The UK government on Monday launched legal proceedings against PPE Medpro, a provider of medical goods that was awarded more than £200mn in contracts to issue health supplies during the pandemic.
A claim was lodged against PPE Medpro at the High Court by Steve Barclay, secretary of state for health and social care, relating to breach of a government deal awarded in June 2020.
It is understood that the government’s legal claim relates to the contract price and estimated storage and disposal costs.
“We can confirm we have commenced legal proceedings in the High Court against PPE Medpro Limited for breach of contract regarding gowns delivered under a contract dated June 26, 2020,” a spokesperson for the health department said.
The government has come under heavy criticism for awarding more than £13bn of contracts related to PPE procurement during the coronavirus pandemic, with PPE Medro one of the groups at the centre of the controversy.
During the pandemic, PPE Medpro received £80mn and £122mn in contracts without competitive tender following a recommendation to ministers by lingerie entrepreneur and Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone.
Millions of surgical gowns costing £122mn were ultimately deemed unfit for purpose and were not distributed to the frontline. Officials have said the government has been locked in a “mediation process” to recoup its money from the company.
One of PPE Medpro’s directors, Anthony Page, is a director of the Knox House Trust, part of the Knox group, a group of companies founded by the businessman Douglas Barrowman, Mone’s husband.
Barrowman, who has previously distanced himself from PPE Medpro and denied any wrongdoing, received £65mn in profits from PPE Medpro in 2020, according to documents seen by the FT, £28.8mn of which was transferred to a trust whose beneficiaries were Mone and her children.
In the past, the government has faced its own legal action from campaign groups over its allocation of contracts for potential suppliers of personal protective equipment.
In January, the High Court found that the UK government had acted unlawfully in operating a special VIP lane for potential suppliers of personal protective equipment who had links with politicians or government officials.
In December of this year, a spokesperson for Mone, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, confirmed that she would take a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order “to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her.”
PPE Medpro said in a statement that the case would be “rigorously defended”, adding that the gowns were delivered on time, with the correct quality standards, at 50 per cent of the price the government had been paying previously.
“By the end of 2020 it was clear that DHSC has vastly over ordered and held five years supply of PPE. Since most PPE had a short lifespan; in the case of our gowns two years, it was clear that the DHSC would never be able to use all the PPE they procured,” it added.
“DHSC’s cynical attempt to recover money from suppliers like PPE Medpro, who acted in good faith and to contract specifications, will be found out through the civil court process,” it said.
Mone did not immediately respond to requests for comment.