Ministers awarded a small jewellery company specialising in rare diamond dealing a contract worth £2.5m to supply PPE to the NHS, PoliticsHome can reveal.
New documents published by the Department of Health and Social Care show that Doja Limited were awarded the multi-million pound contract in May of last year. The company’s director has said it was founded to sell “rare diamonds”, and does not appear to have a history of supplying PPE.
The company, which has no website and is registered to an accountant’s firm, was handed the contract under a controversial scheme which allows ministers to directly award deals relating to procurement during the pandemic without putting the tender to a competitive process.
According to the LinkedIn page of Doja’s director, David Friedmann, the company was founded in 2014 for the purpose of selling “rare diamonds and high end jewelry”.
Mr Friedmann’s description of the services offered by Doja include providing an “investment service based on very rare diamonds” and that it manages “a portfolio of high-net-worth clients and companies”.
The firm, which has just one employee, has never previously been awarded a government contract and is registered with the UK’s Companies House as being involved with the “retail sale of watches and jewellery in specialised stores”.
The newly released documents from the DHSC show the deal, which was awarded to the UK-based firm in US dollars, was worth $3,525,000 – around £2.5m at today’s exchange rate – but fails to state what items of PPE were expected to be delivered by the firm.
It comes after MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a damning report on Wednesday which hit out at the government for awarding contracts without a proper tender process and for failing to publish the full details of the deals.
The group concluded the government’s actions left them “open to accusations of poor value for money, conflicts of interest and preferential treatment of some suppliers”.
They added the failure to fully publish details about the contracts “undermines public trust in government procurement and the use of taxpayers’ money”.
Mr Friedmann who has a long history of work in the jewellery industry, claimed the firm trades in the UK, Hong Kong, New York, Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Mumbai, sourcing “conflict free diamonds to offer to discerning customers”.
It comes after PoliticsHome previously revealed that a Cannabis research company and a Scottish property developer had also been awarded PPE contracts despite having no previous experience in the sector.
In November, ministers came under further fire after a Florida-based jewellery designer pocketed £21m from the government to act as a go-between in PPE deals.
Saiger LLC, which employed the designer, said at the time that they had delivered the PPE “on time and at value” during the height of the pandemic.
They added: “We have few full-time staff so for large projects we bring in short-term contractors for additional expertise and capacity, allowing us to deliver what is needed.”
Responding to the revelations, Labour shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves told PoliticsHome the government needed to bring “urgent transparency” to the deal.
“After the shocking stories of an American jeweller PPE middleman a few months ago, we all hoped we wouldn’t see the same mistake repeated,” she said.
“But it seems this government would rather waste millions of pounds of taxpayer money than learn from its mistakes, even when it comes to protecting frontline staff with PPE in the middle of a pandemic.
She added: “It doesn’t do much for public confidence to see taxpayer money wasted while experienced British businesses are left out in the cold.
“The government needs to bring urgent transparency on what’s happened here and clean up its act on contracting. A Labour government will end this kind of waste.”
Meanwhile, Pascale Robinson from campaign group We Own It said the contract was “frankly baffling”.
“The government has clearly not learnt a single lesson from its disastrous handling of PPE procurement. It appears to still be allowing frankly baffling contracts to be handed out to totally ill suited companies willy-nilly,” she said.
“We saw at the start of this pandemic just how disastrous the government’s handling of this was, with our vital NHS staff put at risk with inadequate and insufficient PPE.
“Part of the problem here is that the NHS supply chain was privatised in 2006, which meant that we had a chaotic mish-mash of private companies that have allowed stocks to diminish.
She added: “There was no accountable, coordinated leadership and these providers failed to ensure the NHS was properly supplied.
“Bizarre procurement decisions like contracting jewellery companies to provide PPE has to stop.
“To put an end to this, the NHS should be put directly in charge of its own procurement, with the mismanaging private companies kicked out for good.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson defended companies “diversifying during the crisis to help provide much needed protective equipment” in light of global demand.
“Thanks to the combined effort of government, NHS, Armed Forces, civil servants and industry we have delivered over 8.1 billion items of PPE at record speed – helping protect healthcare staff on the pandemic frontline,” the spokesperson added.
“We are both sourcing and shipping stock from abroad, as well as purchasing from our brilliant British manufacturers.
“The PPE market is a highly competitive one and proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts.”
David Friedmann has been approached for comment.