Lovely poster of Michelle Mone from @pennyamott
I suspect everyone has already heard about Michelle Mone and her alleged involvement with the PPE scandal that has come to light at last. In this case, Michelle Mone, a Tory peer, seems to be inextricably linked to PPE Medpro, a company that, until the pandemic broke out, didn’t exist. The main contention here is that Mone specifically lobbied using the government’s “VIP” lane to get PPE Medpro awarded a contract for providing PPE because they could do so quickly. As such, I thought I would have a Moan about Mone and PPE Medpro.
So far, sounds good – we were in a crisis after all, so why is this a problem?
Well, the problems start to arise when you look at the details.
PPE Medpro Experience
As mentioned above, PPE Medpro was a brand new company. In fact, they had no history whatsoever of manufacturing and sourcing PPE. One would therefore be forgiven for completely discounting them as a potential supplier because they just didn’t have the track record to back up their proposal. One might also be forgiven for taking a look at their proposal and arguing that – despite their lack of track record – they were well placed to provide said equipment.
Value for Money
One of the greatest arguments for government procurement is to be able to show decent value for money for the taxpayer. If PPE Medpro had approached the government with an excellent deal, this would be a good reason to bypass the usual tendering process, as the taxpayer would ultimately be better off.
Example of PPE being worn
In this case, however, the underlying items in the contract were purchased by PPE Medprod for far less than they were then sold on to the government for. In fact, the Guardian reported in March 2022 that the items sold to the UK government for £122m were actually bought for £46m. It is genuinely hard to believe that a new small company would be able to achieve such favourable terms compared to the entire UK government, so that markup of £76m comes across as frankly greedy profit-gouging.
Quality of PPE
The above might be excusable if this particular source represented the best quality PPE known to man. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The gowns making up a good proportion of this order (£122m) were never used, as the quality was deemed to be below acceptable standards for frontline workers. In fact, the government has had to pay more to store these useless items since the provision. You might think that failing to come up to code would be grounds for the contract to be voided and the payment returns, but apparently not. The government is still in mediation with PPE Medpro to get money back for these useless items that were specifically bought at the insistence of a Tory peer.
A Genuine Mistake?
Did Michelle Mone make an honest mistake here? Did she really think that this company was best-placed compared to existing providers of this type of equipment? In short, no, she was not that stupid. Instead it seems she was greedy.
Recent reports show that, of the c. £200m paid to PPE Medpro, some £65m was paid out to Douglas Barrowman, Michelle Mone’s husband. From that, he then made a payment of some £29m into her personal control.
This brings the whole issue to a close in my eyes. In essence, Michelle Mone did not make an honest mistake, she deliberately recommended a firm that she and her family would personally benefit from and since taking taxpayer money has so far refused to give it back despite the products purchased being defective.
In short, she is a great example of why the House of Lords is utterly unfit for purpose. She is entitled to sit there for life and will never be subject to an election, but will have influence over the UK and its finances for years to come. For this reason, part of my personal manifesto is the abolition of the House of Lords*.
* incidentally my goal to abolish the House of Lords predates Kier Starmer’s announcement this week to do the same. However, his plan is to replace the House with an elected body, while my own view is that we should still fill a second chamber with experienced experts, but we should almost completely eliminate their actual political power. This would put the power in the hands of a single elected chamber, with some form of oversight or expertise from a fairly academic chamber with minimal actual power.