Labor is demanding an investigation into the behavior and honesty of conservative peer Michelle Mone after she repeatedly denied any connection to a PPE (personal protective equipment) company, which it has since been shown she recommended to the government.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently revealed that Lady Mone referred the company, PPE Medpro Ltd, as a potential supplier during the coronavirus pandemic. It was then entered into a “VIP” fast-track, high-priority lane for companies with political connections, before being awarded two contracts, for face masks and surgical gowns, for a total value of £ 203m.
PPE Medpro, formed on May 12 last year, was managed and provided with directors by the Knox House Trust (KHT), a corporate services company on the Isle of Man run by Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman.
In extensive correspondence over six weeks last year, the Guardian repeatedly asked Mone about her connection to PPE Medpro. She was also asked if she had had any discussions with officials about the company.
Meanwhile, PPE Medpro was asked if anyone involved in the business had discussions with any peers as part of its approach to the government.
In their response, neither Mone nor PPE Medpro revealed that she had referred the company to Lord Agnew, a cabinet minister.
At the time of the correspondence, Mone’s lawyers repeatedly denied that she had any connection or affiliation with the company or a role in how it secured the contracts.
One of the responses stated that Mone and Barrowman “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro”. Her lawyers said Mone “was not connected in any way to PPE Medpro” and added that “any hint of a connection” between their client and PPE Medpro would be “both inaccurate and misleading”.
The lawyers also said that “with reference to the ‘high priority path’ … any proposal that does not [Mone or Barrowman] played a role in how the PPE Medpro contract was treated would be completely inaccurate and misleading ”.
But last week, DHSC revealed that Mone had played a seemingly crucial role in the process by making the first recommendation to Agnew.
Following its referral, Agnew recommended the company to the “VIP” lane for companies referred by ministers, MPs or colleagues. At the time, the government awarded non-competitive contracts under the Covid emergency regulations. Companies referred to the VIP course were 10 times more likely to be awarded a contract, according to a report from the National Audit Office.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s vice-president, called on the government – or the cabinet secretary if the government refused – to publish all correspondence, documents, meeting minutes and notes related to all contracts awarded through the VIP process.
Rayner said: “There are serious questions that Baroness Mone has to answer about whether she was telling the truth when she said she played no part in the allocation of £ 200 million of taxpayers’ money to PPE Medpro. Boris Johnson and the Conservative party also has serious questions to answer about Baroness Mone’s position if she turns out to have lied about her role in those contracts and the VIP fast track.
“If Baroness Mone did not tell the truth about her role in these contracts, then she has clearly failed to uphold the Nolan principles, and there are further questions to be answered as to whether she has violated the House of Lords Code of Conduct. Baroness Mone should refer herself to the High Commissioners to investigate if she is sure she has done nothing wrong and has nothing to hide. “
The Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords states that they “should adhere to the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life,” known as the Nolan Principles. These include integrity, accountability, openness and honesty and a positive duty of leadership, which requires members to “actively promote and support the principles”.
Mone’s role in the process was revealed after DHSC published the list of 47 companies awarded contracts through the VIP track following a request for freedom of information pursued by the Good Law Project, which challenges the propriety of some public contracts.
There is no evidence that Mone played any role in PPE Medpro securing its contracts last year, other than her initial referral.
But this week, the Financial Times reported that Mone had also lobbied officials working for the government’s test-and-tracking program, apparently on behalf of PPE Medpro. Jacqui Rock, a senior official, sent an email to colleagues on February 10, saying: “Baroness Mone is going to Michael Gove and Matt Hancock today as she is glowing with rage in the way she believes Medpro has treated [sic] in the case.”
Mone’s representatives told FT that: “In terms of testing and tracking, she has advocated for the government that all companies bidding for contracts in the UK be treated fairly and that a transparent process be adopted by DHSC in the award of contracts. “
In response to questions from the Guardian, Mone’s lawyers said: “Baroness Mone does not deny the simple act of referring PPE Medpro as a potential supplier of PPE to Lord Agnew’s office.”
But they said Mone vehemently denied that any of her previous statements were untrue or misleading, and said they denied that she was affiliated, affiliated or had a role in PPE Medpro, in the “commercial sense” “of these words. They described Mone’s referral of the company to Agnew as a “very simple, lonely and short step”, which she did as a contribution to the Covid contingency.
The Guardian is still awaiting a response from Mone’s lawyers as to why the comrade initially chose not to disclose her reference to PPE Medpro.