A PR firm run by Lord Feldman represents a testing company handed a £28million Government contract following a meeting where the former Tory chairman was then advising Matt Hancock on Covid, it was revealed today.
Lord Feldman insists he had no involvement in the award of the multi-million pound contract despite his business now advising Oxford Nanopore after he worked for the Department of Health at the start of the pandemic.
The arrangement has been branded ‘troubling’ by Labour as a devastating report today lifted the lid on the cronyism and ineptitude that has characterised the Government’s £18billion rush to source PPE and other equipment during the coronavirus crisis.
The public list of meetings held by Matt Hancock has revealed that on April 1 the Health Secretary and Lord Feldman, David Cameron’s best friend and former Tory party chairman, met with coronavirus test maker Oxford Nanopore.
Lord Feldman was at the time acting for the Government as an ‘unpaid adviser’ on Covid-19 via his lobbying firm Tulchan Communications where he is managing partner.
Lord Feldman was advising Matt Hancock at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March – a testing firm handed a contract following a meeting attended by the two men is now being advised by Lord Feldman’s PR firm where he is managing partner
Oxford Nanopore offers high-tech diagnostics including coronavirus testing equipment (pictured)
How Lord Feldman worked for ministers and later the testing company they employed for £28m
March: As Britain headed into lockdown, Lord Feldman, former Tory chairman, begins work as an unpaid Covid PR adviser to Department of Health
April 1: Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Lord Feldman meet with testing company Oxford Nanopore
April 21: Oxford Nanopore starts £27.9m deal with DoH
May 13: Lord Feldman and Testing Minister Lord Bethell meet with Oxford Nanopore
May 15: Lord Feldman stops working for DoH
June 25: Lord Feldman’s PR firm Tulchan starts new advisory role with Oxford Nanopore
August: Oxford Nanopore agrees £100m deal with DoH
Oxford Nanopore later agreed a £27.9m contract with Mr Hancock’s department to provide testing kits, chemicals and training support for administering them. In the May Lord Feldman joined Testing Minister Lord Bethell as he met with Oxford Nanopore.
And the BBC revealed today that Tulchan has confirmed that Oxford Nanopore now pays them to do ‘PR and public affairs’ in June. Tulchan has denied any conflict of interest, claiming Lord Feldman’s Government advisory role ended in the May and then the Oxford Nanopore work began a month later.
In August Oxford Nanopore agreed a further deal with the Government worth £100million-plus.
A Tulchan spokesman added: ‘Andrew Feldman (AF) was asked by Matthew Hancock and James Bethell to act as an unpaid volunteer to the DHSC as part of their response to the Covid crisis. AF agreed to help and asked Andrew Grant for partial leave of absence to perform this role and this was granted.
‘AF acted entirely in a personal capacity. He was not involved in procurement decisions, which were made exclusively by officials following the proper process. No-one else from Tulchan was involved in this work. This role was for the period from the 24th March up to the 15th May.
As part of this advisory role, AF was asked to attend a meeting on the 1st April by Lord Bethell with Oxford Nanopore, an existing supplier to the Public Health England who were already discussing providing COVID-19 testing solutions to the Government. He also attended another meeting on 13th May.
‘At the times of these meetings Oxford Nanopore was not a client of Tulchan’s. There was therefore no conflict of interest to disclose on either the 1 April or 13th May and nor was there a requirement for any registration to be made on the Office of the Registrar of Consultants Lobbyists Register (ORCL). Following these meetings AF did not play any part in the decisions to award Oxford Nanopore with contracts.
‘On the 25th June, Tulchan commenced an advisory role with Oxford Nanopore to provide communications advice. We were approached by Oxford Nanopore to provide this advice given the significant increased media interest in the company. At the time they did not have any communications agency acting for them’.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves said: ‘This latest story follows a string of troubling incidents where a select group have been given privileged access to the government.
‘The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative Party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.’
MailOnline has asked Tulchan Communications to comment.
A devastating report today lifts the lid on the cronyism and ineptitude that has characterised the Government’s £18billion rush to source PPE and other equipment during the coronavirus crisis.
The National Audit Office revealed that officials had signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which turned out to be unusable – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds.
The National Audit Office report found more than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever
Who is Lord Feldman?
Lord Feldman, the man allegedly behind calling Tory grassroots supporters ‘swivel-eyed loons,’ has been a loyal presence at David Cameron’s side for more than thirty years.
The pair first established their rapport as students at Brasenose College, Oxford, in the mid-1980s and have remained extremely close since then.
Profiles of the peer usually describe the 54-year-old as either as ‘Mr Cameron’s tennis partner’ or ‘the PM’s oldest political friend’ – fuelling critics’ claims that the Government is being run by a socially elite clique of old ‘chums’.
