process. Some businesses said they were left waiting months as their proposals went unanswered. Others said it was difficult to keep up with what the government wanted, with safety specifications sometimes changing after deliveries had already been made.

Normally, companies would bid on individual contracts with requirements published in advance. But given the government’s frenzied need for supplies, most companies simply submitted broad proposals through a government website. Government officials then decided yes or no, or in some cases approached companies themselves.

A government spokesman said that the huge global demand for P.P.E. had created “a highly competitive market” and that it used “the quickest and most accessible routes” to buy protective gear.

In choosing speed over due diligence, however, ministers squandered millions on “unsuitable” items, including some that did not meet safety standards, according to the National Audit Office. The government said that only a tiny portion of the supplies, 0.5 percent, had been found unfit for their intended uses.

Ministers could have avoided the panicked spending spree, critics said, had they not ignored their own pandemic preparedness plan and sold off stocks of P.P.E. from rainy-day reserves in the first three months of the year.

“If they had stocked according to that plan, then they would have bought themselves more time,” said Dolin Bhagawati, a neurosurgeon and a leader of the Doctors’ Association UK, which is suing the government for failing to investigate the effects of the P.P.E. shortages.

The V.I.P. Lane

March was a month of madness for Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary. Doctors and nurses were in open revolt, telling the government they felt like “cannon fodder” for being forced to work without proper protective gear. Officials were struggling to process thousands of offers that responded to the government’s call to arms to British suppliers.

In the pressurized atmosphere of early April, with lawmakers loudly demanding P.P.E for their constituents, Mr. Hancock secretly authorized the V.I.P. lane for favored companies, which proved to be 10 times more likely to win contracts than those outside that group, according to the National Audit Office.

How P.P.E. contracts were awarded

More than 15,000 companies contacted the British government offering to supply personal protective equipment.

Parallel supply chain

From April onward all bids to supply P.P.E. were handled by this team, led by Lord Paul Deighton.

493

SUPPLIERS

~14,000

SUPPLIERS

“V.I.P.” lane

A high-priority lane for businesses endorsed by officials or politicians. Recommendations were sent to a secret email address.

Ordinary lane

Most businesses submitted their bids through a public government website.

Cabinet office

This government department led due diligence and conflict-of-interest checks on companies.

Clearance board

PPE contracts worth more than $6.7 million required extra approval from this group.

~1 in 10 succeed

Around 10 percent of suppliers who went through the high-priority lane were awarded contracts.

~1 in 100 succeed

Less than 1 percent of suppliers who went through the public process were awarded contracts.Source: National Audit Office Report.

The government did not carry out systematic company checks, including for potential conflicts of interest, until it had already spent nearly $2 billion, auditors found. Officials did not always document who recommended a company or why it was awarded a contract.

One company in the V.I.P. lane was an investment firm, Ayanda Capital, where a man named Andrew Mills served as a senior board adviser while also working for a government body, the Board of Trade. While it is not clear what role Mr. Mills played, Ayanda Capital was awarded nearly $340 million to supply personal protective equipment. It eventually delivered 50 million masks worth more than $200 million that could not be used for their original purpose, because the ear loop fastenings did not match the government’s new requirements.

A spokesman for Ayanda denied that the masks were unusable and said they met all government requirements when the order was placed.

Many companies and business people, often better qualified to produce P.P.E. but lacking political connections, had no access to the V.I.P. lane. Multibrands International, a British manufacturer that had been producing P.P.E. for China since December, was among them. Its owner, Rizwana Hussain, spent months trying to reach government officials through public channels.

Rizwana Hussain, the owner of Multibrands International, said she had offered to supply the government with “large quantities” of P.P.E. starting in March, but never heard back.Mary Turner for The New York Times

Ms. Hussain had offered to supply the government starting in March, her emails show. She was still at it in early May when news broke that 400,000 protective gowns that the government ordered from Turkey had proved to be unusable. “I was so upset thinking, ‘Why are we listening to these disastrous happenings when we’re here and are offering our help?’” Ms. Hussain said.

She said that although her company could produce large quantities of P.P.E. at its factories in China and India, she never heard back from the government.

Government officials said that the high-priority lane was set up to efficiently prioritize credible offers of P.P.E. for the National Health Service, and that all proposals, whatever channel they went through, were assessed by the same standards.

But they have not released the names of the nearly 500 companies that made the V.I.P. list., fuelling questions of cronyism.

“Some people seem to be doing very well out of this crisis and that goes against a very basic principle of fairness,” said Rachel Reeves, a Labour party lawmaker and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Lords and Conflicts

Lord Deighton was a central figure in the procurement program, if one with potential conflicts of interest.

He is remembered by his former colleagues at the London Olympics committee as an analytical thinker and a “counselor” of sorts, who was always calm and thoughtful. He is popular inside Westminster, too, where he once served as a junior Treasury minister in a Conservative government, is close to the prime minister’s office and recommended the successor to the controversial Dominic Cummings, who recently resigned as chief of staff.

