A healthcare firm which employs the prominent Conservative politician Owen Paterson as a paid consultant has been awarded a £133m contract without any other firms being given the opportunity to bid for the work.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has given Randox the contract to produce testing kits to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It was awarded “without prior publication of a call for competition”, according to details of the contract seen by the Guardian.
The founder of Randox Laboratories is Peter FitzGerald, a polo-playing multimillionaire Northern Irish doctor who is the UK’s 475th richest person with a £255m personal fortune, according to the Sunday Times rich list.
Matt Hancock’s department awarded the contract last month under fast-track arrangements that enable public bodies dealing with the pandemic to give contracts to commercial companies quickly without the need to ask other firms to bid for them.
Under its contract, Randox has been paid to carry out tests, both posted to individuals at home and administered at testing centres, as part of Hancock’s pledge to reach the target of 100,000 tests a day.
According to the official notice of the contract, the department said there was no other way of obtaining the testing kits and the associated services that were needed urgently.
Randox said last month that it was recruiting 160 mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineers to start work on developing ways of detecting whether people have been infected.
A government source said the DHSC was “unable to comment on the personnel matters of other organisations” when asked if Paterson had lobbied on Randox’s behalf.
Randox did not respond to questions about whether Paterson was involved in securing the deal. The Guardian did not receive a response when it asked Paterson to comment.
In a statement Randox, which offers Covid-19 tests privately to the public for £120 each, said: “It should be noted that Randox is only one partner within a multi-partner, national testing programme. The programme is being run and coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care and they would be best placed to comment on the overall programme.”
Paterson’s work for Randox has been criticised in the past. Documents obtained by the Guardian showed last year that he had helped to lobby for Randox and another firm he was being paid to advise.
He had meetings with a government minister and officials to promote the products of the two firms.
The documents raised questions over whether the North Shropshire MP had breached parliamentary rules of conduct. These allow MPs to lobby on behalf of a paying client, but with restrictions. The lobbying must not help to give an exclusive financial benefit to the client and the client must not have initiated the lobbying.
Labour said at the time that it was not right for an elected representative to be paid to lobby for a client, and that the rules were too weak. When asked to comment at the time, Paterson said: “My financial interests have been correctly declared according to the rules of the House of Commons.”
Hancock toured Randox’s laboratories in Antrim, Northern Ireland last year to inspect a tool for diagnosing sepsis. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act suggest Paterson also took part in the visit.
This content was originally published here.