PPE ‘Covidarchs’ awash with YOUR tax millions: From the pigeon controller to the yoghurt maker, they’re the unlikely business people who became rich as oligarchs on the PPE gravy train, prepare to be enraged, writes GUY ADAMS
Dell Farm House is a Grade II-listed 17th-century pile with five bedrooms, four bathrooms and a rear wing that, according to the estate agent’s particulars, ‘could be easily used as a staff flat if needed’.
Beyond the garden, which was ‘landscaped by Chelsea RHS Gold winners’ and includes terraced lawns, extensive herbaceous borders, lavender hedging and a heated ‘pavilion’ that seats eight, you will find ‘the open countryside and woodland’ of Gloucestershire and ‘some of the most scenic walks in the Cotswolds’.
Indoors are stone fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, an Aga (of course) along with an old well ‘complete with lighting’.
Altogether, a property ‘full of charm with wonderful views’ in a ‘recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.
The lucky owner, Steve Dechan, snapped it up for around £1.5 million this summer, about the same time he spent another £250,000 on a holiday home in Cornwall, before giving £50,000 to help his elderly parents buy a place in Exeter. He also owns a £350,000 home in nearby Stroud, where he previously lived.
Although his main business was supplying pain-management devices, former Tory councillor Steve Dechan (pictured) had also been selling small quantities of PPE for about five years
Quite the shopping spree. And why not? For Mr Dechan has, in the past few months, done business worth a staggering £276 million with the great British taxpayer.
The 52-year-old entrepreneur owns Platform 14, a small medical device company based in an industrial building next to lock-up garages in Stroud. Founded in August 2017, it was £485,000 in debt a year ago, with eight employees and a grand total of £145 in the bank.
Then came Covid, and an extraordinary series of events that led to a global scramble for personal protective equipment (PPE).
With buyers around the world suddenly competing for limited supplies of facemasks, gloves, aprons and surgical gowns — almost all of which are made in China — normal supply lines dried up.
By mid-March, the growing shortage of PPE in hospitals and care homes had become a national emergency.
In common with other major countries, Britain decided to suspend strict rules that usually govern public procurement — designed to ensure taxpayers get value for money — as part of a frantic bid to obtain kit.
Vast contracts, worth hundreds of millions, started to be awarded without competitive tendering. Suppliers were less rigidly vetted. Tough anti-corruption protocols were relaxed in the rush to try to save lives.
On March 27, the Government opened an online ‘portal’ inviting people who thought they could lay their hands on PPE to apply for deals.
It received a stunning 24,000 offers from 16,000 potential suppliers who were eager to cash in on a commercial gold rush that has been likened — with perhaps a degree of hyperbole — to the hiving-off of government assets in post-Soviet Russia.
Over the following weeks and months, a staggering £15 billion was handed out. Most deals were never properly advertised or put out to tender. And some of the biggest beneficiaries turned out to have very odd pedigrees indeed.
Smoothie-chops financier Tim Horlick is best known as the ex-husband of Nicola (pictured together), the ‘superwoman’ banker who rose to the top of the City while raising six children
Some, like Platform 14 (which won three contracts worth £276 million), were relatively tiny firms with few assets, which suddenly found themselves handling complex global supply deals worth hundreds of millions.
Others were hired to source highly technical medical kit, despite having no obvious background in healthcare.
Deals worth a combined £1 billion were handed to an interior design company from London, a pest control firm in Sussex and a wholesaler of sweets and confectionery in Northern Ireland. Vast — some might say obscene — personal fortunes were also starting to be made.
In one now-notorious deal, a jewellery designer from Florida gave a Spanish business associate some £21 million as his share of profits from two ‘lucrative contracts’ he’d managed to sign with the NHS in May.
The designer, Michael Saiger, has in total negotiated at least six deals worth a combined £264 million. Since many of the lucky entrepreneurs had political links to the Government, cronyism rows also erupted.
The aforementioned Steve Dechan is a former Tory councillor. Ayanda Capital, a London finance firm which struck a single £253 million deal, turns out to have been assisted by a government trade advisor.
Anthony Page, an Isle of Man-based wealth manager who won £203 million of PPE supply contracts, has links to the underwear magnate turned Tory peer, Baroness Mone.
In defence of the suppliers, it must be pointed out that the vast majority of PPE deals helped Britain source vital equipment, for the price the Government deemed acceptable, during an unprecedented global shortage. Most of the kit was up to scratch and was delivered on time.
Yet, that’s not enough to silence critics. Many might find it suspicious that not all the PPE supply contracts have so far been made public, despite rules supposedly stipulating that details must usually be published within 30 days.
