Bedford company named in legal challenge to ‘VIP lane’ Government contracts

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A Bedford company, that was awarded six government PPE contracts totalling £160m, has been named in a list of companies the Good Law Project says may have had ‘VIP lane’ preferential treatment in procuring the deal.

Based on Mile Road, Meller Designs is owned by David Meller CBE who has donated £60,000 to the Conservative party since 2009.

The fashion company dedicated itself to producing PPE at the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus).

The Good Law Project, along with co-claimants EveryDoctor, launched a legal challenge on 22 April over direct awards of contracts to ministers’ ‘VIP’ contacts.

They aim to force the government to disclose the names of the contacts and those responsible for putting them in the so-called ‘VIP lane’.

In an article on their website, the Good Law Project says: “Explosive emails revealed in a hearing on our legal challenge over direct awards of PPE contracts show civil servants raising the alarm that they were “drowning in VIP requests” from political connections that do not have “the correct certification or pass due diligence”.

On 29 April, the Good Law Project named an additional four companies, including Meller Designs, who they believe were awarded government contracts through the ‘VIP lane’.

Political connections

According to documents seen by The Guardian, David Meller contacted government minister Lord Bethell to ask him to speed up the award of £65m contracts to supply face masks.

David Meller (photo: Twitter)

The Guardian reported: “Meller has been a well-known figure in political circles. The Conservative government has appointed him to official posts in the past, and he has been a trustee of the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange.

“His donations include £3,000 to support Michael Gove’s failed leadership bid in 2016. Meller, who has been involved in running schools, was appointed as a non-executive board member of the education department in 2013 when Gove was education secretary.

“Meller resigned from the post in 2018 after the Financial Times exposed sexual harassment at a men-only charity auction, known as The Presidents Club, which he co-chaired.”

In censored documents released to The Guardian, it is revealed that Mr Mellor contacted health minister, Lord Bethell on 6 April and emails detail that government officials were ironing out ‘issues’ before awarding a £65m PPE contract on 7 May.

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has delivered over 10.6 billion items of PPE.

PPE without competition

A statement from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to the Bedford Independent, said: “All [procurement] leads, no matter from what channel, went through the same eight-step process, including volume and lead times, quality checks, price controls and other due diligence.

“All PPE offers were assessed against this eight-step assurance process with each stage having the autonomy to reject an offer which did not meet minimum standards.”

Meller Designs said it was proud of its role at the height of the coronavirus crisis, securing over 220 million items of PPE including masks, sanitiser, coveralls, and gloves.

In a statement to the Bedford Independent, their spokesperson said: “Like others, Meller Designs responded to the Prime Minister’s call to business in March 2020 and offered its help in the fight against COVID-19.

“It was subsequently awarded contracts to supply PPE for the NHS and other essential public services.

“In responding to this national emergency, we were able to rely on our many years’ experience of sourcing, testing and quality control of a wide range of products, including more than 20 years of sourcing and manufacturing anti-bacterials.”

Matt Hancock
The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has overseen PPE procurement

No PPE experience

However, Mohammad Yasin, Labour MP for Bedford and Kempston, says that Meller Designs had no prior experience producing PPE and was awarded multi-million-pound contracts with no competition.

“Waste and cronyism have marred government procurement from the beginning of the pandemic with billions of pounds of public money being handed to Tory friends and donors who were offered a back-door VIP special procurement route,” said Mr Yasin.

“We simply don’t know the details of these contracts or whether they delivered because the details are being kept secret.

“But what we do know is that Mr Meller has had a huge return on his investment at public expense.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for courts to drag the truth out of the Prime Minister on these dodgy procurement deals.

“The Government needs to come clean and publish the details of its meetings with suppliers and reveal how and why the contracts were awarded.

“It’s public money and we should demand answers.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson denied any involvement of Ministers in awarding contracts, saying: “The first duty of any government in a national crisis is to protect the public and save lives, and to do that when confronted with this global pandemic we had to rapidly procure and produce PPE.

“All PPE procurement goes through the same assurance process. Due diligence has been carried out on every contract and Ministers have no involvement in deciding who is awarded contracts.”

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