In this week's edition in decentralize.today's EXPOSED! series where we look at corporate malfeasance and government corruption we get the unenviable task of combining both in the matter of PPE procurement and related COVID & public health matters in the UK.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing (and I wish I had had the foresight to know that) but no-one in their wildest (fever induced) dreams could have foreseen the perfect storm that has engulfed the super-conglomerate that was the United Kingdom over the last 18 months.
In 2016, the country voted by a narrow margin in what was supposed to be a non-binding referendum to quit the European Union (EU) after over 40 years of membership. Despite various legal concerns about the funding of the Leave campaigners and the veracity of their claims in support of quitting which included an additional GBP350 million each WEEK to the National Health Service (the UK's universal 'free' medical provider) the decision was enacted.
Fast forward to the autumn of 2019 and a snap General Election is called that delivers a majority to the incumbent Conservatives on the back of the promise to "Get Brexit Done". There was sufficient time to potentially negotiate a smooth exit but that process was damned by two issues, one external and one self-inflicted.
The latter was that not only had the ruling party contrived (largely due to a very partisan press corp) to elect an egotistical self serving incompetent as leader but that he then in turn filled his cabinet with more of the same:
The second, external issue was the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst the response has been very patchy worldwide, two supposedly 'developed' nations have had the patchiest and potentially most deadly responses, namely the USA and the UK. The former is now having it's course corrected by an honest and science respecting new President. The UK continues to flounder. The mis-steps and mis-messaging has been legendary and well covered elsewhere. There can be little doubt it will feature in case studies on how NOT to do things for many years to come.
What has, however, been truly scary has been the blatant opportunism of the inner circle of the cabinet to reach deep into the public coffers and offer up lucrative and hugely inflated contracts to their friends and donors to their party for the supply of COVID response related goods & services from PPE to a 'Track & Trace' app. Their apparent lack of concern at public scrutiny has been exceptional as has the lack of public outcry.
And you don't need to take my word for it, here is the Wiki entry covering just the major company culprits:
Ayanda Capital Limited is a limited liability company which specialises in "currency trading, offshore property, and private equity and trade financing". In April 2020 it was awarded a contract "for the supply of personal protective equipment (masks) to protect health and care workers from contracting the Covid-19 disease." This is in spite of the company having no prior health industry experience. It is run by financier Tim Horlick and his family through Milo Investments, a holding company registered in Mauritius, although it told the i that it pays tax in the UK.
The £252 million contract – supplied under emergency regulations, without advertisement or competitive tender – included an order for 50 million high-strength FFP2 medical masks and 150 million Type IIR masks to the government. The FFP2 masks, worth at least £150 million, did not meet NHS standards as they had elastic ear-loops instead of the required head-loops (loops tied behind the wearer's head); this meant they could not be fastened tightly enough. Ayanda denied the masks were unsafe, and said they adhered to the specifications they were given. Under the terms of the agreement signed, the company was not responsible for any delays in meeting the deadline for handing over masks to the government, as the contract said that "due to the severe global impact of Covid-19 ... the supplier will not be responsible for any delay" provided that it acted in good faith to try to mitigate any problems.
The deal was arranged by Andrew Mills, then an adviser to the Board of Trade (a branch of the Department for International Trade (DIT)) and a senior adviser at Ayanda. Prospermill (Mills's company) had secured production in China, but he requested that the government sign the contract with Ayanda because it could arrange overseas payments more quickly. A document titled "Terms and conditions inc price" (obtained by the Good Law Project) said that no questions would be asked about value for money unless prices were more than 25% above average unit prices. Jolyon Maugham said: "The leaked documents reveal that Cabinet Office contacts and others were helping 'VIPs' sell PPE to government outside normal procurement channels. The information that government would buy at 25% above the price paid to regular suppliers was a licence to make enormous margins – 35-45% – on contracts sometimes worth hundreds of millions of pounds."
As well as Maugham and his Good Law Project, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, also questioned the government over its awarding of the contract. The DIT said neither it nor Mills or the Board of Trade was involved in the deal and Horlick denied that there was any "chumocracy" involved in the deal. However, Mills was dismissed from the DIT in August 2020.