The procurement consultant Tussell says that only 359 deals — worth just under £8 billion — have now been disclosed. Deals worth about £7 billion may for now remain entirely secret.
Meanwhile, the Good Law Project, a crowd-funded campaign group that seeks to force government accountability, has filed a series of lawsuits seeking to have various PPE deals declared illegal by the courts. ‘Fortunes big enough to sustain generations of one family were made almost overnight, by some distinctly odd suppliers,’ says its founder Jolyon Maugham.
‘We want to establish how the Government hired these companies and why many of the contracts they signed appear to have been negotiated at well above normal market rates.’
So who exactly are the lucky entrepreneurs on the winning side of taxpayer-funded mega-deals?
And how are they now spending that recently-acquired loot? Get ready to meet some of the biggest new PPE oligarchs . . .
Classic car expert based in tax haven
Anthony Page (£203 million)
Based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, Page works for Knox, a firm that helps ‘ultra-high net worth individuals’ look after their loot. Its website describes him as a particular expert in real estate, along with ‘superyachts, aircraft, classic cars, artwork, jewellery and watches, and more traditional holdings such as cash and investment portfolios’.
It’s unclear what qualifies him to supply medical equipment (neither he nor the company will comment), but in May Anthony Page (pictured) set up a firm called PPE Medpro, which swiftly won two supply contracts worth more than £200 million
It’s unclear what qualifies him to supply medical equipment (neither he nor the company will comment), but in May he set up a firm called PPE Medpro, which swiftly won two supply contracts worth more than £200 million.
Page is now going up in the world: two months ago, he put his family home in the Manx capital Douglas on the market for £450,000.
Intriguingly, his boss at Knox is Doug Barrowman, husband of Tory peer Lady Mone, while he was until recently secretary of the firm that controls her ‘brand’.
Both have denied any involvement in Page’s PPE venture, and he is listed as the sole controlling party by Companies House.
Remainer Lib Dem switched to Tories
Steve Dechan (£276m)
Dechan first made headlines as a Remain campaigner at the 2016 EU Referendum, before being elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor in Stroud, where his then-struggling medical supplies firm Platform 14 was based.
He defected to the Tories in 2018, after deciding that they would do more to help local businesses. And when the coronavirus pandemic struck, that prediction came true beyond his wildest dreams.
Although his main business was supplying pain-management devices, Dechan had also been selling small quantities of PPE for about five years. A contact in Hong Kong secured enough of the stuff to warrant the £276m contract, via a firm in Southern China.
Having been almost half a million pounds in the red last year, Platform 14’s finances have been transformed. Dechan is now able to pay himself a salary of ‘round about £400,000’ while wife Kate, 42, gets a further £150,000. ‘We’re chuffed to bits!’ he recently told reporters.
U.S. model used his contacts in China
The NHS signed six deals, worth £264million to all-American former male model (pictured with his stylist wife Rachael Russell)
Michael Saiger (£264 m)
The all-American former male model made his first fortune in fashion, after using left-over bullet casings from a trip to a shooting range to create a necklace pendant for his university girlfriend.
It was a hit and inspired Saiger to launch a jewellery firm, Miansai, in late 2009. Helped by celebrity endorsements from the likes of U.S. singer Miley Cyrus and actor Zac Efron, the firm acquired stores across the U.S. and sold its goods in 35 countries, allowing him to live with stylist wife Rachael in a bungalow on Belle Isle, an exclusive island off the coast of Miami.
Their wedding featured in bridal magazines, while their jet-setting lifestyle was endlessly chronicled on Saiger’s Instagram account.
He used his experience working with distributors and manufacturers in China to land ‘a number of lucrative contracts’ supplying protective gloves and gowns. The NHS signed six deals, worth £264m. So vast were the profits, Saiger paid a Spanish associate, Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson, £21million for helping facilitate two of them.
Packaging firm’s big PPE pay day
Hannah Halstead-Morton (£98 million)
Blue-blooded Hannah and her mother, Elizabeth Clabburn, jollify Burke’s Peerage courtesy of her grandfather, the Hon Peter Charles Baillie, a former army Major who died in 2017 and owned Wootton Hall, a stately pile in the New Forest.
They are co-directors of Brandology, a luxury packaging company which Hannah set up five years ago.
In circumstances that remain unexplained — the firm has refused to comment — Hannah Halstead-Morton (pictured) secured two PPE deals worth £98million
In normal times, it designs and builds products for clients in industries ‘such as health and beauty, charities, alcohol and gifting’.
This time last year, the Lymington-based firm had seven employees and just £45,000 in the bank.
But its founder, who describes herself as ‘a creative, friendly, outgoing, self-motivated and enthusiastic professional, who takes a “can do” attitude’, wasn’t about to let a global pandemic go to waste.
