Why was £108m of public money paid to Crisp Websites Limited?

by EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Why was £108m of public money paid to Crisp Websites Limited?

by EveryDoctor and Good Law Project
EveryDoctor and Good Law Project
Case Owner
EveryDoctor works for a future where every patient and every doctor is safe. Good Law Project is a not for profit that uses strategic litigation for a better world.
on 24th June 2020
pledged of £450,000 stretch target from 16024 pledges
EveryDoctor and Good Law Project
Case Owner
EveryDoctor works for a future where every patient and every doctor is safe. Good Law Project is a not for profit that uses strategic litigation for a better world.

Latest: May 3, 2022

No VIP lane appeal

As you will recall, in mid-January the High Court ruled that the Government’s operation of a VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts to those with political connections was unlawful. The …

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How on earth did a company - Crisp Websites Limited - with last reported net assets of £18,047 win a contract worth £108m - and why was there apparently no bidding process? 

The bare facts are quite remarkable. Here is the filing history of Crisp Websites Limited showing at 30 November 2019 it had net assets of £18,047. Here is the Official Journal publication of the 12 month £108m contract it entered into with Matt Hancock's department. That publication states there was only one bidder for that contract.

From these bare facts, a quite remarkable series of questions arise.

1. Was this contract ever advertised? If so, where? No one we have spoken to is aware of any advertisement.

2. If it was not advertised, how was Crisp Websites Limited chosen? Who was the decision maker? How did the name of this tiny company come to be placed before the decision maker?

3. Why was Crisp Websites Limited chosen? You can only award a contract without advertising where “there is only one supplier … with capacity to complete on the scale required”. How could Government possibly think Crisp Websites Limited was that company?

4. Why did Government wait until April until to procure PPE? You can only award a contract without advertising where there is unforeseeable “extreme urgency”? How could the need for PPE have been unforeseeable in April when the EU knew that there was an urgent need for procurement in February?  

5. Why has Government ignored its own guidance requiring publication of the contract within 20 days? It is now more than two months on and the contract has still not been published.

6. How was a company with net assets of £18,000 put in a position where it could cashflow a contract to purchase £108m of PPE? 

7. Why did Government use the "extreme urgency" procedure to buy PPE for March 2021? The contract, entered into in April 2020, ran for 12 months.

Dominic Cummings has written - see to take one example this - of his dislike of EU procurement rules which guarantee transparency and see to ensure value for money. 

But if this is his brave new world we're not sure we like it.

There are still reports of inadequate PPE - even before we contemplate the possibility of a subsequent wave or waves to the pandemic. Only with good procurement practice, can we safeguard the lives of the public and healthcare workers.

Along with EveryDoctor, we have instructed leading procurement lawyers Jason Coppell QC and Brendan McGurk and Rook Irwin Sweeney. You can read our pre-action protocol letter here.

10% of the sums raised will go to the Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. However, if there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring. Our founder, Jo Maugham QC, continues to work unpaid.  

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Update 15

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

May 3, 2022

No VIP lane appeal

As you will recall, in mid-January the High Court ruled that the Government’s operation of a VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts to those with political connections was unlawful. The Court found:

“the Claimants have established that operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment… the illegality is marked by this judgment.”

We had closed the crowdfunding page in May 2021, after the hearing, but in mid-February of this year we told you that we were planning to appeal some of the other points in the case and we shared with you the grounds of our appeal.

However, over the weekend that the Court of Appeal had declined to hear an appeal. In accordance with our transparency principles, we are publishing its reasons.

We are proud that, with your support, we were able to establish that special treatment for friends and associates of Ministers in the awarding of huge public contracts is unlawful. And we note that a number of contracts awarded to associates of Ministers are now, quite rightly, under criminal investigation.

Update 14

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Feb. 16, 2022

The High Court ruling is in and Good Law Project’s appeal begins

The Government’s operation of a fast-track VIP lane was unlawful!

