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Unreliable Covid Testing Contract Awarded to Matt Hancock’s Family Friend

A company with links to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s family has been awarded a £5.5 million contract for COVID-19 mobile testing units.

The Government yesterday published details of the deal, awarded to EMS Healthcare, based in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.

Beginning on 15 September, the company has been expected to provide articulated mobile testing units to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The contract will run for a year – ending on 14 September 2021.

The chairman of EMS Healthcare, who has been a director of the company since 2013, is Iain Johnston – a former business partner of Shirley and Robert Carter, Hancock’s mother and stepfather.

Indeed, Johnston and Robert Carter were previously directors at GB Mailing Systems, which appears to be linked to a Chester-based company called GB Group. The firm, which specialises in verifying the location of individuals, now boasts annual revenues of more than £100 million.

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Johnston was a director of GB Mailing Systems from 1989, when the company formed, to 2001. Robert Carter was a director from 1989 to 2002. Shirley Carter also served as company secretary from 1989 to 1994.

Johnston and Robert Carter also served as company directors at a now-dissolved firm called GB Datacare, the former from 1996 – when the company was founded – until 2001, and the latter from 1996 until 2003.

Hancock was involved in his family’s corporate interests early on in his career. As a young graduate, he worked for a computer software company founded by his mother and stepfather called Border Business Solutions. “My mother and my stepfather worked in the business and we employed around 30 people, who we felt a great sense of responsibility towards,” Hancock told the Financial Times in 2014.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report for example found that, in the case of the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), an expedited, “high-priority” lane was established for firms recommended by MP’s, ministers or officials. One in 10 suppliers (47 out of 493) channeled through the high-priority lane obtained contracts, compared to less than one in a hundred (104 of 14,892) of those processed through the ordinary lane.

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In addition, deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds have been awarded to firms owned by backers of the Conservative Party. This includes one company, owned by a Conservative donor, that won contracts worth at least £154.7 million a month after meeting with a Government minister.

Hancock himself has even been accused of distributing pandemic response work to people in his inner circle. The Guardian revealed in late November that his former neighbour had been contracted to supply millions of vials for NHS COVID-19 tests after sending a WhatsApp message to Hancock offering his services.

“This raises yet another serious question about this Government’s procurement process,” Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves told Byline Times, about the EMS Healthcare contract. “Week after week this Tory Government is urged to be more transparent, yet week on week we see more stories like this.”

A particular concern has been that a clear majority of contracts – £10 billion out of £18 billion – awarded during the pandemic have been done so without competition. With billions of pounds more allocated for the purchase and roll-out of mass testing and vaccines over the coming months – and with the Government impervious to criticism – it doesn’t seem as though these concerns will dissipate any time soon.

“With more than 700 test sites now in operation including over 250 mobile sites, NHS Test and Trace is helping to break the chains in transmission of Coronavirus,” a DHSC spokesperson said. “Ministers are not involved in procurement decisions or contract management and to suggest otherwise is wholly inaccurate. We continue to ensure all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines.”

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