Thursday 6 August 2020 12:33 pm

Government wasted £150m on unusable face masks bought from banker

The government is facing calls to investigate its procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic, after it emerged ministers spent at least £150m on unusable face masks from a family investment firm.

The face masks, which were part of a £252m government contract with investment firm Ayanda Capital signed in April, were deemed unsafe by the NHS and have not been used.

Read more: Government faces lawsuit over £108m PPE contract with pest control firm

The contract included 50m high-strength FFP2 medical masks costing an estimated £150m to £180m, as well as 150m cheaper IIR masks, the Times first reported.

Of these, the 44m Chinese-made masks delivered so far do not meet NHS safety standards because they have elastic ear loops instead of straps that tie around the back of the head, according to legal papers seen by City A.M.

Moreover, none of the cheaper IIR masks supplied by Ayanda have been released for use by the NHS.

London-based Ayanda Capital specialises in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing” and has no history of PPE procurement or government contracts.

Ayanda, which is run by former investment banker Tim Horlick, is owned by the Horlick family via a holding company registered in a tax haven.

The £252m deal was brokered by Andrew Mills, an adviser to Ayanda’s board, who is also an adviser to Liz Truss and the Department for International Trade.

Ayanda has blamed the government for faults with the masks, saying that the investment firm had only ever discussed supplying masks with ear loops. Ayanda insisted this had been approved by government officials before the contract was signed.

The revelations come after non-profit organisation the Good Law Project brought legal proceedings against the government over its awarding of PPE contracts during the pandemic. 

Jolyon Maugham QC, who set up the Good Law Project, said he was “staggered” by the “extraordinary waste [and] basic incompetence” resulting from the deal.

“We also do not understand how the government came to place — and this is the government’s own story — a £250m contract with a family-owned hedge fund at the direction of a box fresh £100 company owned by an advisor to and enthusiastic supporter of Liz Truss.”

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The government management of PPE in the early months of the crisis was an almost unmitigated disaster.”

The Good Law Project has also filed legal proceedings against the government for its £108m PPE contract with Pestfix, a pest control company worth just over £19,000.

Last month City A.M. reported that the government backtracked on official documents citing the £108m deal with Pestfix, saying it reported the sum “in error”.

In a letter to the Good Law Project the government said the Pestfix PPE contract was actually worth £32m. 

“It has come to light that the contract award notice published… on 18 May was issued in error, and a new notice with the correct details will be issued shortly”, the letter read. 

Isolation suits delivered under the Pestfix contract are currently awaiting testing, along with masks supplied by Ayanda and gowns produced by confectionary wholesaler Clandeboye Agencies.

A government spokesman said: “Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline.

Read more: Compulsory face masks ‘did not deter or encourage shoppers’ in July

“Over 2.4bn items have been delivered, and more than 30 billion have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply, which meets the needs of health and social care staff both now and in the future.

“There is a robust process in place to ensure orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with the necessary due diligence undertaken on all government contracts.”

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