In circumstances that remain unexplained — the firm has refused to comment — she secured two PPE deals worth £98 million.
Questions over who brokered £¼bn deal
Tim Horlick (£253 million)
Smoothie-chops financier Tim Horlick is best known as the ex-husband of Nicola, the ‘superwoman’ banker who rose to the top of the City while raising six children.
The former Kleinwort Benson director now runs Ayanda Capital, an investment firm controlled via a Mauritius holding company, which was set up to manage his family’s assets and according to its website, specialises in ‘currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing’.
A new string to its bow emerged this summer, when contacts in Asia helped Ayanda source a quarter of a billion pounds worth of PPE.
Somewhat controversially, the deal was partly brokered by a friend of Horlicks called Andrew Mills, who was at the time an adviser to Liz Truss, via the Board of Trade. That sparked one ugly row, while a dispute over the specification of a batch of facemasks (in which Ayanda denies wrongdoing) prompted a second.
Horlick isn’t taking criticism lying down, though. ‘When the call to help with PPE went out from the Government, we immediately responded to help our country,’ he tells me.
‘We were among a handful of companies who solved the PPE shortage in three months while other countries and their health organisations were in fierce competition with us, and we are proud of what we did.’
Interior designer in slavery controversy
Anthony Hazell (£679 million)
According to his online CV, Anthony Hazell has spent 15 years in the building industry, where he goes ‘above and beyond to ensure client satisfaction’ and has developed a keen personal interest in the luxury goods company Louis Vuitton.
Anthony Hazell set up a Unispace subsidiary which has since won seven PPE contracts worth a staggering £679 million
In 2010, he helped found Unispace, an interior design company with operations in the UK and Australia, which creates ‘inspiring workplaces’ for corporations.
Quite what this line of business has to do with healthcare is anyone’s guess — neither he nor the firm will comment -—but in May the 36-year-old set up a Unispace subsidiary which has since won seven PPE contracts worth a staggering £679 million.
He lives with wife Beatrice, 32, in a £2 million mansion near Chislehurst, South East London, which boasts five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and what estate agents call a ‘picturesque view of Scadbury Park’.
This year hasn’t all been plain sailing though: last month, the Guardian reported that Unispace had unwittingly sourced a tranche of ‘coveralls’ for the NHS from factories in the Chinese city of Dandon where North Korean workers are kept in ‘conditions of modern slavery’.
Chinese wife helped Dan beat opposition
Dan England (£348 million)
Back in 2013, under the headline ‘Bird repeller’, Dan England told the Financial Times about his day job, saying: ‘I am a pest controller who specialises in birds in urban situations . . . The scope of my projects can range from clearing pigeon droppings from private dwellings to reducing pigeon numbers on Canterbury Cathedral.’
Back in 2013, under the headline ‘Bird repeller’, Dan England told the Financial Times about his day job, saying: ‘I am a pest controller who specialises in birds in urban situations’. He managed to secure £348million in PPE contracts
He later set up Pestfix, a pest control supplies firm based in Littlehampton in West Sussex, which this time last year had 16 employees and just £18,000 in the bank. In March, this tiny firm suddenly hit the big time, thanks in no small part to Dan’s Chinese wife Yuan, with whom he shares a £500,000 bungalow in nearby Goring-by-Sea.
Her extended family helped him secure seven vast shipments of PPE, worth almost £350m, after using contacts acquired when Pestfix had previously sourced smaller tranches for use in the vermin business. Relatives boarded bullet trains, knocked on factory doors, and in some instances mounted a 24-hour guard on factories to stop rivals gazumping them, England told reporters, adding that he was motivated by a desire ‘to help the NHS in their hour of need’.
For reasons shrouded in mystery, Andrew Walker’s (pictured) firm turns out to have supplied £108 million worth of PPE to the UK government
Crunch time for confectionery firm
Andrew Walker (£108 million)
On an industrial estate in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, Walker’s family firm Clandeboye Agencies runs ‘Crunch Craving’, a confectionery business that supplies ‘gnawsome’ yoghurt-coated peanuts, raisins, bananas and pineapples and claims to be ‘dedicated to the crunch’.
For reasons shrouded in mystery, the firm also turns out to have supplied £108 million worth of PPE to the UK government.
After details of that deal emerged, Walker and his three brothers appear to have deleted their social media profiles. The firm was not answering phone calls this week and did not respond to emails inquiring about its lucrative new sideline.
In legal correspondence with the Good Law Project, Clandeboye has claimed that the PPE was sourced via a ‘sister company’ which has supplied such equipment for a number of years.
That appears to refer to Anchor Fixings, a building supply company to which secretive father-of-four Andrew devotes much of his time.