Contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) worth more than £180m have been awarded to companies owned or run by prominent supporters of the Conservative Party.
An investigation has identified 12 contracts handed out by the government to three firms with links to Tory donors or members.
The disclosure comes as the National Audit Office begins its own inquiry into the handling of lucrative PPE contracts at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.
One company co-owned by a Tory donor that supplies beauty products to high-street stores was awarded a £65m deal to provide facemasks to the NHS.
A second company, owned by a Conservative councillor, was given contracts worth £120m to provide face shields for medics. A logistics firm founded by another party donor was given a £1.3m contract to distribute PPE.
Only four of the awards have been made public on the government’s official contracts website. Details of the remaining eight have not yet been disclosed.
“This should be a transparent, fair and effective process to ensure the best outcomes for the public and for all those serving on the front line,” said Rachel Reeves, a Labour shadow cabinet member. “People will rightly want to know if any business gained any advantage over others as a result of party political links.”
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, said: “We need assurances that political cronyism has not been put ahead of public health.”
Contracts worth about £2bn have been made public so far. However, officials admit the total spent on PPE is £5.5bn.
Meller Designs, a supplier of home and beauty products to high street retailers, including M&S, has landed seven contracts to provide coveralls, gloves, respirator masks and hand sanitiser.
The company is co-owned by David Meller, who has donated £65,000 to the Conservatives in the past decade. This included £3,250 to Michael Gove’s failed leadership campaign in 2016.
Gove is now minister for the Cabinet Office, the department in charge of PPE procurement for the NHS.
Last night the government said contracts were awarded in line with clinical need and ministers were not involved in their selection.
In May, the government ordered £65m worth of Type IIR masks, from Meller Designs, the equivalent of 168 million face coverings.
The Bedford-based company struck a deal with a Chinese manufacturer, Xiantao Zhongyi Safety & Protection Products in Hubei province, to supply the masks. The order has been successfully fulfilled.
A Meller Designs spokesman said: “We are extremely proud of the role we played at the height of the crisis and managed to secure more than 150 million items of PPE.”
A second company, P14 Medical, was given two contracts worth £120m to supply face shields. It is run by Steve Dechan, a Tory councillor in Gloucestershire. His firm, based in Stroud, has 10 employees and made a £486,000 loss for 2019.
This weekend Dechan confirmed that P14 Medical had secured two further contracts for PPE. One was worth £97,000. He declined to provide the value of the fourth.
Dechan said the contracts were not awarded because of his Conservative Party connections and that the government had been “delighted” with the 120 million face shields delivered so far.
“We’ve had zero complaints,” he added. “I couldn’t be prouder of how we managed such large numbers in such a short time.”
A third company, Clipper Logistics, has been given a £1.3m contract by the government to distribute PPE. Its founder and executive chairman, Steve Parkin, has donated more than £500,000 to the Tories.
The contract was not subject to a competitive tender. Clipper Logistics declined to comment.
The Department of Health said: “Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts. We have a robust process in place that ensures that orders are high quality and meet strict safety standards.”