Born into a well-off family, he went to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Hertfordshire, where he won a place to study Law at Oxford.
It was at Brasenose College, Oxford, that he met Cameron. They organised a college May ball together and discovered they had a mutual love of racquet sports.
Lord Feldman urged Cameron to run for the Tory leadership as the dark horse candidate when Michael Howard announced that he was handing on the baton in 2005.
Since those college days, the friendship has been cemented, with Mr Cameron describing Lord Feldman as ‘one of my oldest and best friends’.
Like Cameron, Lord Feldman got a First in his final exams; then he took a job with management consultants Bain & Co. before, in 1991, being called to the Bar and practising as a commercial barrister at one of the country’s top chambers.
His family owns Jayroma, a multinational textile company making ladies’ clothes, and in 1995, aged 29, he joined the firm, drawing a salary of £900,000 in one year alone.
Tory figures describe Lord Feldman as likeable, friendly, extremely bright and unassuming. He skis regularly, enjoys yoga, and owns another house in Andalusia, southern Spain.
But he was left fighting for his political life after Grant Shapps was forced to resign over the ‘Tatler Tory’ scandal as pressure mounted over the party’s failure to control sex pest and bully Mark Clarke.
Feldman, made Lord Feldman of Elstree in 2010, has been a senior advisor at Tulchan for the past two and a half years after leaving Tory party chairman.
The bombshell report found:
- Two of the companies named in the report have links to the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser;
- More than 1,300 contracts worth £10.5billion were awarded by the Government with no competition whatsoever – increasing the chance of money being wasted;
- Ministers set up a separate VIP procurement route which allowed some companies to be fast-tracked for a decision – as long as they had the right connections;
- One in ten suppliers processed through this high-priority lane (47 out of 493) obtained contracts compared with less than one in 100 suppliers that came through the ordinary lane (104 out of 14,892).
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said: ‘The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the Government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative Party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.’
The NAO’s report looked at 8,600 contracts awarded by the Government between January and July.
These were worth £18billion, of which £17.3billion were new contracts rather than contract extensions. Most of the money, £12.3billion, went on PPE, with the remainder going on other equipment and virus testing.
Ministers, MPs and civil servants could refer businesses to a ‘high-priority’ lane and firms which were granted this VIP access were more than ten times as likely to be awarded a contract as those in the ordinary lane.
Leads came into a dedicated mailbox, but officials only recorded the sources in half of cases, although many were from ministerial offices following tip-offs from MPs about firms in their constituencies.
The NAO highlighted one £840,000 contract with Public First for focus groups and communications.
The policy and research firm is owned by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf, both of whom have previously worked for Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office. Miss Wolf co-wrote Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto.
The NAO said there was no evidence Mr Gove had been involved in the award, but ‘we found no documentation on the consideration of conflicts of interest’.
Mr Cummings’s association with Mr Frayne dates back to at least 2000, when they worked together on a campaign against Britain joining the euro. They also co-founded a Right-wing think tank.
The report discussed another potential conflict of interest in reference to Lord Agnew, a minister in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.
He owned shares in Faculty, an artificial intelligence firm given three coronavirus contracts worth £3million for data analysis.
Faculty is also linked to Mr Cummings. It worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, and The Guardian reported that he donated £260,000 to the firm from his company Dynamic Maps in 2018 and 2019.
A Faculty spokesman said: ‘The NAO found no evidence that Lord Agnew was involved in these procurements, which were contracted under delegated authority in different departments, none of them his own.
Dominic Cummings was drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests
The National Audit Office said there was no evidence Mr Gove had been involved in the award
‘It also found that the minister had disclosed his interests. Lord Agnew retains ownership of his shares through a blind trust.’
The report did not mention Mr Cummings’s connection to either Public First or Faculty. Mr Frayne, of Public First, said: ‘We agreed a pay-as-you-go deal where we could be terminated at any point if they weren’t happy with our work.’
A government source said Mr Gove had no involvement with the Public First contract.
Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez, said: ‘We have robust processes to ensure we get critical equipment to where it needs to go as quickly as possible, whilst also ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.’
Mr Cummings did not reply to a request for a comment.
By Emine Sinmaz for The Daily Mail
Dominic Cummings has links with two of the four companies picked out in the National Audit Office’s damning report.
The former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, 48, has connections to artificial intelligence firm Faculty and research company Public First, which have secured contracts worth more than £3.8million.
Mr Cummings was not named in the public watchdog’s devastating report, which found that bidders with ‘VIP access’ to ministers were ten times more likely to win Covid contracts than those who did not.
Mr Cummings worked with Faculty – which was awarded three contracts worth £3million for data analysis – on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
Dominic Cummings has connections to artificial intelligence firm Faculty and research company Public First
He also has long-standing links to Public First, run by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.
