Lawyers for a firm paid hundreds of millions of pounds for Covid-19 testing contracts have stepped up pressure on an influential Commons committee over a “misleading” report.
The Public Accounts Committee has received a series of legal letters from Randox Laboratories’ lawyers Schillings, over the content of its report.
Although some of the correspondence has been published, the PA news agency understands that a further letter from Schillings suggests that the PAC report was unreliable and had caused unwarranted damage to Randox.
The unpublished letter was sent in November 2022, a month after PAC chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier told the lawyers she considered the matter closed.
The PAC’s report, published in July, said contracts worth almost £777 million were awarded to Randox for Covid-19 testing and services.
It was critical of “poor record-keeping” by the Department of Health and Social Care which meant “we cannot be sure that all these contracts were awarded properly”, although it acknowledged the National Audit Office had not found any evidence to suggest they were awarded improperly.
The PAC said Randox struggled to deliver the expected level of testing capacity against its first contract but Randox was still awarded a contract extension worth £328 million.
It said the department did not do enough work to determine whether Randox was making excess profits from its contracts.
Correspondence published by the PAC shows Schillings wrote to the committee when an embargoed version of the paper was circulated to the media two days in advance of its publication, saying it contained “inaccurate” and “misleading” allegations, and that Randox had been “ambushed” as it had not been given “reasonable” chance to comment.
It also pointed out that the circa-£777 million figure given by the PAC reflected the maximum possible value of the contracts, saying the true total paid to Randox was significantly less – at £469 million.
In her response to Schillings, dated October 20, Dame Meg told the law firm that the report “cannot and should not be altered or withdrawn” and “I consider this matter closed”.
But PA understands a subsequent unpublished letter from Schillings, dated November 16, said Dame Meg’s response included a series of acknowledgements which could call the PAC report’s reliability into question.
When asked by PA about the latest letter, a spokesman for Randox said: “Randox was never asked to provide evidence to the PAC or consulted on its findings.
“The company believes that the public is still being misled by the publication of its report.
“It contains serious and still uncorrected misrepresentations about the awarding of Covid-19 contracts to, and the subsequent performance of, the company.
“It also ignores the extraordinary and crucial role played by Randox in saving lives and helping keep the economy running during the pandemic.
“We believe the misleading picture painted by the PAC report is in breach of natural justice in misrepresenting Randox’s position.
“Therefore we repeat our demand for Meg Hillier, as chair of the PAC, to ensure publication of the true facts on the committee’s website through the publication of our letter of November 16.”
The Public Accounts Committee has been contacted for a response.
Randox has been in the spotlight in Westminster after former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson was found to have breached lobbying rules by the Commons standards watchdog, which ultimately triggered his resignation from Parliament in November 2021.