another star from byline news

Lifestyle Company with No Employees or Trading History Handed £25M PPE Contract
Stephen Delahunty, Byline Times, Jul 2 2020

The Great British COVID-19 procurement scandal continues after a newly published contract revealed yet another business with little experience or expertise being awarded a multi-million-pound contract to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS. Design company Luxe Lifestyle Ltd was awarded a £25m contract on Apr 27 to supply garments for biological or chemical protection to the NHS. According to Companies House, the business was incorporated by fashion designer Karen Brost in Nov 2018. However, it appears to have no employees, no assets and no turnover. Additional research into the company’s background using business information provider Endole revealed no evidence that the company has actually done any trading at all. It is not clear how a business with no experience in the sector is able to meet its contractual requirements to provide 1.2m gowns and 10m FFP2/KN95 masks to the NHS during a national crisis.

Brost was previously the secretary of another company called Belharra Limited that described itself as a clothing and footwear wholesaler, yet this was wound up around four months before Luxe Lifestyle Ltd was incorporated. Brost however, set up another brand in March this year called Zazaboom, the products of which include hand-made designer face masks costing £25 each, not NHS standard PPE. Brost has not responded to a request for comment. However, an anonymous person claiming to be a spox for Brost contacted Byline Times after the publication of this article, using mlilimited.com as an email address. After multiple requests, they refused to identify themselves or pass on contact details for the company or its directors.

This is not the first example of a business with seemingly little experience or expertise being awarded a major contract by the Government to supply PPE. Byline Times has already reported concerns from senior industry consultants working within Public Health England (PHE), and specifically the PPE division, that procurement is a shambolic system of tenders, with no due diligence and poor management. As the pandemic unfolded, and the use of highly specialised PPE increased exponentially, instead of contacting existing suppliers and then widening the reach to more than 150 established PPE suppliers in the UK, PHE panicked. It evoked emergency procurement procedures, regulation 32(2)(c) under the Public Contract Regulations 2015, which allowed for the sourcing of goods without the formal tender process.

This is how a small and medium-sized business (SME) called PestFix with assets of just £18k was awarded a contract of more than £108m for PPE. Another company called Excalibur, incorporated in Jan 2020, received an order for £25m of N95 and KN95 masks. This company was set up by Biotechnology entrepreneur, Professor Sir Chris Evans. In addition, Conservative Party donors have also been found to be cashing in on PPE shortages during the crisis. In April, it was reported that haulage firm Clipper Logistics was appointed to be in charge of a new supply channel for personal protective equipment to the NHS. Its founding executive chairman is Steven N Parkin, a top Conservative Party donor who has attended Leaders Group meetings and donated just under £1m to the party over the past five years or so.

The boss of a logistics firm, Conservative donor, and vocal supporter of the Vote Leave campaign was also found to be involved in Coronavirus contracts in May. Andrew Baxter, the managing director of Europa Worldwide Group, personally donated £10k to PM Boris Johnson in Jun 2019 and has made tens of thousands of pounds in donations to the Conservative Party since 2017, according to the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission. A spox for the Dept for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously defended the Government’s procurement methods, describing them as “completely in line with procurement regulations for exceptional circumstances, where being able to procure at speed has been critical in the national response to COVID-19.” The DHSC confirmed the contract with Luxe Lifestyle Ltd was still active but refused to reveal how many individual units have been delivered so far. The spox added:

We don’t provide a running commentary of how many items have been delivered for each contract. The contract is still open and the orders are for 1.2m gowns and 10m FFP2/KN95 masks.

Government Silent On Involving Credit Firm in COVID-19 Testing
Stephen Delahunty, Byline News, May 22 2020

The Dept of Health and Social Care is remaining tight-lipped about its decision to award a contract to the UK subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar Pindo credit reporting agency that checks patient data when attempting to book a Coronavirus home test online. Tens of thousands of people have already visited the Government website to book their test. Users are told that, in order to confirm their identity, they need to share their information with TransUnion. It is the smallest of the three largest credit agencies, along with Experian and Equifax. Individuals unwilling to share their credit data are asked to start the process again and advised to choose the drive-through test option. It is unclear what possible COVID-19-related reason there would be for the Government to grant the company access to UK citizens’ information. Privacy and civil liberties campaigners have already warned about tech firms getting their hands on patient data in the battle against the Coroanvirus.

NHSX, a NHS subsidiary focused on digital innovation, and NHS England Improvement reported at the end of March that they had engaged Palantir alongside Microsoft, Google and London-based artificial intelligence firm Faculty to build a “data platform” to make their COVID-19 response as efficient and effective as possible. Data is gathered from sources, including 111 calls and COVID-19 test results. Privacy International, Big Brother Watch, medConfidential, Foxglove and Open Rights Group sent Palantir 10 questions about its work with the NHS during the public health crisis. The four privacy campaigning groups say that they are “primarily interested in if and how Palantir will retain and use the data analysis gleaned from this work with the NHS.” Privacy International added:

As Palantir says, in the spirit of ‘open and critical discussion’, we have asked them for key details about their current work with the NHS. It would be misleading and cynical for Palantir to offer services to the NHS without being fully transparent about how the company may benefit from the data analysis gleaned in this work, which they can then go on to profit from and strengthen their proprietary systems.

Palantir and Faculty are highly controversial either because of links to the CIA and the Donald Trump administration; or to Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief advisor and the former head of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum, which was found to have breached UK electoral law by overspending. TranUnion is a subsidiary of TransUnion LLC. The Pindo company collects information on more than 1b people and has profiled almost every ‘credit-active consumer’ in Pindostan.