Lord Deighton, who was once a Goldman Sachs executive, remains involved in business and has financial or personal connections to at least seven companies that were awarded lucrative government contracts totalling nearly $300 million, the Times has learned.

There is no evidence to suggest that the companies won contracts because of their connection to Lord Deighton, and he was not directly involved in awarding vaccine, contact tracing or consulting contracts. He properly declared his business interests in a public register for the House of Lords but did not respond to questions about them.

Lord Deighton after being knighted in 2013 at Buckingham Palace in London.Stefan Rousseau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, conflict of interest questions remain, given his access to government ministers overseeing the spending spree and his involvement in high-level meetings and strategy discussions.

Two of the contracts linked to Lord Deighton were P.P.E.-related. One, for $78 million, was awarded to Honeywell Safety Products, a subsidiary of Honeywell International, a company he holds shares in.

Lord Deighton is also a shareholder of AstraZeneca, the British pharmaceutical company that is developing a vaccine with Oxford University, and was awarded $205 million for test services.

He also holds shares in the consulting firm Accenture, which was awarded a $5.6 million contract to help develop England’s ill-fated contact tracing app and detect fraud in procurement. Another company he has a stake in, UBS, won $770,000.

Neither Lord Deighton nor the companies would divulge the size of his share holdings.

A $406,000 contract was awarded to a consulting firm, Chanzo, to help set up and run the P.P.E. procurement system, including providing a chief of staff for Lord Deighton.

Chanzo’s founder and chief executive, Jean Tomlin, is a long-time business associate of Lord Deighton, and worked with him on the Olympic committee. Ms. Tomlin is also a fellow director at Hakluyt, a corporate intelligence firm founded by former British intelligence officers, which Lord Deighton chairs.

Lady Alison Deighton, his wife, is a former director of N.M. Rothschild, which won a $770,000 contract for consulting services. Another consulting contract of the same value went to Moelis & Company, an investment bank where one senior adviser and Labour peer, Lord Charles Allen, was also on the Olympic committee board with Lord Deighton.

Protesting against the lack of protective gear and testing in London in April.Hannah Mckay/Reuters

A colleague in a situation similar to Lord Deighton’s has been forced to relinquish his shareholdings. Lord Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister responsible for supporting Covid-19 procurement, put shares worth about $120,000 in an artificial intelligence company, Faculty Science, into a blind trust following criticism. The company, which has close ties to the Conservative Party and Mr. Cummings’s campaign to leave the European Union, was awarded $5.5 million for Covid-related data analysis services.

Faculty Science said it was “pleased” the National Audit Office had found no conflicts of interest in the awarding of its contracts, nor any evidence of Lord Agnew’s involvement.

The government said that it has rules and processes to guard against conflicts of interest.

Officials insisted that Lord Deighton had no role in approving contracts, despite his appointment as the P.P.E. czar overseeing both the purchase and manufacture of P.P.E.

In the end, his team awarded contracts to fewer than 1 percent of suppliers who went through ordinary government channels, an auditor’s report found. Ms. Hussain’s company, Multibrands International, was not among the recipients.

“Before this case we were extremely naive,” she said. “We thought if we rang the government, said we’re a local British business with the facilities to help, that would be enough.”

“Now we know not being part of the government inner circle held us back,” Ms. Hussain said.

Notes: PestFix said it had repurposed its business during the pandemic to supply medical P.P.E. and said the government changed its specifications after it had supplied the face masks. PPE Medpro said that it was awarded contracts based on the considerable experience and expertise of its staff. Uniserve Group said that its director had no connections to the Conservative government. Deloitte said that its U.K. arm does not give cash contributions to political parties. Ocean Footprint said it had previously sold masks to the boat-building industry. Serco said that it “took significant steps to reform itself” after the 2013 fraud scandal. Randox Laboratories did not respond to questions and Owen Paterson declined to comment. All other companies mentioned in the article either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.

Data and methodology: The New York Times reviewed more than 2,500 contracts awarded by the U.K. central government, the National Health Service, local authorities and other public bodies from January through November. The data was compiled by Tussell, a research firm that tracks public spending. The analysis focused on about 1,200 contracts awarded by the U.K. central government. Data on suppliers and their executives was obtained from the Companies House database, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the electoral commission database for political donations and the registers of interests for lawmakers. Companies with political connections were defined as those with current or former government officials and advisers on staff, as party donors or who have received a British honors system award, such as a knighthood or peerage.