In June the Cabinet Office published details of a March contract with the policy consultancy Public First, which had been running under emergency procedures, to research public opinion about the government's COVID communications. The company is owned by James Frayne (a long-term political associate of Cummings, co-founding the New Frontiers Foundation with him in 2003) and his wife Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove (Minister for the Cabinet Office) who co-wrote the Conservative party manifesto for the 2016 election. They were given £840,000.
Faculty, which worked with Dominic Cummings for Vote Leave during the Brexit referendum, was given government contracts since 2018. After Johnson became PM, a former Faculty employee who worked on Vote Leave, Ben Warner, was recruited by Cummings to work alongside him in Downing Street.
Hanbury Strategy, a policy and lobbying consultancy, has been paid £648,000 under two contracts (one issued under emergency procedures) to research "public attitudes and behaviours" in relation to the pandemic, the other, at a level that did not require a tender, to conduct weekly polling. The company was co-founded by Paul Stephenson, director of communications for Vote Leave and contender to be Downing Street Chief of Staff. In March last year, Hanbury was given responsibility for assessing job applications for Conservative special advisers.
On 30 March, retail logistics firm Clipper Logistics was put in charge of a new supply channel for NHS PPE. Its founding executive chairman is Steven Parkin, a top Conservative Party donor who has attended Leader's Group meetings ("the premier supporter Group of the Conservative Party") and donated £725,000 to the Conservative Party. The company reported 38.2 percent rise in interim pre-tax profits aided by "a successful Black Friday weekend" and was helped by a "significant increase in supporting Supply Chain Co-ordination (NHS) with the storage and distribution of PPE", processing "over 7.4 billion items of PPE on the NHS contract".
Aventis Solutions, was awarded an £18.48 million contract on 12 May to supply garments for biological or chemical protection to the NHS. Aventis is a consulting firm, although its director Jamie Farrell told Byline Times that it had been supplying the NHS for nine years before the DHSC contract.
Design company Luxe Lifestyle Limited was awarded a £25 million contract on 27 April to supply garments for biological or chemical protection to the NHS, including 1.2 million gowns and 10 million FFP2/KN95 masks. According to Companies House, the business was incorporated by fashion designer Karen Brost in November 2018. The company has no employees, no assets, no turnover and no history of trading at all. Brost's previous brand was called Zazaboom; founded in March 2020, this brand included handmade designer face masks costing £25 each.
Globus Limited, which has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives since 2016, won a £93.8M government contract for the supply of respirator face masks.
The gave Clandeboyne Agencies Limited, a wholesaler of confectionary, an £108 million contract for the supply of PPE. It was awarded without competitive tender. The company has no previous experience in supplying PPE. The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor are seeking a judicial review for the contract.
One of the largest government PPE contracts went to Crisp Websites Ltd., trading as PestFix, a business specialising in supplying PPE to protect users from airborne chemicals in a pest-control setting.  PestFix secured a contract in April with the DHSC for a £32M batch of isolation suits; three months after the contract was signed, suits from PestFix were not released for use in the NHS as they were being stored at an NHS supply chain warehouse awaiting safety assessments The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that supplies of PPE had not been specified to the correct standard for use in hospitals when they were bought. One email from a firm working alongside the HSE in June says that there was "'political' pressure" to get the suits through the quality assurance process. However, the gowns were subsequently approved for use and released to hospitals in the summer, and HSE Chief Executive Sarah Albon strongly refuted claims her organisation came under ‘political’ pressure to approve PPE. In a letter dated 25 November, she said: “At no time in the management of PPE supply have any HSE staff indicated that there were feelings of pressure being applied to make specific decisions, to change decisions, or to accept lower standards than required of PPE.” Albon said that sometimes technical assessments had to be repeated. The fact the gowns had been released into hospitals having failed the first inspection did not mean they were unsuitable or unsafe. “In such cases HSE may have asked the supply chain to obtain further information, or to arrange for further testing, to verify the product. In these cases, products that initially had insufficient or incorrect information provided may have been subsequently reassessed and agreed for supply when those gaps had been addressed.”  The contract is being challenged in the courts by the not-for-profit Good Law Project (founded by Jolyon Maugham QC), which asked why DHSC had agreed to pay 75% upfront when the provider was "wholly unsuited" to deliver such a large and important order, and further discovered that the company had actually been awarded PPE contracts worth £313m.