In mid-January, after over a year of hard work, the High Court ruled that the Government’s operation of a fast-track VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts to those with political connections was unlawful. 

The Court found, “the Claimants have established that operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment… the illegality is marked by this judgment.” (§512)

The judge agreed the VIP lane conferred preferential treatment on bids. It sped up the process, which meant offers were considered sooner in a process where timing was critical, and VIPs’ hands were held throughout the process. 

She said: “offers that were introduced through the Senior Referrers received earlier consideration at the outset of the process. The High Priority Lane Team was better resourced and able to respond to such offers on the same day that they arrived”. (§395)

The Court found the Government allocated offers to the VIP lane on a “flawed basis” (§396) and did not properly prioritise bids: “there is evidence that opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer.” (§383).

However, there were also parts of the ruling where we think, respectfully, the judge was wrong. Those findings could have serious consequences in the future and it’s important that we have them clarified. So we’ve asked for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. There are three main issues we want the Court of Appeal to look at.

1) The High Court should have ‘declared’ that the VIP lane was unlawful

The Court found that the operation of the VIP lane was unlawful, but it decided not to grant a declaration that the VIP lane itself was unlawful. This is based on its conclusion that, even without the VIP lane, Pestfix and Ayanda were ‘highly likely’ to have won the contracts we had challenged.

However, this sits unhappily with the Court's findings that the VIP lane did carry advantages, including the speed at which decisions were made and enhanced access, which must have increased the likelihood of getting a successful contract.

For the Court to decide that being in the VIP lane made no difference isn’t in line with its own views on the subject.

2) The Court should have given proper consideration to failings in the Department of Health’s financial due diligence

We think the Court was wrong to conclude that the Government's approach to financial due diligence on the Ayanda and Pestfix contracts was appropriate and reasonable. There was ample evidence before the Court that the Government repeatedly failed to comply with its own processes for determining a supplier’s level of financial risk before awarding these contracts. These failings had a direct impact on which companies were able to win contracts and we think the judgment needs to recognise this.

3) The judgment could damage the principle of open justice

Before the hearing, the Department of Health demanded that a ‘confidentiality ring’ be placed around some of the information about the contracts. This meant that information could only be seen by a select few people. At the hearing, the judge decided against making that confidential information public. We think her reasoning on this point was wrong, in that it failed to take into account the important presumption that justice should be out in the open. We believe information should not be withheld from public hearings simply to protect the Government’s alleged commercial interests, and we want to challenge the Court’s approach to ensure it does not set a precedent that hamstrings future cases involving Government procurement.

We are appealing because we want an outcome that serves transparency and public accountability. Never again should any Government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.

You can read the full judgment from the High Court here, and our request for permission to appeal here

Thank you for your trust in us, and your continued support of this case. Without you, this simply wouldn’t have been possible.

Update 13

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

May 26, 2021

The hearing is over

Our High Court hearing ended yesterday. Over the course of five days we’ve heard how companies with political connections jumped the queue to win lucrative PPE deals and that hundreds of millions of pounds of public money was wasted on PPE that couldn’t be used by the NHS.

What’s more, we have exposed what the leading QC acting for Good Law Project and EveryDoctor described as:

"a relentless campaign by the Defendant to obscure what really happened on significant issues." 

Now, all that is left to do is wait for the judgment. We have no way of knowing when that might be handed down by the Judge - it could be weeks, or even months. We just have to sit tight.

One thing we are certain of is that, as soon as we can, we will update you on the result. Your friends and family can sign up to receive news of the judgment too. You can encourage them to sign up for updates on social media:

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Bringing a case of this magnitude has only been possible thanks to the support of thousands of people across the country, including you. Regardless of the final judgment, together we have shone a light on Government practices that they would rather have kept hidden.

Thank you for helping to make it happen,

Jo Maugham
Director of Good Law Project

Update 12

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

May 21, 2021

This week in Court

My name is Gemma and I’m the Legal Director of Good Law Project. This week, I’ve been in Court for the legal challenge we are bringing with EveryDoctor over the PPE procurement scandal.

