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Company which employs Alun Cairns handed two UK Gov NHS contracts without competition

03 Oct 2021 3 minutes Read
Alun Cairns. Picture by Richard Townshend (CC BY 3.0).

A Welsh company that employs Conservative MP Alun Cairns has been handed two NHS contracts by the UK Government without competition, Nation.Cymru can reveal.

Novarum DX Ltd, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Crumlin based BBI Group, has been directly awarded two Covid-related contracts worth £145,720 by the Department of Health since November.

Cairns has been working as a £15,000-a-year senior advisor to the BBI Group since last July.

His appointment to the firm, which was already part of a consortium supplying Covid tests to the UK Government, was controversial even among Conservatives. Former Tory MP and MS Antoinette Sandbach described it as “cronyism”.

The UK Government’s corruption watchdog ACOBA warned at the time there was an “inherent risk it could be perceived [Cairns’] contacts might assist BBI Group unfairly” although they approved the appointment subject to two-year lobbying ban.

In November 2020, Novarum DX Ltd was awarded a £46,270 contract for “Covid-19 lateral flow image recognition technology” as part of the UK Government’s test and trace programme.

In July this year, the BBI Group subsidiary was given a contract worth £99,450 to develop a “Covid digital reader”.

Both contracts were awarded through a “single tender action”, which means the UK Government awarded it directly to the company without competition.

A Freedom of Information request for correspondence related to the contacts was rejected by the Department of Health.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the MP or the company. Nation.Cymru contacted both Alun Cairns and the BBI Group for comment.

‘Tightrope’

The UK Government’s Department of Health has though been hit by claims of cronyism over its handling of Covid-related procurement after it was revealed a former neighbour of UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was awarded a contract.

“This Conservative government has been infected with widespread cronyism and is unable to identify where the line is drawn between personal and departmental interests,” Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said earlier this year.

Cairns’ role with the BBI Group is one of three side jobs he has taken since stepping down as Wales Secretary. The others as a £15,000-a-year advisor to private hire taxi operator Veezu, which owns Dragon Taxis, and as a £30,000-a-year advisor to Elite Capital Partners, a Singapore-based property investment firm.

Transparency campaigns have already warned Cairns that he is “walking a tightrope” over lobbying rules after joining and setting up Westminster interest groups related to those roles.

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