Notes PestFix said it had repurposed its business during the pandemic to supply medical P.P.E. and said the government changed its specifications after it had supplied the face masks. PPE Medpro said that it was awarded contracts based on the considerable experience and expertise of its staff. Uniserve Group said that its director had no connections to the Conservative government. Deloitte said that its U.K. arm does not give cash contributions to political parties. Ocean Footprint said it had previously sold masks to the boat-building industry. Serco said that it “took significant steps to reform itself” after the 2013 fraud scandal. Randox Laboratories did not respond to questions and Owen Paterson declined to comment. All other companies mentioned in the article either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.
ARTICLE ENDS

I despair that Scotland is being governed by Westminster. How anyone in Scotland can support this is beyond me. Surely we can do better, much better. You may ask yourself why we have to look many thousands of miles away for this type of article while in the “Scottish” media there was silence. These are our taxes we are discussing.

I am, as always

YOURS FOR SCOTLAND.

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11 thoughts on “ARTICLE OF THE WEEK NEW YORK TIMES.

  1. Between the pandemic and Brexit it’s going to be bonanza time for many Tory cronies. It’s incredible to think that a substantial number of Scots would still rather be ruled by them. Truly and utterly incredible.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Now We know Why the Fat BoJobbie did Not copy New Zealand!
    Just watch the Evil Tories claiming ‘Hero Status’ Next April when the Vast Majority Will have been Vaccinated against CV19!
    That Will be the Time to Run this Brilliant piece of Investigative Journalism to show just how Malevolent the Evil Tories Are!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Not even surprised any more. So wearingly predictable. We have been a banana republic, without the bananas and without actually being a republic, for so long now, nothing shocks or even surprises any more. We are run by psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists who derive the greatest pleasure from their cruelty against the ordinary populace. Anyone who votes for the Tories, it must be assumed, is equally guilty of condoning this behaviour and of actually enabling it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Independence for Scotland is now a MORAL CRUSADE. ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’. (St Paul – Ephesians 6: 12). AND WE SHALL PREVAIL.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That must be the masonic lodge and the orange order your refering to they prevailed in 2014 referendum

      .

      Like

  5. The reason Scotland wants its independence from an english government , is that Scotland has always been cannon fodder for any type of new polices , they try it in Scotland first , and if it work , role out in the rest of the UK , Scotland is a devolved nation that , if it want to get more political freedom , has to go , with cap in hand , as a poor relation , to westminster ,, Sicotland is a sovereign nation for hundreds of years , and in ,1707 was again used as a testing ground , but at that time Scots people had no power to change the lords of the county’s decision to become part of the UK , they had no vote , but today we have a government , even although its devolved that is giving the people of Scotland a voice , the SNP , although we’ve already had a independence vote , at the time where not given all the facts, and Westminster used brexit as a smokescreen to lie to the Scottish people about independence , this time he’s using covid 19 to try and throw us of track , well this time Boris Johnston it won’t work , if we don’t get or need your permission , we will take back our independence , with our without it

    Like

  6. And now late yesterday afternoon with Brexit chaos looming Boris Johnson’s Government all of a sudden finds a new super-strain COVID virus, and announces effective lockdown of the whole of the London and the South East.

    And then hours later, First Minister Sturgeon’s Vichy Government issues notice of a similar lockdown.

    Most certainly a strange coincidence how when in the shadow of failed negotiations and the lengthening super queues and chaos at ports, both the UK and the Scottish government announce this sudden lockdown, with measures to extend well into mid January and potentially beyond.

    No wonder Sturgeon is talking about a reinforced police presence and it is not difficult to predict that the army may soon be in deployment too. But all because of COVID you realise!!

    Time to stock and buckle up folks this is Brexit exit and it isn’t going to be pretty.

    Like

  7. And for those worried about food shortages and soaring prices to come its time to buy your Brexit Freezer.

    I have just put one in my shed and I know others who have done the same.

    As for my favourite beer, Krombacher from Germany and the country’s biggest seller there, I have bought some stocks. But in the longer term I fear, like so many other imported foods, much of it will now be off the shelves from now on.

    Happy Christmas and a good New Tier.

    Like

  8. It all seems just a tad unethical from what we know, so far then. The idea of morality springs to mind as well, strangely. It all stinks to high heaven and that’s just the bits they are being vaguely transparent about.
    Meanwhile they, the EngGov are doing little to help those losing their jobs due to the pandemic, the fallout will be horrendous, on top of that, Brexit will be catastrophic for many millions in the UK. It’s already looking that way.
    Then to starve little children and complain when international aid is brought in to feed them, can there be anything more lacking in values and morals of those responsible for that, while raking in masses of cash for themselves. It would be hard to beat in terms of sheer evil really, taking advantage of a pandemic, the sick and dying, the poor, those trying to do the right thing and save lives. It’s like some nightmare scenario in a dystopian film!

    Scotland was told by the EngGov and their lackeys in Scotland, to vote no in 2014, or be chucked out of the EU as an independent country, it’s time to use that massive lie, throw it right back at them, escape and do it now, in 2021, no question about it, go for independence or be renamed North Britain, again.

    Liked by 2 people

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