UK Gov't Sued For Giving £108M PPE Contract To Pest Co.

By Joanne Faulkner
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Law360, London (June 15, 2020, 5:22 PM BST) -- Campaigners filed papers at the High Court on Monday seeking judicial review of the government's decision to award a £108 million ($135 million) contract for COVID-19 personal protective equipment for health workers to a pest control company.

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit campaign group, said it is suing the government over its decision to hand Crisp Websites Ltd. a 12-month multimillion-pound contract to procure PPE for front-line health staff in April without a competitive tender process.

Crisp Websites, which trades as PestFix, has only 16 employees and net assets of £18,000. But it was awarded the highest single contract to supply PPE "without any advertisement or competition between bidders," in breach of regulations that govern how public contracts are awarded, the statement of facts for the case said.

PestFix has never been involved in sourcing or supplying PPE — which includes, masks, gowns and gloves — for National Health Service staff and is a small company specializing in pest control and extermination, the Good Law Project said in its suit.

"The claim thus raises serious concerns as to maladministration of public funds that need to be urgently addressed," the document reads.

The Good Lawyer Project wants a judicial review to reveal whether the contract was advertised with the campaign group. It said it had spoken to another company that "told us that no one in the market knew that the contract was up for grabs."

It also wants to know how Crisp Websites was chosen, whether the contract was awarded without advertising and whether it met criteria for a direct award, which requires reasons of extreme urgency.

The campaigners also argue that the contract is for a disproportionately long period. The government could have awarded a short-term deal to remedy urgent shortfalls in PPE stocks while conducting an open competition for the longer-term supply, the filing says.

"The award of such a valuable contract without advertisement or any form of competition, to a company engaged in the business of pest control with little or no prior experience in the manufacture or supply of PPE, was irrational," the Good Lawyer Project said.

Rook Irwin Sweeney LLP, which is representing the group, wrote to the government through the judicial review pre-action protocol on June 10. The firm said the claimants are seeking a declaration that the contract award was unlawful.

The government's Department of Health and Social Care and Crisp Websites declined to comment Monday.

The Good Law Project is represented by Jason Coppel QC of 11KBW and Brendan McGurk of Monckton Chambers, instructed by Rook Irwin Sweeney LLP.

Counsel information for the defendants was not available.

The case is The Good Law Project and another v. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and another, case number CO/2144/2020 in the Administrative Court, Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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