Northern Ireland news

Formal legal proceedings begin over multi-million pound PPE award to Co Antrim sweet manufacturer

Clandeboye Agencies says it has delivered the full order to the NHS within the agreed time frame

LEGAL proceedings are seeking to force UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to explain why a Co Antrim sweet manufacturer "was one of a small number of companies awarded multi-million pound" PPE contracts despite "no previous experience of making such supplies" before the pandemic.

Clandeboye Agencies Limited, based at Antrim's Rathenraw Industrial Estate, was awarded contracts totalling £108 million by the Department of Health in London on April 28 and May 18.

It says it has delivered the full order to the NHS within the agreed timeframe.

The Good Law Project and campaign group EveryDoctor have launched formal proceedings for a judicial review of the decision, claiming the government "ditched the normal rules that secure good value for public money".

The company is not accused of any wrongdoing but it has been claimed in court documents seen by The Irish News the contracts "were awarded to Clandeboye without any advertisement... or any competition between bidders".

The papers state "there is no evidence or explanation as to why the [department] awarded the contracts to Clandeboye (rather than to any other supplier) in circumstances where... it received in excess of 24,000 offers from prospective suppliers of PPE" in the first two weeks of a Downing Street initiative encouraging businesses to offer assistance for the government pandemic response through an online portal.

The legal papers allege the department "has failed to provide any or any sufficient detail of the process" which led to Clandeboye "being chosen as the preferred supplier" and how "the department satisfied itself that Clandeboye was technically and financially capable of delivering the contracts... in preference to the thousands of other prospective suppliers".

They further claim the contract award government's decisions "were disproportionate... irrational... [and] therefore unlawful".

Clandeboye Agenies 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 services such as coffee and slush machine rentals along with freshly roasted coffee beans".

The new legal papers reveal the company filed `total exemption full accounts' in December showing net assets of £291,026, with 14 people - including directors - employed.

Its solicitor said a "sister company... has supplied PPE for a number of years" but it was chosen "to make offers to the Secretary of State for PPE as Clandeboye Agencies Limited is the original family business to which a key director (to both companies) devotes most of his time".

It added that Clandeboye has "extensive experience in international sourcing" and "a supply agreement with a multi-national experienced PPE manufacturer".

The legal challenge notes it "did not name Clandeboye’s sister company nor the director in question" and contends it was "odd that a choice was made to use... a supplier of sweets etc as the vehicle through which an offer to supply PPE would be made if in fact a `sister company' existed whose business was in fact the supply of PPE".

The papers go on to state that the only other known directorships held by the family are of Clady Holdings Limited (listed as a holding company), and Anchor Fixing Limited (listed as engaged in the wholesale of hardware, plumbing and heating equipment and supplies), adding that "neither of those two companies is suggested to be a company engaged in the supply of PPE".

Good Law Project said it will revisit its suit if "clarification of these claims" is provided.

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