By Jamie O’Dell
A report by Open Democracy has revealed that Conservative Stroud town councillor Steve Dechan signed a £156 million deal to import PPE from China in May 2020.
This is the latest development in a growing national scandal over the awarding of multi-million pound government PPE contracts to businesses with links to the Conservative party.
This comes in addition to a previous £120 million contract to supply face shields, which was awarded without a competitive tendering process.
Dechan, who campaigned with Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie during the 2019 general election, ran a small, loss-making firm distributing medical devices called P14 Medical whose experience in PPE procurement is unclear.
Dechan stood down from Stroud town council in late August, having signed the £156 million deal to supply gowns to the NHS in late May.
There are several questions and discrepancies arising from this case that Open Democracy reporters Peter Geoghegan and Russel Scott have highlighted.
For instance, details of government contracts are meant to be released within 30 days, but this was only published at the end of September, approximately three months later.
Similarly, these contracts appear to be P14 first engagement with PPE, having previously specialised in pain management technologies.
In defence of the initial £120 million worth of contracts P14 was awarded, Dechan stated to the BBC that P14 Medical was “an expert company that has been in medical supplies for eight years including PPE that has managed to deliver on a big contract that the ‘big companies’ could not.
“I only know a couple MPs through local campaigning on issues, only met ministers (no current ones) on [general election] campaign trails. Never discussed PPE.” He added: “We are so proud that we stood up and unlike many got it done and protected our customers.”
There is the argument that, given the scale of the crisis in PPE provision (previously covered by Amplify Stroud back in April), the government needed to pursue every available avenue that it could.
However, when a loss-making pain management company is handed some of the government’s largest PPE contracts without a competitive tendering approach, serious questions have to be asked about the procurement process.
Further questions have to be asked too, given this apparent national trend for multi-million pound PPE contracts being awarded to multiple companies with seemingly stronger links to the Conservative Party than they had to any PPE procurement processes.
Examples include a former business associate of Conservative peer Baroness Mone, whose company won a £122 million contract seven weeks after it was set up.
A firm supplying beauty products to high street chains co-owned by a Conservative party donor was given a £65 million contract to provide face masks.
Ayanda Capital, a private equity company, was handed £252 million to produce face masks that have now been deemed inadequate and not been used.
More details on further questionable PPE contracts being investigated by the Good Law Project can be found here.
The bottom line is that vast sums of taxpayer’s money have been spent on sourcing PPE from companies who have no prior experience of the sector but who have profited nicely from the pandemic.
This sits in direct contrast to the vast numbers of local people, businesses and even schools who produced scrubs and PPE for the NHS and other key workers; not for profit, but in the recognition of the national and local effort that was needed to protect our key workers in light of the Government’s failure to adequately prepare for, and respond to, the pandemic.
Our thanks go to Open Democracy and those undertaking their Dark Money investigation, for bringing these events to light.