Ahealthcare company ultimately controlled by leading Tory donor and former party chairman, Lord Ashcroft, has received a £350m contract as part of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, openDemocracy has learned.
Last month the Department of Health and Social Care gave the lucrative contract to Medacs Healthcare plc. In recent weeks, the outsourcing company, which specialises in providing staff to the NHS, social care services and private healthcare providers, has been advertising for staff to work on the huge vaccination project.
Medacs is a subsidiary of Impellam Group, a FTSE-listed firm whose largest shareholder is Michael Ashcroft, the Belize-based Conservative peer who has donated millions to the party, including more than £175,000 in the past year.
The award of a major COVID contract to a firm with close ties to the Tories has sparked further questions about politically connected firms benefiting financially from the UK’s pandemic response.
Last year, a highly critical National Audit Office report found that companies with political links were directed to a “VIP lane” for government contracts where bids were ten times more likely to be successful.
The awarding of government contracts to ‘friends’ of the incumbent administration is no newer an idea than the beginnings of business and government themselves. The word most used to denote such cronyism in English, ‘Nepotism’, is derived from the mid-seventeenth-century French and Italian terms denoting ‘nephew’, connotating the privileges bestowed on the ‘nephews’ of popes, who were in many cases their illegitimate sons. In some ways, nepotism is simply part of the natural order. Most of us care more for our family and friends than strangers after all. Yet, the bestowing of prestige and financial gain on certain groups and individuals due to their proximity to our social circle rather than their merit is not just immoral but grossly inefficient.
According to The Guardian, “Ashcroft’s spokesman said that he was not involved in the negotiation of Medacs Healthcare’s £350m contracts with the DHSC, and did not know about it until after it had been awarded.” Indeed, there is certainly a chance that Ashcroft’s connections to the Tory Party had little to do with the awarding of the contract, but there are plenty of examples under both Labour and Conservative leadership, where this has been the case. In the context of the COVID-19 response, “Four of the companies engaged for such consultancy services on contracts not put out to tender have political links either to the government, the Conservative party, Cummings himself or the Vote Leave campaign he ran during the Brexit referendum.” The standard reaction to such scandals is a call for further state interference in the process. In reality, more government meddling simply means more likelihood that investment becomes a question of politics rather than what is most efficient.