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Government awards billionaire tax exile Lord Ashcroft’s firm £350m NHS contract

The Tories appear to be prioritising ‘profits of party insiders and donors,’ Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis says

by Lamiat Sabin
Parliamentary Reporter

CONSERVATIVES were blasted over their “cronyism” today after a firm owned by billionaire tax exile Lord Ashcroft was awarded a £350 million contract to provide temporary Covid-19 testing staff.

The Tory donor’s company Medacs was awarded the contract to provide locum medics and workers for “laboratories or to assist the national testing programme in response to Covid-19,” documents show.

The lucrative Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) contract was seen by the Morning Star after it was published on Tuesday.

Medacs has been awarded other contracts by DHSC and councils for temporary health and care staff worth £380m since 2015, the year Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords, the Star also found.

The company has also benefited from multiple-supplier DHSC contracts worth around £2 billion in total since 2015, documents show — but it is not stipulated how big of a share Medacs took.

Medacs’s parent company is the Impellam Group.

Lord Ashcroft, the 95th-richest man in Britain, is a director with up to 75 per cent of shares and voting rights, according to Companies House.

He is also former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and has an estimated fortune of £1.4 billion, which for years he has avoided tax on by officially residing abroad — his non-domicile status was most recently highlighted in 2017 in the Paradise Papers leak.

Impellam Group’s subsidiaries also provide NHS services. They include Doctors on Call, Litmus Workforce Solutions, and Fast Response Healthcare.

After having donated and loaned millions of pounds to the Tories, Lord Ashcroft was controversially made a peer in 2000 despite a significant public backlash over his tax arrangements, continuing in the role until his resignation in 2015.

Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis told the Star that the government appears to be prioritising the “profits of party insiders and donors” rather than tackling extreme rates of Covid-19 that have killed 5,000 people in one week.

He mentioned the coronavirus test and trace system as an example of outsourced services failing to protect the public. 

The chair of the testing system, Dido Harding, is married to Tory MP John Penrose.

Dr Puntis added that PM Boris Johnson “no doubt hopes in due course to take the credit for a vaccination programme that will in time help bring the coronavirus under control.

“But he should be remembered for lethal indecisiveness, cronyism, waste and being responsible for a staggering death toll that would have largely been prevented if an elimination policy such as that of New Zealand had been pursued.”

Labour’s Rachel Reeves said people are “understandably furious” over firms linked to the Tories being awarded huge public contracts without the contracts going to tender.

“Cronyism, incompetence and waste have been everyday features of this government’s approach to outsourcing,” the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster added.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Proper due diligence is carried out on all government contracts.”

Lord Ashcroft hit the headlines a few years ago for his 2015 book Call Me Dave, which made uncorroborated allegations that former Tory PM David Cameron was photographed putting “a private part of his anatomy” in a dead pig’s mouth. He also owns the website ConservativeHome.

Biteback Publishing, which published the “pig-gate” book, has two directors — Angela Entwistle and Ian Robinson — who are also directors of ConservativeHome, as well as Dods Group which publishes news website PoliticsHome, the Commons’ magazine House, and Holyrood magazine. The pair are listed as directors of Medacs.

Medacs was approached for comment.

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