Owner of cup firm defends NHS deal

A man who is supplying millions of pounds worth of coronavirus testing kit has denied that his connections to Health Secretary Matt Hancock helped him secure the contract.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock pulls a pint at Alex Bourne's former pub
Health Secretary Matt Hancock pulls a pint at Alex Bourne's former pub

Alex Bourne, 36, who attended Shrewsbury School, secured a contract for his company to produce two million containers a week for use in Covid-19 testing, as well as 500,000 funnels for test samples.

This was despite his company, Hinpack having no experience of producing medical supplies.

The revelation has caused a media storm and was even discussed on the satirical BBC show Have I Got News for You.

But Mr Bourne has defended himself, saying the contract to produce medical-grade vials had nothing to do with the fact that he used to keep a pub close to the Health Secretary’s former constituency home in Suffolk.

Mr Hancock was a well-known supporter of the pub, having nominated it for an award and posting a picture of himself with Mr Bourne on his constituency website. Mr Bourne said that while he had been in contact with Mr Hancock before the contract was awarded, he denied that they were close friends.

“I’ve never once been to his house,” he said. “He’s never been to mine. I’ve never once had a drink with him.”

Mr Bourne said he contacted Mr Hancock through the WhatsApp messaging service on March 30, offering his services to help supply the NHS with protective equipment, and was directed to the Department of Health.

His company, which he founded in 2018, previously made plastic cups and takeaway boxes, and had never supplied a medical contract before.

Mr Bourne said that, in mid-April, a major distributor of medical products contacted him asking if he could produce specialist Covid-related items such as drop-wells and pipette tips. It was later decided his company was not suitable for that job, but in later discussions it was agreed his company could provide vials.

Duty

By June his company was producing large quantities of medical vials. In August, he switched distributor, and is now supplying the same tubes via Alpha Laboratories, which also had a pre-existing contract with the Department of Health.

Alpha Laboratories said Mr Bourne’s communications with Mr Hancock had no bearing on the contract.

And Mr Bourne’s lawyers said Mr Bourne had received no help in securing the contract from Mr Hancock, adding in a statement: “To suggest that our client has had political, indeed ministerial, help is to betray a deeply regrettable lack of understanding of how the supply chain works.”

They say Mr Bourne acted out of a “sense of duty and willingness to serve, not obtaining financial advantage”.

The lawyers added that the equipment Hinpack was supplying was not complex and well within the company’s abilities.

The Department of Health said in a statement: “We do not comment on the secretary of state’s personal relationships.”

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