finance

Just how close is Baroness Mone to PPE Medpro?


Ah, Lady Mone of Mayfair, our favourite Glaswegian lingerie-entrepreneur-turned-Tory-peer-cum-shopping-channel-star-cum-world-expert-in-cryptocurrency-and-blockchain. Haven’t you missed her?

Well fear not — she’s back.

Last week it was revealed that Baroness Mone had been the “source of referral” between the government and PPE Medpro, a company that was awarded £203m’s worth of contracts to supply PPE to the NHS via the government’s “high-priority lane”, just a month-and-a-half after the firm had been set up in May 2020. (The government watchdog, the National Audit Office, has said that firms processed via this VIP lane were ten times more likely to secure contracts than those that came via the usual channel.)

Mone has always denied any involvement with the company. One of its directors, Anthony Page, had been the registered secretary for MGM Media — the company that manages her personal brand according to the House of Lords register of financial interests — until he quit the role on . . . the very same day that PPE Medpro was set up. Page is also a director of Knox House Trust, part of the Knox Group, a group of companies founded by Mone’s husband, Doug Barrowman — more on Knox in a bit.

When the FT asked Mone’s representatives in April about her links to PPE Medpro, we were told that:

Baroness Mone has no involvement with this company in any capacity.

So following the latest revelations on the government’s own website, we asked whether Mone stood by this statement. We were told (emphasis ours, to show the subtle change in language):

Baroness Mone is neither an investor, director or shareholder in any way associated with PPE Medpro. She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro. Baroness Mone had no knowledge of any ‘high priority lane’, and did not play any part in or have any knowledge of PPE Medpro being placed in such a lane.

Now let’s take a look at what “no involvement with this company in any capacity” actually means . . . 

“Incandescent with rage”

On February 10 of this year, when Britain’s Covid deaths were near their all-time peak, Jacqui Rock, chief commercial officer for the government’s test and trace programme, sent a rather stressed-sounding email to colleagues, which FT Alphaville has seen, with the subject line “RE: SENSITIVE: LFDs and the new variants”:

We do have an issue here.
Baroness Mone is going to Michael Gove and Matt Hancock today as she is incandescent with rage on the way she believes Medpro have been treating [sic] in the matter.

A test and trace official perceived this as “Baroness Mone lobbying on behalf of Medpro” and told us: “it riled me no end”.

Baroness Mone told the FT that no meeting with government ministers took place (though we were not told whether she had requested one). It should be noted that this is a woman who has very good links to the top brass in the Tory party. You might remember that she secured a Zoom call with the chancellor himself, our dishy Rishi Sunak, earlier this year. And former prime minister David Cameron made her his “entrepreneurship tsar” before elevating her to a permanent place in Britain’s upper house of parliament. (Say what you like about Cameron, but you can’t fault his excellent taste in businesspeople.)

The email continues:

It would appear that no one has told them that they have failed anything and they are being, in her words, fobbed off with another round of testing.

Rock told her colleagues that she would be raising the issue at the “8.30 exco meeting”, adding “this is going to blow up today”.

When we asked Mone’s representatives about the email, we were told:

In relation to test and trace, she has advocated to government that all companies tendering for UK contracts be treated fairly and that a transparent process is adopted by DHSC in the award of contracts.

Early in the New Year, the UK government only had 3 approved suppliers of Lateral Flow Testing kits. This she considered to be unsatisfactory given that a key part of the Pandemic Exit Strategy was to extensively test the UK population. The independent process for accreditation of new test kits was taking too long and there were bottlenecks in the system for new suppliers.

That’s the thing about Baroness Mone. Despite having only spoken a total of five times in the House of Lords since being made a lifetime peer in 2015, she really does care about this country.

We were also told, via email (emphasis ours; exclamation mark theirs):

Baroness Mone is asked for her advice on a daily basis from the general public to helping businesses, charities and Governments all around the World. Her 25 years wealth of knowledge is priceless especially when it comes to Global manufacturing, branding, retail etc. This is the reason why she is where she is!

Baroness Mone gave the names of numerous manufacturing companies into the appropriate channels following a request by the UK Government, as I said she does this on a daily basis.

Priceless is certainly one way of putting it — how could one possibly put a price on the value of Michelle Mone, founder of Ultimo Bras and the failed EQUI Capital (remember?), helping the government procure medical equipment during a pandemic? One thing you can put a price on however, is the £122m the government paid PPE Medpro for surgical gowns. Gowns, as it turns out, that were never actually used, according to a a BBC investigation.

