Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers
The CEO of a firm that brokered a PPE deal for the government worth £253 million has said his conscience is clear, after the National Audit Office (NAO) said normal standards of transparency in the procurement process were not adhered to by ministers.
The government has been criticised over its dealings with Ayanda Capital and various other firms after PPE contracts worth billions were awarded without proper oversight.
The NAO investigation found that the £253 million deal was brokered by Ayanda Capital advisor Andrew Mills, who was also an adviser to the government's Board of Trade at the time.
The deal resulted in the purchase of 50 million face masks for £155 million, which cannot be used for their original purpose.
The government has been accused of cronyism for awarding contracts to firms recommended by MPs, but Ayanda Capital CEO Tim Horlick insists there was "no chumocracy" involved in the deal.
He said: "Andrew [Mills] didn't know the Cabinet Office people from Adam, so I don't understand what people are really saying when they're saying this.
"There was no cronysim involved in the award of the contract. It went through a proper procurement process.
"It was in fact in my view a very rigorous procurement process, so my conscience is absolutely clear."
Mr Mills, provided ITV News with a statement, saying neither he nor Ayanda were aware of the processes in relation to issues of conflict but said the Department for Health was "from the outset" aware of his role as an adviser to the UK Board of Trade.
"They had every opportunity to raise any concerns of a potential conflict of interest. No such concerns were raised."
Explaining how the deal was brokered, he went on: "Through a contact in the NHS I was put in touch with the Emergency PPE Procurement Team who immediately directed me to the public portal through which all individuals and businesses had to submit their offers, so as far as we were concerned we went through exactly the same process as every other potential supplier.
"Prior to the three year tenure of the BOT advisory cohort I was part of coming to an end in September 2020, the BOT had not even met since May 2019.
Here's how government contracts were awarded:
"I have had no contact with the current Secretary of State for International Trade and I had no contact with anyone in the Cabinet Office outside of the emergency procurement process. Finally, I am not a member of or donor to any political party.
"Therefore, there was no conflict of interest or any cronyism. Whether the DHSC should have better documented all this, is clearly a matter that should be put to them."
In Ayanda Capital's face mask deal, the masks complied with the BS EN149 standard and were in line with the contracts agreed with the suppliers, but did not meet the government’s published PPE specifications at the time.
In a statement, Ayanda said: "The masks have all been supplied and paid for under the terms of Ayanda’s contract with DHSC and no product has been rejected – as could have been the case under the contract had our product not been compliant.
"Suggestions that the masks are not fit for purpose or are somehow unsafe to use by frontline NHS workers are simply untrue and we are advised defamatory."
But others are angry at the way government contracts were handed out.
Businessman Robin Bartram-Brown claims his firm in Wigan was ignored by ministers, forcing him to sell his PPE products overseas instead.
"I just don't understand why this pallet is going to Texas and it's not going to a hospital in Manchester," Mr Birtram-Brown told ITV News.