Constituents ask MP with links to profiteering PPE company to vote against Corporate Takeover Bill

Julia Lopez, MP for Hornchurch and Upminster in the NE London Integrated Care System area, is one of around 400 MPs who have received a ‘Don’t Blow It!’ letter from constituents, asking her to vote against the Health and Care Bill when it returns to the House of Commons on 22nd and 23rd November.

The letter, emailed to the MP on 14th October, points out that:

•  The Bill really will kill some of us – it reduces the government’s obligations to secure NHS care for us all; and it will worsen the current NHS staff shortage, by deregulating clinical professions and continuing the moral injury to NHS staff that has occurred during the pandemic. 
•  It is a Bill for big business – putting big business at the heart of NHS decision-making and the delivery of services.
•  It will do nothing to solve the NHS’s problems.

Constituency office shares address with company that profited from VIP lane contracts for associates of ministers and advisers

The constituency office of the former Cabinet Minister – now Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport since 16 September 2021 – shares an address with Uniserve, a freight and logistics firm controlled by Iain Liddell.

Here they are together in June 2018.

Last year, Uniserve’s profit rose by £32m – an increase of over 500% – after the company scooped huge Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) contracts in early 2020 through the fast track VIP lane for associates of ministers and advisers.

Despite having no track record of supplying PPE, Uniserve was awarded a £300m+ government PPE contract without any competition, at a vastly inflated price per unit; as well as a £572m deal to provide freight services for the supply of PPE between 31 March 2020 and 31 December 2021.

The price paid to “Uniserve Group” on a PPE contract entered into on 14/4/20 was 87p per unit for 80,000,000 IIR facemasks . This represents a surplus of about 36p per mask over the Government’s benchmark price on that date – amounting to at least £28.8m on a single £69.6m contract.

Now it turns out much of this PPE is unwanted or unusable

  • It’s currently sitting in over 10k shipping containers dumped around Suffolk – at a cost to the government of £1m PER DAY.
  • This is actually causing a container shortage and the shipping lines that own the containers want them back.
  • Who owns the storage firm that’s pocketing the £1M/day from the government? Uniserve.

Julia Lopez MP is on record as saying this is nothing to do with her; the Government are taking decisive action to improve transparency around procurement; and they will hold a full inquiry into the covid pandemic next year.

In December 2020, Julia Lopez MP said there were no ministerial conflicts of interest in PPE contracts awards

To judge from her closing remarks as Cabinet Office Minister at the 9.12.20 Westminster Hall debate on procurement, Julia Lopez MP saw nothing wrong with the way the government had awarded PPE contracts. She quoted the National Audit Office’s report that,

‘we found that ministers had properly declared their interests, and we found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management’.

She added,

“Our own internal audit on PPE has also so far not found any conflicts. No PPE contracts were awarded by reason of who referred them.”

This didn’t wash with Transparency International, the UK’s leading independent anti-corruption organisation.

Transparency International’s April 2021 Covid-19 Track and Trace Procurement Report concluded,

“Our research found evidence that the overwhelming majority of bids put into this ‘VIP’ lane had links to the party of government in Westminster. Therefore, the bias existed before any standard procurement checks took place and irrespective of ministerial distance from contract decision making…
“The Minister for the Cabinet Office should make a statement to Parliament setting out where the UK Government has not complied with its legal transparency obligations, how these are being rectified, and how these issues will be prevented in the future.”

The Transparency International Report identified 73 contracts awarded by the UK government, worth more than £3.7 billion, which “raise one or more red flags for possible corruption.”

Its report concluded,

“The way the UK Government handled bids for supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 response contracts appears partisan and systemically biased in favour of those with political access…

“Our analysis of the available evidence is consistent with there being systemic bias towards those with connections to the party of government in Westminster, despite continued claims by the Government to the contrary.”

In June 2021 Julia Lopez MP said she’d had nothing to do with the award of PPE contracts as she was on maternity leave

By the June 2021 Westminster Hall debate in response to e-petition 328408, relating to Government contracts during the covid-19 outbreak, Julia Lopez MP was defending herself by saying she was on maternity leave in the first half of 2020 as covid took hold, so she had only began her Cabinet Minister role in June 2020.

Questioned specifically about “whether there is a perceived or actual impropriety” in the way the Uniserve contracts had been handled, Julia Lopez reverted to the defence that,

“I was not actually in post at the time that that was being decided. The challenge is that questions have been raised that I cannot fully address, because I do not have all the information. I was not party to the contract, so it is a considerable challenge.”

She added,

“I want to assure people that the Government are taking decisive action to improve transparency around procurement, alongside a full inquiry into the covid pandemic next year.”

In 2021 Uniserve was paid £104m in ‘storage costs’ to house surplus PPE – working out at a rate of £1m/day

If Julia Lopez MP was absent on maternity leave during the time when the initial Uniserve PPE and PPE freight contracts were awarded, she was at work as Cabinet Minister while Uniserve continued to reap the benefits of the Government’s bungled PPE procurement process.

Transparency data  published by the Department for Health reveals that from May 2021 to July 2021 the firm was paid an extraordinary £104m in ‘storage costs’ to house surplus PPE.

Uniserve has apparently fulfulled this contract by dumping 10,000 shipping containers full of Uniserve PPE in sites around Suffolk, causing a shortage of containers among shipping lines, who are now demanding their return because the shortage is impacting on supply lines.

This is despite its Felixstowe Mega Distribution Centre , billed as the

“latest addition to Uniserve’s warehousing portfolio… Introduction of huge new capacity into a space-starved warehousing market… has changed the UK logistics landscape forever.”

East Anglia Bylines reports that it is not known whether the Uniserve PPE stored in Suffolk meets standards required by the NHS and other essential users, but it is known that it has a limited shelf life. In some cases it has been abandoned for more than a year, so some of the material may anyway be close to its use-by date.

(The featured image for this blog post is “For the Love of Scrubs” Threads Of Survival quilt piece.)

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