Tuesday 17 November 2020 2:37 pm

Government faces lawsuit over £250m PPE contract with US jewellery firm

The government is facing legal action after awarding a £250m contract for personal protective equipment (PPE) to an American jewellery company with no experience producing healthcare equipment.

The Good Law Project today filed legal proceedings against the government over its multimillion-pound deal with Saiger LLC to provide equipment such as gowns and face masks to the NHS.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in June awarded the Florida-based firm £70.5m to procure 10.2m gowns to the NHS — approximately the entire number of gowns used by NHS England for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Good Law Project, established by barrister Jolyon Maugham, claims the contract was offered without any advertisement or competitive tender process. 

The DHSC has awarded at least five other multi-million pound contracts to Saiger for the supply of PPE, totalling more than £250m. 

It comes after Miami-based jewellery designer Michael Saiger earlier this year set up his own business to supply PPE to governments around the world as the pandemic tightened its grip across health services. 

Saiger capitalised on his experience of working with factories in China to land what he described as “a number of lucrative contracts” supplying protective gloves and gowns to the NHS. 

Jewellery designer Michael Saiger set up his business earlier this year (via Getty Images)

More than £21m of UK taxpayer cash was paid to a Spanish businessman tapped by Saiger to act as a go-between to secure the protective garments.

Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was recruited to help with “procurement, logistics, due diligence, product sourcing and quality control” of the PPE equipment, documents filed in a US court have revealed.

“At last we can all see — in simple black and white — the staggering sums flowing from public coffers to private pockets,” said Maugham.

“We consider the award of this contract, as with so many others this government has entered into, to be unlawful. If the answers from government aren’t good enough, and we expect they won’t be, we will issue proceedings”. 

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves slammed the revelations as “completely astounding”, and urged the government to provide “more transparency” on its procurement procedures.

The government has faced mounting pressure to reveal its process of awarding lucrative PPE contracts in the initial months of the pandemic, as the UK scrambled to find sufficient levels of protective equipment for the NHS. 

In June, City A.M. reported that the government awarded £108m to a pest control company with just 16 staff and zero experience in providing PPE. 

The government later backtracked on official documents detailing the £108m award, saying it reported the sum “in error” and that the contract was actually worth £32m.

The health department was approached for comment. 

Saiger LLC said: “At the height of the pandemic, and at a time when the NHS was in need of high-quality PPE that met the required safety standards, we delivered for Britain, on time and at value.

“We have few full-time staff so for large projects we bring in short-term contractors for additional expertise and capacity, allowing us to deliver what is needed.”