The government is facing legal action after awarding an £108m contract for personal protective equipment (PPE) to a pest control company worth just over £19,000.
The Good Law Project today filed legal proceedings against the government over its multimillion-pound deal with Pestfix — which has just 16 staff — to provide equipment such as gowns and face masks to the NHS.
The government handed out more than £350m worth of PPE contracts to private companies in March without a competitive tender process, as the UK scrambled to find sufficient levels of protective equipment for the NHS.
The Good Law Project, established by barrister Jolyon Maugham, argued that the £108m contract with Crisp Websites Ltd — which trades as Pestfix — is equivalent to nearly a third of the government’s PPE deals.
“We’re suing the government over its decision to grant an £108m contract for the supply of PPE to Crisp Websites Ltd,” The Good Law Project said in a statement.
“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.”
Maugham told City A.M: “This is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in my 25 years at the bar. We just cannot understand why the government paid £108m to two guys who run a pest control firm using public money. It’s baffling.”
He added that there were other companies with “demonstrable expertise” in producing PPE supplies who were excluded from any bidding process.
The Good Law Project, which is crowdfunding its lawsuit against the government, said it had “serious questions” over the deal, adding that in “no way is this a proper use of public funds”.
Crisp Websites Ltd has cash assets of just over £19,500, according to filings at Companies House.
The Good Law Project said: “How was Crisp Websites Ltd put in a position to spend these vast sums of money? Was cash just handed over to it?… Where was this contract advertised? If it was advertised, surely other companies would have bid for it.”
Maugham added that the fact that the government has not yet published the full contract was “crying out for investigation”.
Meg Hiller, Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told City A.M: “What has emerged today is a shocking gap in the UK’s planning in this emergency. We saw all of this coming, for months and in fact years.”
“We could have planned for emergency procurement too — in reality there should have been no need to resort to rushed awards of potentially dodgy contracts.”
“It’s not good enough to say, as seems to be the official line now, that the future will judge. The pandemic is still active now, and we’re at risk of a second wave.”
Family-run Pestfix currently offers 21 different PPE products on its website, including goggles, face shields and plastic gloves. It also sells a Stay Alert Steri Kit, which includes hand sanitiser, surgical masks and sterilised wipes, for £83.99.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
Pestfix did not respond to requests for comment.