The former landlord at one of Matt Hancock’s favourite pubs is now supplying the Government with vials for Covid-19 tests despite never having produced medical supplies before.
Alex Bourne’s company Hinpack switched from producing plastic cups and takeaway boxes for the catering industry to supplying the NHS with millions of medical grade vials via a distributor.
Mr Bourne met the now health secretary when he was running the Cock Inn in Thurlow, Suffolk, where Mr Hancock lived until 2018.
He reportedly sent a message to his former customer via WhatsApp in March, offering his services to see if he could help during the pandemic.
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Both Mr Bourne and the Department of Health and Social Care deny that the personal relationship between the two men had any bearing on contracts being awarded.
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Bourne said he did send the message on March 30 and Mr Hancock responded by directing him towards the relevant part of the Government’s website.
Mr Bourne told the newspaper he submitted details about the work his company could provide and was later contacted twice by a major distributor of medical products asking if he could produce specialist medical items for them.
Hinpack eventually won the contract to provide test tubes and Mr Bourne said he hired a range of external advisers and regulatory experts to help bring his business up to speed.
Despite this, he had no existing facilities to produce the vials and had to innovate to ensure the product was made safely, including hiring a bouncy castle manufacturer to make an inflatable ‘clean room.’
By mid-June they were producing millions of vials a week and in August he switched distributors to supply the same tubes via Alpha Laboratories. Both distributors he worked with had pre-existing contracts with the NHS.
As the local MP, Mr Hancock had been a strong supporter of the Cock Inn while Mr Bourne was the landlord. The cabinet minister attended the reopening after refurbishment in 2016 and nominated the pub for an award in 2017.
Last week, it was revealed by the National Audit Office that PPE providers looking to supply the Government during the pandemic were given access to a ‘high-priority’ channel which meant bids were 10 times more likely to be successful.
It’s not known if Mr Boune’s company was added to any such channel and he says he had no direct contact with the DHSC.
His lawyers told the Guardian it was ‘untrue’ Mr Bourne was helped ‘in any way, commercially or operationally’ by Mr Hancock. They said the medical equipment being produced by Hinpack was not complicated to manufacture and was well within the company’s skill set.
A DHSC spokesperson also denied preferential treatment. They said: ‘There is no evidence to support these claims. As the National Audit Office report has made clear, ministers are not involved in procurement decisions or contract management and to suggest otherwise is wholly inaccurate.’
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