Company Referred by Local Tory Activist Given £26 million PPE Contract

Greg Hands MP passed on recommendation from Mark Higton

Mark Higton (left) campaigning outside Ravenscourt Park tube station last year. Picture: Twitter

An investigation by the Good Law Project has revealed that a company associated with a Conservative Party activist in Hammersmith & Fulham was given a £25.8 million contract to provide PPE despite having apparently having no relevant experience.

Luxe Lifestyle Ltd was awarded the contract through the so-called ‘VIP lane’ in which priority was given to firms referred by MPs in the scramble to source supplies of protective garments in the early days of the pandemic.

According to the Good Law Project, Mr Higton emailed Mr Hands, the Chelsea and Fulham MP, in April 2020 saying he had contacts that could provide the much needed items including ventilators. Mr Hands says his only involvement in the award of the contract was to refer Mr Higton’s offer on to officials at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) three days later through the established channel.

At the time Mr Higton was the Chair of the local constituency party. He had stood unsuccessfully four times to become a councillor in the borough, most recently in the Ravenscourt ward in May 2022 when he received 497 votes and finished fourth. He had previously contested the Ravenscourt Park, Askew and College Park and Old Oak wards in borough elections for the Conservatives.

Documents obtained by the Good Law Project show that Mr Higton was referred to as the Main Supplier Contact for Luxe Lifestyles. In the event £20million worth of the PPE supplied in the deal was never used. The company says that it has not had any notification from the DHSC that the product supplied was in any way deficient.

Luxe Lifestyle was set up in 2018 by an American born fashion designer Karen Brost. She is the sole director and the company’s registered office is in East Sheen. The company’s accounts are currently overdue and there is an active proposal to have it struck off. Filings at Companies House show that it had no employees prior to the pandemic and £9,000 debt but no information is available on its revenue and profits. Mr Higton is not a director of Luxe Lifestyle, but he was a director of a company called Luxe Life Care Ltd’ which was set up in October 2020 a few months after the start of the pandemic. A few months after incorporation it was given a place on the government’s ‘diagnostic testing services’ framework. Luxe Life Care Ltd has since been dissolved but Mr Higton is a director of two other companies with similar names which remain active.

A spokesperson for Luxe Lifestyle said, “Luxe Lifestyle’s contract to supply PPE was negotiated on an arm length basis through MoD procurement officers, seconded to the DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care]. The company was awarded a single contract for two out of six products offered via a competitive process based on price and availability.

“No minister was ever directly contacted by the company and all products offered were uploaded on to the relevant DSHC PPE procurement website established by the government at the time of the pandemic for review and assessment alongside other PPE providers. No one at the company has ever contacted or spoken to Greg Hands.”

A spokesperson for Greg Hands said, “Minister Hands forwarded a message from someone who contacted him to the relevant officials. Minister Hands had no further role or involvement in the process, and was unaware of any outcome.”

A Government spokesperson said, “Ministers had no involvement in any procurement decisions. During the pandemic, potential suppliers often passed on offers of PPE to MPs, civil servants and ministers. These offers for support were passed to procurement teams for assessment.”

Normal procurement procedures were suspended during the pandemic in an attempt to speed up the sourcing of much needed medical equipment and clothing. According to a report by the National Audit Office, any bid for a contract through the VIP lane was ten times more likely to be successful that one that was not referred by a Minister, MP or senior civil servant.

The VIP lane was ruled unlawful by the High Court after a legal challenge by the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor.

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February 13, 2023