Dr Julian Lewis, New Forest East MP, defends role helping Lymington firm Brandology Ltd awarded £100m in government PPE contracts
NEW Forest East MP Julian Lewis has insisted he acted “entirely transparently” in helping a Lymington company that was awarded nearly £100m worth of contracts to supply vital PPE at the start of the pandemic.
As reported by the A&T, Brandology Ltd, a family firm specialising in luxury packaging, was last year given a £69.6m contract in June and another worth £29.3m in July by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
All the PPE deals handed out by the government skipped the open tender process – with ministers citing the emergency of dealing with coronavirus.
During the pandemic the government also created a high-priority route, dubbed a “VIP lane” – a fast-track process set up by DHSC procurement teams for supply offers by people with political links.
However, that has come under scrutiny after it emerged 47 companies were fast-tracked – and received £1.6bn worth of PPE contracts – with the vast majority having links to Tory donors and ex-MPs.
Last week political journal Politico revealed one of the beneficiary firms was Brandology – and Julian Lewis was the source of the company’s referral to the DHSC.
Asked about it by the A&T, Dr Lewis explained his office was contacted by Brandology, which “stated that it already had strong connections with China and employed Chinese speaking staff”, and had contacted the government to help it attain and supply PPE from China.
But it had got no response, he said, adding: “Therefore, I tried – very openly – to ensure that its application would be properly assessed and responded to.
“Obviously, I was in absolutely no position to form any view about whether or not the company should actually be awarded a contract. My sole involvement was to try to ensure that its application was not simply overlooked.
“This was done entirely transparently, and even on the floor of the house,” he added – highlighting an exchange he had with then-health secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons.
“I would have done the same for any other local company which was failing to get a response from the government at a time of national crisis,” he continued.
Dr Lewis said a “few weeks later” he heard the company had been awarded an initial contract, adding: “I have no idea whether that was the first of several or just a single contract, as I have not needed to be in further contact with the company since the summer of 2020.”
He also added that no other company approached him and he was not aware of the existence of a supposed “VIP lane”.
“All I wanted was for the company not to be ignored by whatever system was in place,” he said. “I did not seek any ‘fast track’ or preferential route for this company.”
The A&T approached Brandology director Hannah Halstead-Morton, who said: “Early last year, when news of the PPE shortage and strain on care homes and medical centres became apparent, we started to contact local charities and companies to see if we could offer them help as we have reliable sources for fully certified PPE due to the nature of our business.
“As the PPE shortage issues spread, we contacted both Dr Julian Lewis and (New Forest West MP) Sir Desmond Swayne’s offices to advise that we could help the local community if they were contacted by anyone requesting such help.
“We did not receive a response from Sir Desmond Swayne’s office; however Dr Julian Lewis’ office did respond thanking us and to find out a little more information to ensure that the help on offer was reliable.
“Our conversations progressed from there but the progression and further details are confidential,” she added.
Hannah’s grandfather was a peer, Major the Honourable Peter Charles Baillie, who died in 2017. He attended Eton as a youngster and was well known throughout the New Forest, having been instrumental in setting up the Fortune Centre for Riding Therapy.
Mr Baillie also owned Wootton Hall, near New Milton, was a Forestry Commission verderer, British Deer Society member and local magistrate.
He was also a mainstay of the New Forest Show, hosting its offices at Wootton Hall for many years and acting as joint show president with his wife, Jenny, in 1988.