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Latest 12 August 2021

REVEALED: Secret meeting between firm chaired by Government’s PPE Tsar and UK minister to discuss PPE deals

A British trade minister met with a secretive intelligence firm last year to discuss the Government’s efforts to secure PPE. The firm – Hakluyt – is chaired by the Government’s own PPE ‘Tsar’, Lord Deighton. No records were kept of the meeting. 

Internal documents seen by Good Law Project and openDemocracy reveal they discussed the UK’s operation to secure PPE and medical supplies. The Department for International Trade has refused to confirm who from Hakluyt attended the meeting.

Lord Deighton – the Tory Peer directly appointed by Boris Johnson responsible for coordinating the multi-billion pound procurement process – has already come under the spotlight after it emerged that he held shares in several companies which secured lucrative government contracts to provide PPE, Covid testing and consultancy services.

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Furthermore, Good Law Project recently  revealed that Deighton used his private email account to conduct government business, along with Health Minister Lord Bethell and the former health secretary, Matt Hancock.

Lord Deighton appointed a temporary team of “senior executives from the private sector to aid with the PPE procurement efforts”. But the names of the executives remain secret and the Department of Health has refused requests made under the Freedom of Information Act to reveal their identities. 

And this isn’t the only potential conflict of interest.

The Oxford University professor of medicine, Sir John Bell, is employed as an adviser to Hakluyt, while also being appointed to advise the UK government. 

Bell is currently at the centre of our legal challenge over what we believe is apparent bias in the awarding of government contracts to a Covid testing firm called Abingdon Health. The Judge said that Bell was on “both sides of the contract”, given his role both as a key government advisor and also as a significant figure in the UK Rapid Testing Consortium, which acted as subcontractor to Abingdon Health.

One of Hakluyt’s non-executive directors, Jean Tomlin, has also benefited from Government Covid contracts. She is the founder and CEO of  Chanzo Ltd, a HR company which landed a £300,000 deal with the Department of Health following a “proposal” from the company. Documents show the contract includes the provision of a full-time chief of staff role to Deighton in his role as PPE Tsar.

The story of pandemic procurement is one of Government Ministers confusing the interest of the public with the financial interests of their donors and associates. This failure to record business dealings between Ministers on both sides of a transaction raises obvious red flags about how Government is doing business.

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