We wanted to give you a quick update on what has been going on. If you click the image below you can watch a short video with the details:

You can also watch the video on Facebook: https://glplive.org/watch-fb or on YouTube: https://glplive.org/watch-yt

Bringing litigation of this scale and importance is only possible thanks to support from thousands of you.

Thank you,

Gemma Abbott
Legal Director
Good Law Project

Update 11

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

May 19, 2021

Day two of the hearing

Today the High Court heard our lawyers detail waste, mismanagement - and yet more special treatment for politically connected companies placed in the “VIP” Lane.

Government paid tens of millions of pounds to PestFix and Ayanda Capital for face masks which did not meet NHS standards. An email from a senior official stated that they needed to “get out of a contract” due to “a failure of the commercial process…”

PestFix was in the “VIP” lane because an ex-director was an old-school friend of a senior official's father-in-law; Ayanda, because one of its senior advisers was a member of Government’s Board of Trade.

Government failed to carry out any proper checks before ordering gowns worth from PestFix. After examining the evidence, our lawyers told the Court: “over £100m spent on gowns with no technical assurance, no financial due diligence and based on a misunderstanding of the gowns which were actually being purchased.”

Government didn’t put its cards on the table. One witness went to some lengths to “gloss over” - as our lawyer put it - the lack of technical assurance. It was left to a detailed forensic review by our legal team to uncover this extraordinary failure.

Government awarded huge contracts to Ayanda Capital despite it having failed financial due diligence. The hedge fund was given a red rating, which meant there were “Major issues or concerns [which] would need to be resolved before we use them”

Not only did this not dissuade Government from accepting Ayanda’s offer to supply millions of FFP2 masks, but its VIP status actually meant that it was invited to supply a different type of mask, leading to an even larger contract award.

This was taxpayers’ money, dished out to companies because of who they knew, not what they could supply. The result - unsurprisingly - was a waste of hundreds of millions of pounds. In these contracts alone.

Our challenge seeks to get to the truth of the PPE procurement process in which - again to quote our lawyer - “a truly colossal amount of public money” was spent “in circumstances of almost total secrecy”. The hearing continues tomorrow.

Thank you for your support

Jo Maugham

Director of Good Law Project

Update 10

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

May 18, 2021

Day one of the hearing

Today was the first day of our High Court legal challenge over Government’s award of PPE contracts. Here are three of the most shocking revelations from Court.

1) Government prioritised companies because of who they knew and not what they could deliver. Take Pestfix and Multibrands. Both suppliers emailed the senior official in charge of NHS procurement explaining their ability to supply PPE. Multibrands did so on 20th March 2020, a week before Pestfix. Multibrands received no response.

By contrast, Pestfix’s email resulted in their allocation to the “VIP lane”, where companies were fast-tracked to lucrative contracts. Why? An ex-director of PestFix was an “old school friend” of the official’s father-in-law.

3) Ministers did not want their political contacts to have to wait in line with everyone else. Evidence read out in Court revealed “...ministers and senior officials sometimes introduce offers of PPE and want them personally handled rather than going through surveys and bulk routes. Some of these contacts simply flatly refuse to proceed via a webform....."

3) The banks were so concerned about Government’s lack of due diligence on  companies who had been handed huge contracts that they halted payments. An email from a civil servant stated “It is... imperative that we rectify the with supplier due diligence to ensure we do not leave ourselves at unacceptable risk of fraud/loss”

There are more explosive revelations to come. Government would really rather they go unnoticed by the public. Together, we can make sure they don’t. Will you share the details of this scandal with your friends and family and encourage them to sign up for updates?

Thank you as ever for your support. There will be more from Court tomorrow. If you’re interested, our skeleton can be read here.

Update 9

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Feb. 23, 2021

We will keep fighting

We are pleased to be able to tell you that the Court has granted a cost-capping order in this  judicial review.

