The National:

IT is an article of Tory faith that private enterprise is a good and efficient thing whilst public services are a watchword for waste and slovenly practice.

This belief system has brought us many interesting innovations in recent times, not least a raft of private contractors whose common claim to fame is that they have zilch experience in the field for which they were contracted.

It previously brought us an alphabet soup of companies like A4E and G4S, whose powers of persuasion when bidding for major contracts invariably proved more muscular than their corporate efficiency.

It brought us the soap opera which was Chris Grayling, a minister who proved serial failure need be no barrier to continued advancement. (Probably better not to re-visit the ferry contract he awarded to the company whose principle flaw would appear to have been a lack of seaborne vessels.) Yet dispiriting as all that has been, perhaps nothing has quite removed the breath from the body more comprehensively than the shoddy deals on PPE done by the UK Government.

READ MORE: PPE: UK Government blows taxpayers' money on 50 million useless masks

Thanks to the sterling work being done by the Good Law Project, currently suing HMG, we have learned some utterly shocking facts.

Somewhere between £150 and £177 million of our money was spent on masks which proved unfit for purpose. Another shipment of different masks from the same source is currently in storage awaiting essential checks.

They were part of a contract with what the Government said was a “major Chinese factory”. You might think it passing strange that exclusive access to this major concern was apparently awarded to a tiny British company, set up by a couple for £100 some months back, which has yet to file any accounts.

Prospermill’s founder, Andrew Mills, an adviser to the international trade secretary, Liz Truss. He has also been identified as an adviser to the UK Board of Trade. Mills’ company bid for the multi-million contract in March and it was awarded the following month. He told the BBC his Board of Trade position played no part in the award of the contract.

Sadly, Mills’ tiny fledgling business lacked any international banking facilities, so the payment was arranged through a second company, Ayanda Capital, who deal in currency trading, offshore property, private equity and all that other cuddly stuff. And whose “senior board adviser” turned out to be our old friend Andrew Mills.

In short, an adviser to the Trade Secretary secured a massive contract through a tiny company in order to buy PPE at least half of which is unusable. This despite the original bid being signed off by the in house “quality assurance team”. Just a pity the team missed the bit on their own tech spec which said all masks had to be head and neck fitting rather than having ear loops. When this was put to him, CEO of Ayanda Capital Tim Horlick said his company supplied DHSC with the masks they requested, approved and ordered, adding that it may be that the internal NHS requirements changed as things were moving very fast at the time.

But that’s not where it ends. According to the action being raised by the Good Law project, some £5.5 billion has been awarded for the supply of urgently needed personal protective equipment. When bidding opened in late March around 1600 suppliers indicated an interest.

Amongst the lucky bidders were two more companies you might think unusual. One is Pestfix which, as the name indicates, specialises in the control of rodents and other unwelcome visitors. Its parent company is listed as Crisp Websites Ltd which allegedly won an £108m contract despite listed assets of £18k.

I had a trawl through Pestfix’ extensive sales catalogue which has a heavy bias towards avian control including the wondrously named Terror Eyes Inflatable Bird Repeller. I could see no evidence of PPE products unless you count a couple of references to hand sanitisers.

And then there is Clandeboye, another company given a fat contract, this time apparently to supply gowns. Its current speciality is dispensing wholesale confectionary and tobacco products.

I know not how the Good Law Project will fare in court against the UK Government’s legal eagles, but am comforted by the thought its director, Jolyon Maugham QC, saw them off in tandem with Gina Miller and Joanna Cherry in the Supreme Court judgement on the proroguing of Parliament.

What I do know is this all has a highly unpleasant smell. Not least coming from the same administration which has just given a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, Russian proprietor of the Evening Standard, in whose Perugian stately pile the Prime Minister has enjoyed at least one holiday. Not to mention adding to that bloated chamber a ragbag of Brexiteers.

It all smacks of a brand of cronyism so shameless that it is happy to hide in plain sight. The UK Government explains the haste with which these contracts were dispensed without the normal competitive tendering as a necessary response to an urgent crisis.

An explanation which would have had rather more credibility had they not waited till a minute past Covid midnight and then opted for suppliers who weren’t actually in the relevant trade.