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Case update 14 June 2020

No way is this a proper use of public funds

We’re suing the Government over its decision to grant an £108 million contract for the supply of PPE to Crisp Websites Limited.

Since the start of the pandemic, Government has signed over 100 contracts – worth in total nearly £350m – for the supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Of that total, around a third (£108m) was tied up in one contract with one company, Crisp Websites Limited (trading as Pestfix). The number of bidders who competed for that contract was one. And the purchase order for this enormous sum of money was issued on 10 April 2020, three days before the contract was concluded. At the time Government issued the purchase order, Crisp Websites Limited’s last reported net assets were £18,047

A number of questions arise:

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  1. Where was this contract advertised? If it was advertised, surely other companies would have bid for it? Good Law Project has spoken to another big market participant who told us that no one in the market knew that the contract was up for grabs. 
  2. If it was not advertised, how and why was Crisp Websites Limited chosen? 
  3. To award a contract without advertising Government must meet the criteria for adirect award”, namely, that “there is only one supplier … with capacity to complete on the scale required”. How could Government believe that tiny Crisp Websites Limited was that one supplier?
  4. That procedure is also only available where the requisite “extreme urgency” is unforeseeable? How could the need for PPE have been unforeseeable in April when the EU knew that there was an urgent need for procurement in February
  5. How was Crisp Websites Limited put in a position to spend these vast sums of money? Was cash just handed over to it? 
  6. The rules say that in cases of “extreme urgency” Government can grant a contract without advertising. But why grant Crisp Websites Limited a twelve month contract? Even if there was extreme urgency to secure PPE for April May and June 2020, why was there extreme urgency to secure it for January, February and March 2021?
  7. Why did Government not publish the notice announcing the award of the contract within 30 days as required?
  8. It is two months after the contract was concluded. Why has Government still not published the contract – the recommendation is that it do so within 20 days?
  9. What steps did Government take to meet its obligation to “achieve value for money and use good commercial judgement” in awarding this vast contract to Crisp Websites Limited?

These are serious questions – and on 10 June 2020 we sent a judicial review pre-action protocol letter to Government asking for answers. Today, to ensure we can take these points forward, we will issue short form judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

The bare facts beggar belief. They involve enormous sums of public money – about the same as what Government will save by scrapping free school meal vouchers for the summer holidays. It’s hard to imagine a good reason why this contract would be given to this company selection. And failures in PPE provision make it vital we understand where procurement is going wrong.

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