After Government said it would cost an unbelievable £1million pounds to defend the case, we asked the Court to cap our exposure to Government’s legal costs at £100k. We are a small not-for-profit that relies on crowdfunding. After reviewing our fundraising efforts for the case so far and looking at what we have saved for a rainy day, this is the figure we could afford.

Instead, the Court has granted a cost-capping order of £250k. It means that if we lose the case, we are liable to pay a quarter of a million pounds to Government, as well as needing to cover our own legal costs. Despite huge support from people like you, as well as generous organisations, we are still short.  

But we will not be bullied out by costs. This case, which we are bringing alongside EveryDoctor, is simply too important.

In awarding the cost-capping order, the Judge seemed to agree:

“All citizens are likely to have an interest in whether or not the procurement on the part of the government is done using good governance procedures and integrity. And therefore there is a real wider public interest that has been represented by the claimant group, which is a not-for-profit group, in bringing this challenge”

We will fight this case to its conclusion. The case will be heard in Court in May. If you are in a position to do so, please will you donate?

Update 8

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Feb. 23, 2021

Government's costs

Today, the High Court will hear our application for a cost capping order in our judicial review of Government's decision to award huge PPE contracts to questionable counterparties.

We have been forced to apply for the order, which would cap the costs of both sides, after Government revealed it planned to spend an eye-watering £1 million defending the case. If we lose, Good Law Project would be liable for these enormous costs. And Ayanda and Pestfix - the fortunate VIP lane recipients of vast contracts to supply PPE much of which we now know to be unusable - are also asking for huge and, we are advised, inflated sums in costs. We are a small not-for-profit, funded by donations from members of the public. We cannot bear this kind of existential risk. 

Government makes no attempt to explain how many judicial reviews have cost £1 million.

Nor do we know why its costs for the three procurement judicial reviews brought by Good Law Project for which we know the costs (two of which were one-day hearings) are for more than £200k, more than £500k, and £1 million.

But you might think it has something to do with the types of points we are making. Last Monday, our case against Michael Gove showed that Dominic Cummings awarded a lucrative public contract to those he admitted were his ‘friends’. Last Friday, the High Court ruled Government had acted unlawfully by failing to publish details of COVID-19 contracts. 

And our judicial review of PPE contracts has already generated an admission from Government that it purchased £155 million worth of facemasks that can’t be used by the NHS, fuelled countless newspaper headlines in the UK and around the world, and prompted repeated scrutiny in the House of Commons. And it will get right to the heart of the highly troubling VIP lane largely populated by Ministerial contacts. And all of this before the case even reaches court.

Our litigation is exposing Government’s cronyism and failures to procure in the best interests of the British taxpayer. We want to continue. But we are a tiny organisation pitted against the resources of the state. Unless we are granted a cost capping order today we will not be able to. We will update you on the hearing and what that means for this case in due course. 

Update 7

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Dec. 2, 2020

We're in court tomorrow

Last week we were pleased to be granted permission from the court to bring our challenge with EveryDoctor against the Government’s decision to award PPE contracts to Pestfix (a pest control company), Ayanda (an opaque private fund owned through a tax haven) and Clandeboye (a confectionery wholesaler).

The Court gave us permission on some – but not all – of our grounds of complaint. However, extraordinary new evidence has emerged since we issued proceedings – in both the NAO investigation into procurement and a trove of emails uncovered between Government and the Health and Safety Executive. And for these amongst other reasons we asked for a short oral hearing to make a renewed case on the rejected grounds. The hearing takes place tomorrow. 

The leaked correspondence between HSE and Government on the Pestfix contract is particularly troubling. It shows that the HSE was placed under enormous pressure by Government to authorise the use of Pestfix PPE which the HSE had decided should not be released into the supply chain. It shows that HSE had grave concerns about the authenticity of the documents Pestfix had supplied. It shows that Government was “bombarding [it] with calls on this issue” and “requesting statements to the effect that HSE assessed the products and they were compliant – not factually correct.” And it shows that Pestfix was writing saying that “we do not want it to be made public-knowledge that PPE from PestFix has not passed HSE inspection.”