In 2017, a San Francisco federal court awarded $60m in damages to consumers who accused the company of falsely reporting that they were on a government list of terrorists and other security threats. The award came after a six-day trial over whether TransUnion failed to take reasonable steps to prevent errors when it reported that consumers were on the blacklist, maintained by the OFAC. In the past, NHS England Improvement had urged hospitals to work with credit reference agency Experian to check whether patients could receive free treatment, in an effort to tackle health tourism. However, a report by the Health Service Journal reveals that the NHS body admitted it had not carried out its own assessment of whether the move would break data protection rules.

In January, Lewisham and Greenwich Hospital Trust admitted that using a credit score company to check if patients were eligible for free NHS treatment “was not the right choice.” The information shared with Experian included a person’s name, address, date of birth, NHS number, email and phone number, and was run on every patient referred to the trust. But people were unaware their data was being shared with the third party, sparking a backlash that led the trust to set up an independent inquiry and cut its ties with Experian. In response to questions about what data is collected, how it is stored, and whether it shares information with third parties, a spox for the company said:

TransUnion is supporting the NHS response to the COVID-19 pandemic in its provision of testing kits to key workers, and others, that have shown symptoms of COVID-19. TransUnion is conducting stringent identity checks on behalf of the NHS to help ensure testing kits are sent to the correct recipients and to minimise the risk of fraud. The identity verification uses information from an individual’s credit report. TransUnion does not collect or retain data on individuals that book tests, other than a record of processing.

The Dept of Health and Social Care refused to answer questions on the length and nature of the contract, when it was awarded, or how it was tendered. A spox defended the department’s procurement practices and offered assurances that due diligence had been done, saying:

Appropriate checks were undertaken and the contract will be published in due course on Contracts Finder.

Another Conservative Donor Involved in COVID-19 Contracts
Stephen Delahunty, Byline News, May 22 2020

The boss of a logistics firm and vocal supporter of the Vote Leave campaign has become the latest Conservative donor or Conservative Party MP found to be involved in Coronavirus contracts. Andrew Baxter, the managing director of Europa Worldwide Group, personally donated £10k to PM Boris Johnson in June 2019 and has made tens of thousands of pounds in donations to the Conservative Party since 2017, according to the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, website. Logistics Manager News reported:

Baxter was a prominent supporter of the Leave campaign during the referendum three years ago, with now-PM Boris Johnson visiting Europa’s Dartford hub to launch his campaign in Mar 2016.

Last month, Byline Times revealed how haulage firm Clipper Logistics was in charge of a new supply channel for personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS. Its founding executive chairman is Steven N. Parkin, a top Conservative Party donor who has attended Leaders Group meetings and donated just under £1 million to the party over the past five years or so. An investigation by Buzzfeed News also revealed that the Conservative MP for North Shropshire, Owen Paterson, has been a consultant to Randox Laboratories, which offers rapid ‘COVID-19 home testing kits’ for sale, since Aug 2015. According to the register of MPs’ financial interests, Paterson has declared that he expects to receive £8,333 a month from the company, starting from Apr 2017. Europa Worldwide Group boasts on its website:

Dedicated to specifically handling PPE products, the new team at Europa is responsible for ensuring swift despatch to large-scale medical equipment providers. These are suppliers to the NHS, contributing towards the national effort to help those on the frontline. Working closely with trusted partners at source including Turkey, Israel, China, Hong Kong and Pindostan, Europa Air & Sea has supported a variety of UK customers meet the demand for supplies, including in the e-commerce sector. We have directly enabled the UK manufacture of 1.3m COVID-19 tests for its customer Primerdesign. Europa Road provided dedicated transport of vital components, as well as ensuring smooth customs clearance.

Despite the company’s partners in Turkey, it denied any involvement with the failed shipment of PPE for the NHS from Turkey. The much-trumpeted procurement of 400k protective gowns that eventually arrived later had to be impounded after some items were found not to conform to UK standards. The saga was the latest in a series of highly publicised Government Coronavirus initiatives that have failed to deliver the promised results. Its “ventilator challenge” asked companies such as Rolls-Royce and Dyson to begin producing the machines, but none have reached the final stages of testing and the majority have proved surplus to requirements. Europe Worldwide Group denied winning any “direct public sector contracts” but its links to the PM come at a time when the Government is under increasing pressure for its lack of competition or transparency in the awarding of contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Byline Times also reported last month how controversial contracts, which allow ministers and senior health officials to mine confidential data from tens of thousands of COVID-19 hospital patients, have been awarded to technology companies without being put out to competitive tender. The contracts involve five companies: Microsoft, Google, Amazon Web Services, Palantir Technology UK and Faculty. Two of the contractors, Palantir and Faculty, are highly controversial either because of links to the CIA and the Donald Trump administration, or to Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief advisor and the former head of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum, which was found to have breached UK electoral law by overspending.

In addition, an artificial intelligence firm previously hired by Cummings to work on the Vote Leave campaign has been intimately involved in research and development for the NHS contact tracing app. Launched by NHSX, a NHS subsidiary focused on digital innovation, the app is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. A spox for the Dept for Health and Social Care defended the Government’s procurement methods, stating:

These contracts are completely in line with procurement regulations for exceptional circumstances, where being able to procure at speed has been critical in the national response to COVID-19. As part of an unprecedented response to this global pandemic we have drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners to support our NHS and social care sector.

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