PPE Medpro was quoted by the BBC as stating that it “delivered 100 per cent of the contract to the terms specified”, and it supplied the equipment “fully in accordance with the agreed contract”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told us that “proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts” and that the process involves “all contracts complying with robust rules and processes that prevent conflicts of interest”. They added that “ministers have no involvement in deciding who is awarded contracts”.

Opportunity Knox

Companies House records show PPE Medpro’s registered office address is 16 High Holborn, in London. That is also the registered address for not just Knox House Trust, which we have already mentioned, but also “Michelle Mone Interiors”, and “MMI Global Unlimited”, which Mone is a shareholder and director of, according to Companies House filings.

Another company whose registered office address is in the same building is flexible office space provider Neospace, which Baroness Mone has been talking about in the press very excitedly. Here she is selflessly pushing the idea that working from home is bad for us, on GB News back in June:

What seems important to us here are the directors of Neospace, which Mone was happy to say she had “launched” with her husband. According to Companies House records, there are three directors of the company, none of whom are Mone or Barrowman. One is Anthony Page, who we have already mentioned, and another is a woman named Voirrey Coole. (The third is a man called Anthony Tat who isn’t relevant here which is a shame as it would have been nice to put that surname to good use.)

PPE Medpro has just two directors: Page, as we have already mentioned, and yes, you guessed it, Coole. We asked Mone’s people about this curious link and were told:

Anthony Page and Voirrey Coole are Directors of many companies, in fact hundreds, most of which are not associated with Baroness Mone and Mr Barrowman. This is the nature of their business providing CSP and taking on numerous directorships is part of their day to day job. The definition of a CSP: corporate service provider (CSP) is a professional firm that helps businesses with their corporate filings. They may also offer advisory services on accounting, taxation and legal advice and other services related to regulatory compliance.

Voirrey and Page do seem to be directors of many companies, it’s true. Another of them is called PPE Group, a company registered in the Isle of Man (where Barrowman and Mone happen to live). PPE Group wasn’t always called that, though. In yet another curious occurrence, the company changed its name the very next day after PPE Medpro was incorporated, on May 13 2020, according to the Isle of Man Companies Registry.

Before then, PPE Group had been called APV 24. APV comprises the initials of Aston Property Ventures which, according to its website, is part of Barrowman’s Knox Group. Aston Property Ventures were also behind the luxury tower in Dubai that was going to sell apartments for bitcoin that Mone and Barrowman launched in 2017.

The Isle of Man registry also shows that PPE Group’s “registered agent” is Knox House Trust. Its 2017 annual return, back when it was called APV 24, shows one of its directors was a certain . . . Douglas Barrowman.

On May 11 2020 (the day before the PPE Medpro already mentioned was incorporated in the UK), another company called PPE Medpro was incorporated in the Isle of Man. On the same day, another company, PPE Medical Protection, was also registered there. Both companies used the same address, in the Isle of Man, as PPE Group.

Mone’s representatives declined to comment on any of these companies.

We called up PPE Medpro and got through to someone who said they were on “reception” at the company’s offices in Great Portland Street, but that nobody was available. Its office address, 85 Great Portland Street, also just so happens to be an address that you can buy as a “virtual office address” from “The London Office”. We were told we could not be given an email address of a press contact, but instead we would be called back. We are still waiting for the call.

Mone’s people gave us the kind of warning we have become used to in our dealings with her:

We have sent your email to our media lawyer who will be closely watching what you publish. Ensure that you consult your Editor. 

It was once noted by Mone’s people that “you have become a bit obsessed with Lady Mone”, but quite frankly we’d dropped the ball a bit recently. We can only say that we are happy to have had our fascination reignited — long may it grip us.

Related links:
Rishi Sunak’s fishy foray into chat-show hosting – FT Alphaville
The baroness, the ICO fiasco, and enter Steve Wozniak – FT Alphaville
Baroness Mone is now flogging business retreats for £15,000 – FT Alphaville
It’s really happening… Woz joins Baroness Mone’s blockchain company – FT Alphaville
Is Baroness Mone’s true idol Steve Wozniak or Sylvester Stallone? – FT Alphaville
Dubai or bust for Baroness Bitcoin – FT Alphaville





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