Days later, in formal pre-action correspondence, Pestfix said: “There have been no recalls, complaints or incidents bringing into question the fitness for purpose of the products supplied under the contract.” And Government said: “There was and is no question of PestFix supplying PPE which is not appropriate for the use to which it will be put.”

We will publish the outcome of the hearing as soon as we have it. This may be some days after the hearing has concluded.

Update 6

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Nov. 24, 2020

We're going to court

To bring judicial review proceedings you have to establish you have an arguable case. Courts have, in recent times, interpreted this as imposing a relatively high bar for judicial review proceedings; think of it as being shortlisted for a job. And if they think you cross that bar they give you ‘permission’.

We have now heard  that the High Court has given Good Law Project and EveryDoctor permission to bring our challenge against its decision to award contracts to Pestfix, Ayanda, and Clandeboye

Now the Government will have to come clean about what really happened.

The Court gave us permission on some – but not all – of our grounds of complaint. So we have asked the Court for a short oral hearing in which we will make the case to be given permission on the others. That hearing will take place on Thursday, 3rd December.

Meanwhile, we have brought a further five challenges to other contracts that Government gave to VIP-channelled pest control specialist Pestfix. You can read the bundle here.

Thank you,

Update 5

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Sept. 4, 2020

They claim they're being honest

Yesterday in Parliament, Jacob Rees Mogg MP was questioned over the PPE fiasco that has seen the Government spend hundreds of millions of pounds on protective equipment that can’t be used by the NHS. The contract in question was handed to Ayanda Capital, an opaque private fund, with links to a Government advisor. His response?

‘It is equally right that those decisions are held to account within this House, this is why we have such an honest and uncorrupt country.’

But whilst in public the Government claims openness and transparency the story behind the scenes is a very different one. Lawyers acting on behalf of Good Law Project and EveryDoctor in this legal challenge over Ayanda’s questionable PPE contract have written to the High Court expressing dismay at the Government’s lack of transparency.

‘The Defendant’s failure candidly and transparently to address that point is reprehensible’ 

The full blistering legal letter can be read here.  

Our legal team has also written to the Government to question why Ayanda Capital, linked to Government advisor, received more favourable contract terms than other businesses who were given contracts to supply PPE.

Jacob Rees Mogg claims there is no funny business. On the evidence we have - only some of which we can put into the public domain - we are a long way from being persuaded he is right.

Update 4

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Aug. 11, 2020

They are trying to warn us off

Government has now admitted that it didn’t enter into one PPE contract with a pest control company, but eleven.

This is the same pest control company that flogged PPE to UK businesses which had not undergone sufficient checks. The unsafe PPE has now been recalled. And there are more shocking details about the quality of PPE provided by Pestfix still to emerge.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Pestfix have written to the Court to ask that our legal challenge is dismissed because we won’t be able to afford their costs if we lose. Their intention is to warn us off. It hasn’t worked.

Good Law Project and EveryDoctor continue to pursue judicial review proceedings over the contract award to Pestfix, as well as PPE contracts awarded to a confectionery wholesaler and an opaque family fund. It is only with your support that this is possible.  

Thank you, 

Good Law Project team

Update 3

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

Aug. 6, 2020

They purchased masks that don't work

The Government awarded a PPE contract worth £252 million to Ayanda Capital Limited, a ‘family office’ owned through a tax haven in Mauritius, with connections to Liz Truss. It is the largest PPE contract we have seen to date. 

In response to judicial review proceedings issued by Good Law Project, the Government has admitted that the 50 million FFP2 masks they purchased from Ayanda Capital – for a price that we calculate to be between £156m and £177m –  “will not be used in the NHS” because “there was concern as to whether the[y]… provided an adequate fixing.”