His association with Mr Frayne dates back to at least 2000, when they worked on a campaign against Britain joining the euro.
The NAO report criticised the fact that the £840,000 Public First contract was awarded retrospectively. The report states that Public First invoiced for £550,000 in total for work covered by the contract.
It identified that the company’s founders have also worked for Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister. The report said there was no evidence that Mr Gove had been involved in the awarding of the contract, but added that it ‘found no documentation on the consideration of conflicts of interest’.
There is no evidence to suggest that Mr Cummings played any role in either firm securing the contracts.
Another company scrutinised in the report is Ayanda Capital, which was handed a £253million contract to supply PPE.
The deal was brokered by Andrew Mills, who was one of 12 advisers to the Board of Trade, chaired by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. Mr Mills is also a ‘senior board adviser’ to Ayanda Capital.
Some 50million masks, worth £155million, delivered by the company were of the wrong specification and cannot be used.
Ayanda said last night: ‘Suggestions that the masks are not fit for purpose or are somehow unsafe to use by frontline NHS workers are simply untrue and we are advised defamatory.’
On top of the three companies identified in the NAO report, the Mail can reveal 12 more included in the graphic above. They include Meller Designs, which secured £163million in PPE contracts. It is run by Tory donor David Meller.
P14 Medical Limited was awarded three contracts worth £272million to supply PPE. Its director is former Tory councillor Steve Dechan.
A cynical & brazen cronyism: As new report reveals £18bn coronavirus PPE farce, DAVID ROSE argues this is not how public procurement in Britain is meant to work
By David Rose for The Daily Mail
The mismanagement, the incompetence, the reckless waste – all of this is shocking. But worse, perhaps, is the brazen cronyism involved.
The National Audit Office report on Personal Protective Equipment procurement is a searing indictment of this Government’s incompetence.
Yes, there was an unprecedented crisis. As the virus rampaged through hospitals and care homes, there was a desperate shortage of PPE.
Understandably, the Government made a dramatic appeal to suppliers – please get in touch, we need you.
The Government made a dramatic appeal to suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment at the start of the pandemic
Personal protective equipment arrives from Tianjin, China , at Bournemouth International Airport on May 10
But it awarded PPE contracts worth billions to companies not on the basis of quality or price, but in many cases – according to today’s damning report – on which firms had the best personal contacts in Westminster and Whitehall.
This isn’t how public procurement in Britain is meant to work. Strict, legally binding rules are supposed to enforce fairness and transparency, promote competitive pricing and to prevent conflicts of interest.
But thanks to the pandemic, the report suggests, the rules were cast aside – and replaced in many cases by the old pals act.
The report confirms what this newspaper revealed two weeks ago, that well-connected firms and individuals could be put on a ‘VIP’ route – officially called a ‘high-priority lane’ – meaning decisions on their potential contracts were fast-tracked.
Once recommended, these firms were more than ten times as likely to win contracts.
As the virus rampaged through hospitals and care homes, there was a desperate shortage of PPE
The result is we have been landed with equipment that has often turned out to be useless, and with bills that are far higher than they should have been.
At the same time, those with real expertise and the ability to procure quality products at a good price have been sidelined.
Take Jonathon Bennett. As the Mail reported this month, he is a veteran textile importer with extensive contacts in China, where most PPE is made. His bid to supply millions of masks in April was highly competitive – well below the Government’s ‘benchmark’ price.
But the £253million contract went to Ayanda Capital, a firm with no experience which was charging almost twice as much. Worse, 50 million of their masks were of the wrong design.
Mr Bennett has long suspected Ayanda won its contract because it was brokered by someone who until recently had been an adviser to Trade Secretary Liz Truss – an Ayanda associate called Andrew Mills.
Each time the Department of Health is asked how these contracts were awarded, it says the same thing – that it always exercises strict ‘due diligence’
The NAO report confirms this. It was thanks to a ‘referral’ by Mr Mills that Ayanda’s bid got the VIP treatment.
Ayanda is far from the only company that benefited from fast-tracking and went on to produce unusable PPE.
Each time the Department of Health is asked how these contracts were awarded, it says the same thing – that it always exercises strict ‘due diligence’.
Yet the NAO report reveals that when department officials carried out ‘due diligence’ on Ayanda, they somehow failed to notice Mr Mills’s involvement.
So what were the criteria that determined who got VIP status? Amazingly, the NAO finds there were none, while ‘the source of the referral’ for this treatment ‘was not always recorded’.
In the Middle East, there is a term for this way of doing business: ‘Wasta’. It means exploiting the access and influence someone has.
Could this system really now be a feature of public policy in Britain? There are growing concerns over the allocation of up to £42billion on Operation Moonshot mass virus testing.
Insiders told me told me there has been a VIP channel in this process, too. Just how many more contracts will NAO investigators now find cause for serious concern over?