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Matt Hancock defends £30m Covid contracts for his neighbour after medical regulator launches probe

Matt Hancock has defended a decision to hand Covid test orders worth £30million to a former neighbour now under investigation by the medical watchdog, saying it would be ‘ridiculous’ to block friends of ministers from public contracts.

Alex Bourne, who crossed paths with the Health Secretary while running the Cock Inn in Thurlow, West Suffolk, began producing millions of NHS Covid test vials during the pandemic.

His company, Hinpack, which was originally a packaging manufacturer, won around £30million in work to supply a distributor contracted by the NHS with two million test tubes a week, as well as around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples. 

However the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed at the weekend it has launched a probe into Mr Bourne’s company – which had no previous experience of making medical supplies prior to the pandemic.

Asked about the contract on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Mr Hancock said he ‘didn’t have anything to do with that contract’, despite claims by Mr Bourne that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary . 

‘This has all been looked into in great detail, it’s only because of the transparency that I support that we can ask questions about these contracts,’ Mr Hancock added.

‘The implication of your question about the specific one that you raised is that people should be barred from taking contracts if they know anybody involved. That would be ridiculous. 

‘What’s more is that it is easy to ask these questions, but what is hard is to deliver PPE in the teeth of a pandemic and that is what my team did.’  

Alex Bourne (pictured together Matt Hancock) supplied tens of millions of Covid tests through his company Hinpack after exchanging a Whatsapp messages with the Health Secretary

Alex Bourne (pictured together Matt Hancock) supplied tens of millions of Covid tests through his company Hinpack after exchanging a Whatsapp messages with the Health Secretary

Alex Bourne (pictured together Matt Hancock) supplied tens of millions of Covid tests through his company Hinpack after exchanging a Whatsapp messages with the Health Secretary

Asked about the contract on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning Mr Hancock said he 'didn’t have anything to do with that contract', despite claims by Mr Bourne that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary .

Asked about the contract on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning Mr Hancock said he 'didn’t have anything to do with that contract', despite claims by Mr Bourne that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary .

 Asked about the contract on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Mr Hancock said he ‘didn’t have anything to do with that contract’, despite claims by Mr Bourne that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary .

On Sunday, MHRA director of devices, Graeme Tunbridge said: ‘We take all reports of non-compliance very seriously. 

‘We are currently investigating the allegations about Hinpack and will take appropriate action as necessary. Patient safety is our top priority.

‘As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to disclose further information at this time.’ 

It is understood that the investigation was launched after South Cambridgeshire council officers received concerns about the company’s hygiene and safety standards and passed them onto the MHRA, The Guardian reported.

Last year it was revealed that Mr Bourne sent a WhatsApp to Mr Hancock’s mobile number on March 30 offering his services after a nationwide call to manufacturers to respond to the pandemic, beginning the exchange with: ‘Hello, it’s Alex Bourne from Thurlow’. 

Mr Bourne said Mr Hancock responded to his WhatsApp message by directing him to the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) website where he could fill out a form detailing his company’s manufacturing capabilities.

The businessman insisted at the time that his relationship with Mr Hancock had no role in his company supplying goods to the NHS.

He had initially hoped to produce PPE but later decided his company would be more suited to making test tubes thanks to the skills some employees had developed in previous jobs. 

Mr Hancock also defended his  wider handlign of Covid contracts amid claims of ‘cronyism’.

Last week the High Court ruled he unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts in time.

Mr Bourne's company, Hinpack, is now making 2m test tubes a week, in addition to around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples. (File photo)

Mr Bourne's company, Hinpack, is now making 2m test tubes a week, in addition to around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples. (File photo)

Mr Bourne’s company, Hinpack, is now making 2m test tubes a week, in addition to around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples. (File photo) 

At a hearing earlier this month, the Good Law Project and three MPs - Labour's Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas (pictured) and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran - argued there had been a 'dismal' failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation

At a hearing earlier this month, the Good Law Project and three MPs - Labour's Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas (pictured) and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran - argued there had been a 'dismal' failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation

At a hearing earlier this month, the Good Law Project and three MPs – Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas (pictured) and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – argued there had been a ‘dismal’ failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation

Mr Justice Chamberlain said the situation the DHSC faced in the first months of the pandemic was 'unprecedented', when 'large quantities of goods and services had to be procured in very short timescales'. Pictured, Mr Hancock

Mr Justice Chamberlain said the situation the DHSC faced in the first months of the pandemic was 'unprecedented', when 'large quantities of goods and services had to be procured in very short timescales'. Pictured, Mr Hancock

Mr Justice Chamberlain said the situation the DHSC faced in the first months of the pandemic was ‘unprecedented’, when ‘large quantities of goods and services had to be procured in very short timescales’. Pictured, Mr Hancock

The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its ‘wholesale failure’ to disclose details of contracts agreed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Government is required by law to publish a ‘contract award notice’ within 30 days of the award of any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000. 

But on average the contracts were published 47 days after they were awarded, prompting calls for Mr Hancock to resign.

But today he told Sky News today he was unrepoentant.

‘We accepted in full that these things were published a fortnight late. That isn’t in dispute,’ he said.

‘We argued the public interest defence – it’s in the national interest that we did what we did.’

‘Sure, if we weren’t able to put the paperwork in on time – in normal times of course we’d put the paperwork in on time.

‘But in the middle of a global pandemic you don’t.

‘You can ask me as many questions as you like, you’re not going to change my view.

‘And if I had my time again, absolutely I would do exactly the same thing, exactly the same thing, even if it led to this conversation.

‘Because what I care about is making sure people have the protection they need.’

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