So, unless Government finds another use for, or seeks to sell, those unsuitable masks, that money has been wasted. And as for the remaining 150 million Type IIR masks purchased from Ayanda Capital? Government has admitted they also require further testing and have not been released for use in the NHS.

We have also unearthed another absolutely remarkable feature of the £252 million Ayanda contract. Matt Hancock’s lawyers have now admitted they planned to enter into that contract with a £100 company wholly owned by Liz Truss adviser Andrew Mills and his wife. Mr Mills asked - and Government agreed - to enter into it with Ayanda instead because the £100 company (Prospermill Limited) didn’t have “international payment infrastructure.” Just how much has this arrangement prospered Mills? 

Good Law Project has now issued three sets of judicial review proceedings in relation to the procurement of PPE - with a pest controller, a confectioner and Ayanda/Prospermill. Not one of those contracts- has resulted in any PPE yet being released for use in the NHS. The entirety of the PPE delivered under these three contracts is either untested or has already been found to be unusable.

These are the facts – and they are not disputed.

The more we scratch the surface of the PPE fiasco, the more shocking details that emerge. If we are to prevent more PPE failures and protect public funds, we need proper answers from this Government. With your support, we intend to get them.

Update 2

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

July 15, 2020

The PPE fiasco

More details of PPE fiasco that left hundreds of doctors and nurses dead are starting to emerge.

Whilst our EU partners were putting together emergency procurement arrangements in late January, it wasn’t until March that Government put together an emergency scheme to protect our doctors and nurses and care workers.

By then the global market for PPE had tightened considerably and Government was having to play catch up – ditching the normal rules that secure good value for public money and which guard against corruption in the process. On 27 March Government opened its portal inviting tenders for PPE on the gov.uk website and received 24,000 offers from 16,000 suppliers. It spent – this is Government’s figure – a staggering £5.5bn. And, surprisingly, three of the biggest beneficiaries were companies specialising in pest control, a confectionery wholesaler and an opaque private fund owned through a tax haven.

Why? We do not know. And Government is not helping – it has ignored the usual rule that contracts should be published within 20 days.

But Good Law Project, working with EveryDoctor, means to find out. Our intention is to pursue judicial review claims in respect of the Pestfix, Clandeboye and Ayanda contracts. But we will keep these contracts under review – and we may substitute others if better examples emerge.

Litigation of this scale and importance is undeniably difficult and expensive. It is only possible thanks to your support

Good Law Project and EveryDoctor has instructed Rook Irwin Sweeney in this case. You can read correspondence with the Government Legal Department below: 

10th June: We issued a Pre Action Protocol Letter over the Government’s decision to award a PPE contract to PestFix (available here)
16th June: We received an initial response from the Government: (available here)
17th June: We received further correspondence from the Government Legal Department, which stated the initial contract award notice had been issued ‘in error’: (available here)
29th June: We issued a Pre Action Protocol Letter over the Government’s decision to award a PPE contract to Clandeboye: (available here)
1st July: Government Legal Department response: (available here)
3rd July: We received a response from Osborne Clark, who are instructed on behalf of PestFix: (available here)
3rd July: We sent a letter to the Government Legal Department regarding Clandeboye: (available here)

Update 1

EveryDoctor and Good Law Project

July 4, 2020

Another £108m for PPE - this time to a sweet vendor

Not just pest control.

The Government has awarded £108 million in contracts for the supply of PPE to a wholesaler of sweets. The enormous contract was awarded to the confectionery business seemingly without any advertising or competitive tendering process. There is no evidence that the company, Clandeboye Agencies Limited, has any experience in supplying PPE.

The more we scratch the surface about the PPE contracts awarded by Government, the more serious questions that arise. Enormous amounts of public money have been dished out, seemingly without any advertising or competitive tendering process. To protect public funds and to try and prevent further PPE procurement failures, we intend to get answers. We have sent a letter before action to the Government in respect of Clandeboye - and will keep you posted.

Jolyon Maugham

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