Matt Hancock has said a former neighbour who was awarded millions of pounds worth of Covid contracts after texting him went through “the normal channels”.
Hancock deflected criticism that he was personally involved in handing government contracts to Alex Bourne whose company was given work to supply test tubes two weeks after contacting the minister by text.
Bourne, who ran a pub close to Hancock’s old constituency in Suffolk, offered his company’s services to the health secretary in a WhatsApp message.
Hinpack, Bourne’s company, now supplies two million medical-grade vials a week to Covid testing centres via a distributor contracted by the NHS, despite having no previous experience in the production of medical equipment.
Bourne has vehemently denied he profited from his contact with the health secretary and said the minister had directed him to a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) website, where he formally submitted his details.
Bourne was called two weeks later by a major distributor of medical products to produce Covid-related items like drop-wells and pipette tips, despite his company having only ever produced plastic cups and takeaway boxes.
He and the DHSC strongly deny any wrongdoing.
The incident has reignited a row that the government was handing million-pound contracts to “chums” after it emerged a “high-priority” channel for Covid contracts had been established by the Cabinet Office that saw companies with links to the Tory Party ten times more likely to have their bid accepted.
Pressed about the incident on Sky News, Hancock said Bourne had gone “through the normal channels”.
“There has been an awful lot of people who have come forward to support the nation in our battle against Covid and a constituent of mine came forward and approached the government and went through the normal channels… I had nothing to do with this contract.
“I don’t have anything to do with the signing of individual contracts.”
Hancock’s remark drew sharp criticism online.
Steve Harlie tweeted: “Since when was WhatsApp a normal government channel?”
Mark Walker quipped: “Anybody got Matt Hancock’s number? I think I can get him some vaccines.”
Seb deGange Pearn shared a photo of Hancock pouring a pint with Bourne behind the bar of his pub.
One user said Bourne had not done anything wrong. He shared: “I would have thought of emailing my MP or contacting the Constituency Office would be more akin to the proper channel.”