References can be found in the full text from the Wiki entry. The blatency is staggering and only gets more disgraceful as you review the individuals involved and their inter-relationships. Again, it is largely detailed in the same Wiki entry.
What has been disappointing, but not surprising given that the Conservatives have spent 10 years emasculating the national broadcasting service, the BBC, and that 90% of the 'free' press in the UK is owned by 5 billionaires (a number of whom are not even residents, citizens or registered for tax purposes in the UK), has been the reaction to all of this by the mainstream media with one or two honourable exceptions. Obviously, the traditional 'leftist' mainstream press has had something to say as had the regional nationalist titles plus the anti-establishment publications like Private Eye...but most credible has been the Guardian:
The truly sad aspect of some of this is that many people just shrug their shoulders and say "Politicians!", 'That's Boris for you!' (UK's Prime Minister) as if his clownish demeanour allows us to laugh away the corruption. There has even been a boom in a new vocabulary to cover the whole mess:
The joking aside, the amount of spin being thrown at the issue by the Government and its allies is extraordinary. The Press Briefing Room at No 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's residence and office) was just completely refitted and refurbished at a cost of GBP 2.6MM by a Russian owned company to look like the US Presidential Press Room complete with national flags...I kid you not...you can't make this stuff up!
But beyond the window dressing, the underlying messaging has been insidious. Common among which has been lies about the supply of vaccines and how leaving the EU 'freed' the UK from their restrictions and bureaucracy so the UK could move more quickly to help the British people. The truth is that this is not the case and that the UK would have derived considerable benefit throughout the pandemic by being inside the EU.
The reality is more obvious once you witness the Government's championing of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine...a British-Swedish pharma giant. It was rumoured that PM Johnson wanted a Union flag printed on each dose! Of course, when there were brief concerns about the side-effects from the vaccine which led to its temporary suspension, this was vaunted as proof that the EU was working to sabotage the UK.
The starker truth, and one for another day here, is that it all comes down to money and national self interest...why else would the EU, USA and the UK be blocking moves by other nations to increase their indigenous pharma production capacity?
Back in the UK, the 10 years that the Conservatives have been in power have been characterised by their whole assualt on public services with the NHS as the most obvious target. There are rich pickings for their supporters if they succeed in privatizing the (lucrative) bits and it is obvious from the noises and u-turns that it has become a pawn in the ongoing post Brexit trade deal talks with the USA.
And there is no real proof that the Tories (Conservatives) have any real love of the NHS or its employees. Car parking charges at hospitals were waived for staff at the height of the pandemic response (when demand was well down) only to be reinstated at the first instance. The promised 2.1% pay increase shrank to 1% without shame or real explanation.
Even the institution itself has been denigrated publically. The failed 'Track and Trace' app is officially labeled as an 'NHS project' although it was entirely and very expensively ballsed up 100% by the private sector. Meanwhile, the success of the vaccine rollout (one bright spot in the UK's woeful response) has been branded as a 'Government achievement'.
So why has this happened and what, if anything can be done to address it? The why revolves around the complex nature of the UK's constitutional structure, 4 nations in one, no 'written' constitution, an unelected upper house, a largely 'first past the post' electoral system, an owned mass media, an extraordinarily average generation of political talent, no credible opposition, nationalist parties engaged in a strategic fight to break away from the 'Union'....who really knows but the roots and reasons are all there.
What can be done? Well a public inquiry would be a good starting point:
Once again the Guardian speaks out...sadly, the suspicion is that the current government believes it can get away with it and it looks like they might...a situation that under the present circumstances and given their 'don't give a sh1t' attitude can best be described as possessing 'TURD IMMUNITY'!
A bientot, mes amis!