The UK authorities has awarded a brand new £347m Covid-19 testing contract to Randox, the Tory-linked non-public healthcare firm whose testing kits needed to be recalled over the summer season due to issues about contamination.
The deal is a six-month extension of an present contract and was agreed with out different corporations being invited to bid. It means the well being secretary, Matt Hancock, has now accredited transfers of practically half a billion kilos in taxpayer funds to the Northern Eire-based firm for the reason that pandemic started.
Disclosed in a submitting on a European contracts web site, the award has prompted issues about “cronyism” and requires an impartial inquiry into the £12bn spent to this point on making an attempt to manage the pandemic by means of the test-and-trace system.
Critics raised additional issues a few separate revelation that the Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who’s paid £100,000 a yr to behave as a marketing consultant for Randox, was celebration to a name between the corporate and James Bethell, the well being minister liable for coronavirus testing provides.
The disclosure raises contemporary questions on Paterson’s persevering with work for Randox, and the efficacy of the code of conduct for MPs, which is meant to restrict their work as paid lobbyists and regulate entry to ministers.
“Legislators should not even be lobbyists,” mentioned a spokesperson for the marketing campaign group Transparency Worldwide.
The Inexperienced celebration MP Caroline Lucas mentioned: “We urgently want an impartial inquiry into the place public cash goes as many corporations who’ve benefited appear to have hyperlinks to the Tory celebration or particular person ministers.
“The dearth of transparency round Covid-related contracts is a scandal. On the very least, ministers owe MPs an evidence, and we’re nonetheless not getting one.”
Randox offers tens of 1000’s of kits per week to care houses and people testing themselves at house, that are then posted again to its laboratories in County Antrim. Issues had been raised in July when spot checks revealed some kits provided by a Chinese language producer and despatched out by Randox had been not sterile.
In Could, the Guardian revealed that Randox was awarded a primary authorities contract on 30 March, price £133m. It was awarded in a closed course of, with out being publicly marketed beforehand and with out every other corporations being requested to bid. The Division of Well being and Social Care (DHSC) revealed on Wednesday that the contract was for two.7m kits – that means the price per package was simply over £49.
The brand new deal was signed on 2 October and was anticipated to run for six months, till the top of March 2021, a spokesperson mentioned.
The federal government has been bypassing regular guidelines on holding open competitions for public sector contracts underneath emergency powers designed to hurry up the method through the pandemic. The most recent Randox deal was awarded as an extension to the present contract, once more with no different corporations invited to bid.
The decision between Randox, Paterson and Lord Bethell came about on 9 April, days after the corporate had secured its first contract to supply testing providers. Bethell, who ran a political lobbying agency earlier than coming into the Home of Lords, is the minister for innovation within the DHSC. He has led efforts by Boris Johnson’s authorities to make use of non-public sector corporations within the pandemic response.
Billions in public funds have been awarded to corporations equivalent to Deloitte, which helped arrange a community of drive-in take a look at centres, and Serco, which runs the contact-tracing name centre.
The decision with Bethell was revealed within the quarterly disclosure of ministerial conferences, items and journeys, the place the rationale for the decision is listed as “to debate Covid-19 testing”.
A authorities supply mentioned the dialog with Bethell was a “courtesy name” from the minister to Randox and came about after the preliminary contract had been signed. Paterson was collaborating as a paid marketing consultant to Randox on the decision, the supply mentioned.
Paterson, who’s the MP for North Shropshire, has disclosed in parliament’s register of pursuits that he’s paid £8,333 for 16 hours of labor a month by Randox.
Paterson and Randox didn’t reply to a request for remark. Challenged final yr about his work as a marketing consultant for various non-public corporations, Paterson responded: “My monetary pursuits have been accurately declared in keeping with the principles of the Home of Commons.”
The Guardian has beforehand reported that Hancock toured Randox’s laboratories in Antrim final yr to examine a software for diagnosing sepsis. Paperwork launched underneath the Freedom of Info Act recommend Paterson additionally took half within the go to.
Steve Goodrich of Transparency Worldwide UK mentioned the federal government ought to return to open tenders.
“That lots of of hundreds of thousands of kilos of procurement can go forward with out even a whiff of competitors is dangerous sufficient, but when these offers are awarded to these with political connections it reeks of cronyism,” mentioned Goodrich. “Authorities actually must get again into the behavior of aggressive tendering or danger irreparably damaging confidence in its prudent administration of public cash.”
“MPs and friends should scrupulously keep away from the notion – or actuality – that they’re working as lobbyists for personal pursuits,” Goodrich added. “When parliamentarians with exterior employment meet authorities regarding their shopper’s industrial operations, it seems an terrible lot like they’re attempting to affect ministers in return for fee. Parliament ought to tighten its guidelines to make it completely clear that legislators should not even be lobbyists.”
A DHSC spokesperson mentioned in an emailed assertion: “We’re proud to be working with various companions on progressive options to extend capability the place it’s wanted and introduce larger-scale testing. This contains an extension of an present contract with Randox Laboratories, as we proceed to extend testing capability.”