Friends in High Places: Did Matt Hancock Break the Law In PPE Scandal?

PPE - Mask, Gloves, GogglesWhile there appear to be some green shoots of recovery right now, thinking back to April and May of 2020 brings back some nightmarish memories.

Amid the horror of the pandemic, NHS workers were having to save lives without the necessary personal protective equipment – thus putting their own health at risk into the bargain.

Responsible for sourcing the necessary PPE was the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently.

He has claimed all along that the government had done all they could to source the necessary equipment, and that one shipment was simply not up to scratch as far as its protective qualities were concerned.

Mistakes happen, of course, but more sinister accusations have emerged lately which suggest Hancock handed the task – and a rather sweet £14 million contract – to a friend with no relevant experience in procuring medical supplies.

Return to Tender

PPE Needed Sign

This week the government took the bold step of fully publishing the details of the tender they put out seeking a procurement firm to get their hands on the required PPE as quickly as possible.

Scroll down and you will note the ‘winner’ of the tender process – CH and L Ltd.

So who are CH and L Ltd, who trousered £14.4 million from the arrangement? That’s a good question, because details are sketchy – the company doesn’t even have a website.

It is though that the C or possibly the L, refers to Chun Lei Li, who is listed as a company director when the firm was registered in January 2020 – barely four months prior to the contract being awarded.

In June 2020, Frances Stanley – a family ‘acquaintance’ of the Hancocks – was also named as a director of the outfit. On Companies House, they list their business sector as specialists in the sale of products and a supplier of ‘human health activities.’

After winning the tender, the department of health paid a deposit to CH and L Ltd, although when it became known that the business could not fulfil the order due to ‘unforeseen logistical circumstances’, the deposit was returned – as reported by the Byline Times.

Lei is a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicines, while Stanley is a director of Newmarket racecourse – both in Hancock’s Suffolk constituency. So just how did such two unsuitable individuals win such an important contract?

It’s Not What You Know

In June 2019, Peter Stanley – the husband of Frances – donated £5,000 to Hancock’s office, and in return the MP and the Stanleys met on a variety of matters relating to Newmarket racecourse, including plans for a local rail link.

Interestingly Dido Harding, shoehorned into setting up the government’s inconsistent Track & Trace app, is also a sitting member of the Jockey Club board.

There have been accusations of insider dealing and favouritism, which has been denied strenuously by Frances Stanley. “I had planned to donate any profits to a local charity,” she has said. “At no point did I ever talk to Matt Hancock about our plans to help, only DHSC purchasing officials involved in the process.”

Did Matt Hancock Act Illegally?

Matt Hancock

Image Crdit: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The truth is that there is no concrete evidence that the Department of Health – or Hancock – acted illegally when awarding the contract to CH and L Ltd, despite there clear and obvious lack of experience in the field.

That said, Hancock has already been found to have acted ‘unlawfully’ by a high court judge having failed to publish the details of this contract within the legally specified timeframe.

And here’s something else to ponder. Scottish MP Owen Thompson has proposed a bill that would stop ‘cronyism’ in government contract handling, and crucially that has passed the first round of voting in the House of Commons.

It’s possible then that in the future all government contracts will be scrutinised much more closely – no comfort, of course, for the NHS workers who became seriously ill or sadly lost their lives due to a lack of appropriate protective equipment.

Will He Jump Or Be Pushed?

Perhaps most worrying of all for Hancock is that celebrity ‘journalist’ Piers Morgan accused him of a ‘barefaced lie’ this week when claiming there was nothing fishy about the government’s dealings.

There will be a full and independent enquiry into the government’s nepotistic handling of the various Covid contracts, and it’s likely that heads – or a head – will roll. With the bookies offering such things, Hancock is the favourite to be the first minister to leave Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.

In the fullness of time, we will know the true extent of his ‘crime’….or if the whole thing has been a huge misunderstanding.