Department of Health did £90,000,000 deal with firm listed in Chinese hotel room

The Department of Health (DHSC) signed two PPE deals worth more than £90 million with a state-backed Chinese firm listed at a hotel room in Beijing, newly-published documents show.

Josh Layton

The heavily-redacted contracts have emerged as the Government is accused of signing off ‘secretive big money deals’ with foreign firms despite British companies having tendered their services.

Matt Hancock’s department spent an estimated £9.5 billion on vital PPE equipment during the first wave as it tried to rush supplies to the NHS supply chain, according to Tussell market intelligence.

The deals struck with Beijing Union Glory Investment Co. Ltd feature in documents which were released last week.

The largest amount was £69.9 million, paid for surgical theatre gowns in a contract that began in May 2020. Under the terms, 70% of the contract value was to be paid by transfer through China Everbright Bank within three working days of the deal being struck.

The company’s address is listed as Room 9401A, Guobin Hotel, No9 Fuwai Street, Xicheng District. The closest hotel is the opulent Presidential Beijing, also known as the Guobin, which lies in the business district, although the postcode is a few digits different.

The grand hotel has 486 bedrooms, including the Royal, Presidential and State suites, which offer a 24-hour butler service, and three executive floors which boast ‘bespoke facilities, business tools and complimentary services’.

The suites are billed as offering ‘an exclusive, discreet environment in which to fuse business or leisure with unsurpassed pleasure’, while guests can also make use of a grand ballroom.

A source familiar with the district said the address provided by Beijing Union Glory is the same as the location given on the hotel’s website.

The Presidential did not reply to a request for comment.  

Another contract for gowns, which listed the same address, was signed off for £26.4 million the previous month.

Again, the terms included a 70% down-payment, this time within two working days. In this instance, the buyer was the British Embassy in Beijing on behalf of the UK Government.

Both documents are heavily redacted with quantities and unit prices blacked out, making it impossible to ascertain if the orders reflected value for money for the taxpayer. Although the award notices have been included on the Government’s online register since October, the corresponding documents were only added last week.

MP Matt Western said British companies which repurposed their operations to respond to the pandemic have been dealt a ‘kick in the teeth’ after being overlooked in favour of contractors mainly based in China and Turkey.

Mr Western has taken up the case of companies which say they were overlooked for PPE contracts despite spending hundreds of thousands of pounds answering a ‘call to arms’ during the first wave.

Mr Western, who represents Warwick and Leamington, said: ‘I have called for the firms in my constituency – and others across the UK that suffered financially after being overlooked for PPE contracts – to be reimbursed by the Government and prioritised for any future NHS contracts. 

‘The secretive big money deals reached with foreign firms like Beijing Union Glory in China is a kick in the teeth for them.

‘Firms like Contechs in my constituency have taken a big hit as a result of this betrayal after the Government’s “call to arms” in April.

‘They invested heavily to develop and manufacture PPE here in the UK, expanding manufacturing space and sourcing capital equipment only to be told at the last minute they would not be successful. 

‘It is infuriating to hear about the DHSC signing off contracts with Conservative Party donors, companies with no prior experience and chums of the Secretary of State – with the equipment purchased sometimes unusable.

‘And now profiteering “middle-men” dealing with Turkish and Chinese companies are granted contracts rather than the Government sourcing directly from our UK companies with UK employees making high quality products at similar or lower cost.’

Allegations of cronyism have repeatedly been denied by Government ministers.

A fast-track lane without the usual procurement and transparency requirements was used in the first wave in an effort to secure supplies for the health service, with the department saying it needed to act in ‘extreme urgency’ during ‘unprecedented’ events.

The Good Law Project (GLP) has been calling on the Department of Health to disclose further information relating to the deals.

The non-profit organisation secured a victory in the High Court last month when the Health Secretary was ruled to have acted unlawfully by not releasing Covid contracts within a 30-day deadline.

The DHSC maintains that its protocols specify that all PPE is quality assured, meets high standards and is only distributed if it meets strict standards in line with the Government’s technical specifications.

The department holds that it has ‘taken advantage of every avenue to get PPE into the country including working with companies that have established productions and delivery routes outside of their normal business’.

It also says that ‘proper due diligence is carried out for all Government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously’, with ‘clear Treasury guidance to ensure value for money was achieved’.

Offers not offering value for money were rejected, according to the DHSC.

The department says it recognises ‘the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and will continue to publish information about contracts awarded as soon as possible’.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to the frontline.

‘Over 8.8billion items have been delivered so far and almost 32billion items have been ordered to provide a continuous supply, which will meet the future needs of health and social care staff.

‘Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.

‘All offers were prioritised based on volume, price, meeting clinical standards and the time it will take from an offer being accepted by DHSC to the supplier delivering those items.’

On a website for the firm’s parent company, China National Complete Engineering Corporation, Union Glory says it acts with ‘creation, honesty, efficiency and co-prosperity’.