Northern Ireland

Legal proceedings against UK government over awarding of £108m PPE contracts to Antrim firm

PPE equipment has been in high demand during the Covid-19 crisis
PPE equipment has been in high demand during the Covid-19 crisis

LEGAL proceedings have been started against the UK government over the awarding of £108 million PPE contracts to a Co Antrim sweet wholesaler "seemingly without advertising or competitive tendering process".

The Good Law Project and campaign group EveryDoctor has signalled their intention to pursue judicial review claims over Clandeboye Agencies Limited's two contracts, along with others awarded at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has published letters sent to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock about procurement of PPE for frontline health staff from the business, which is based at Antrim's Rathenraw Industrial Estate.

One contract was awarded on April 28 and the second on May 18.

The Good Law Project, fronted by high profile barrister Jolyon Maugham, claims the government has "ignored" the usual rule that contracts should be published within 20 days.

"What is remarkable about these particular direct awards is that the contracts have been let to a company which is engaged - according to the SIC code on Companies House - in the business of wholesaling sugar and chocolate and sugar confectionary," the letter says.

"As far as the claimants can discern, Clandeboye has never before been engaged in the business of sourcing or supplying PPE, whether for the Department of Health or any other public health service provider."

The Good Law Project goes on to argue that, as a "small company permitted to file unaudited/exempt accounts", Clandeboye's "financial and technical standing make it unsuited to the delivery of such large and important contracts".

According to professional networking site LinkedIn, Clandeboye Agencies "is a food & beverages company".

The family-run business advertises itself as "continually (introducing) new products to serve the requirements of our customers and distribute many well loved, quality brands as well as our exclusive own brand products... also (providing) services such as coffee and slush machine rentals along with freshly roasted coffee beans".

The Good Law Project is not accusing Clandyboye Agencies of any wrongdoing, but claims the government "ditched the normal rules that secure good value for public money" because it was having to play catch-up on PPE at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.

"On 27 March Government opened its portal inviting tenders for PPE on the website and received 24,000 offers from 16,000 suppliers.

"It spent... a staggering £5.5bn. And, surprisingly, three of the biggest beneficiaries were companies specialising in pest control, a confectionery wholesaler and an opaque private fund owned through a tax haven."

The other contractors singled out for the litigation are Pestfix and Ayanda contracts.

Ayanda, a private equity and currency trading company owned through an offshore holding firm based in the tax haven of Mauritius, was awarded a £252.5m contract.