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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Chumocracy through Whatsapp

There is another development in the chumocracy that has dominated many of the Covid 19 contracts and appointments under this government today, with the revelation by the Guardian that an acquaintance and former neighbour of Matt Hancock is supplying the government with tens of millions of vials for NHS Covid-19 tests despite having had no previous experience of producing medical supplies.

The paper says Alex Bourne, who used to run a pub close to Hancock’s former constituency home in Suffolk, said he initially offered his services to the UK health secretary several months ago by sending him a personal WhatsApp message:

Bourne’s company, Hinpack, was at that time producing plastic cups and takeaway boxes for the catering industry. It is now supplying about 2m medical grade vials a week to the government via a distributor contracted by the NHS.

Bourne categorically denies he profited from his personal contact with Hancock. However, the case raises questions for the health secretary and is likely to reignite the row over alleged government cronyism during the pandemic.

Contacted last week by the Guardian, Bourne’s lawyers flatly denied that their client had any discussions with Hancock in relation to Covid-19 supplies.

However, on Monday, after being confronted with further details about his interactions with the health secretary, Bourne backtracked. In a phone call with the Guardian, he conceded that he has in fact exchanged text and email messages with Hancock over several months.

He also participated in an industry Zoom meeting in August attended by Hancock, Boris Johnson and several dozen suppliers in the Covid test-and-trace programme.

Bourne said he sent his WhatsApp message to Hancock’s mobile number on 30 March offering his services amid a nationwide call to arms to respond to the pandemic. Bourne said he opened the exchange: “Hello, it’s Alex Bourne from Thurlow.”

Until the end of 2017 when they leased it out, Bourne and his wife had run the Cock Inn, a village pub in Thurlow a few hundred yards from Hancock’s former constituency home. The Conservative cabinet minister was a supporter of the pub, attending its reopening after refurbishment in 2016 and nominating it for an award in 2017. Hancock posted a photo of himself pulling a pint with Bourne on his parliamentary website. Hancock moved in 2018.

I hope somebody is keeping a record of all these contacts and contracts.
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