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Upminster company makes millions after being fast-tracked for PPE contracts

Uniserve is based in Hall Lane in Upminster (Credit: Matt Wing)

A company based in Upminster has secured government contracts worth more than £800 million via a controversial ‘VIP’ system. 

Uniserve did not have to compete for PPE contracts, worth more than £300 million, despite having no previous experience supplying the equipment according to an investigation by the Good Law Project. 

The logistics firm was also given a £572 million contract to provide freight services for the supply of PPE and has seen its profits rise from £1.1 million in 2018 to £38.1 million in June 2020. 

It is one of several businesses that were awarded contracts through a ‘VIP’ fast-track system, meaning they were referred to the Department of Health by an associate of a government minister or adviser. 

The company is based at the same address as MP and Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez in Hall Lane, Upminster. 

Julia Lopez MP with Uniserve founder Iain Liddell (Credit: Julia Lopez)

Uniserve has more recently been at the center of a PPE storage scandal in Suffolk that has been costing the government £1 million a day. 

The Department of Health paid the logistics firm around £124 million for “storage costs” and “other programme expenditure” between June and September 2021. 

An investigation by East Anglia Bylines found this was to pay for large amounts of unused PPE stuck in shipping containers near the Port of Felixstowe. 

It discovered so much excess equipment came into the port that thousands of containers had to be moved to several sites across Suffolk. 

The Port of Felixstowe (Credit: Uniserve)

A report by Transparency International UK found the way the government responded to bids for PPE contracts was “partisan and systemically biased in favour of those with political access”. 

It looked at nearly 1,000 contracts worth a total of £18 billion and said: “critical safeguards designed to prevent corruption were suspended without adequate justification”.

“It is very surprising that the UK Government prioritised recommendations from politicians given that in most other areas of economic activity this type of association raises red flags and triggers further scrutiny, not the opposite, and they are not known for their expertise in procuring medical equipment,” read a statement in the report.

“What is even more surprising is that it did not engage professionals, such as the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, who had obvious expertise and a ready supply of offers from trusted suppliers that could have helped deliver critical materials during this crisis period.

“Adopting such an approach adds credence to the view that cronyism determined the award of contracts, rather than suitability for the job.” 

Mrs Lopez has not responded to a request for comment. 

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