Spy tech firm Palantir was shoo-in for NHS data deal, leaked emails suggest

Spread the love

Original article by Lucas Amin republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

NHS sign

Exclusive: Labour and Tory MPs demand review as email chain appears to show health chiefs knew firm would win deal

US spy-tech firm Palantir was a shoo-in for a multi-million-pound NHS contract months before the deal was signed, emails obtained by openDemocracy appear to show.

The email exchange from 2020, in which senior NHS executives discussed the budget for a new national data platform, sees more than one person referring to Palantir as the recipient of the funding.

The firm, owned by billionaire Donald Trump donor Peter Thiel, has won five NHS deals in a row without tender. It is heavily tipped to secure a separate contract worth £480m later this year to build a new “operating system” for the NHS.

Conservative MP David Davis told openDemocracy it was “incredibly concerning that the NHS appears to have already taken decisions to award contracts to Palantir before the end of the procurement process”.

He added: “Allowing a company with Palantir’s provenance into the NHS needs careful scrutiny. It must not be railroaded through in secrecy.”

Palantir officially signed a £23.5m deal on 11 December 2020 to operate a full-scale “datastore” of NHS patient information, building on work carried out in the pandemic.

More than two months earlier, on 5 October 2020, an official from NHS England and NHS Improvement sent an email to the health service’s chief data and analytics officer Ming Tang with the subject line: “Update finances for data platform project [sic].”

The email provided detailed information on how NHS England could structure a budget for the project, and appears to refer to Palantir as the recipient of the funding, stating at one point: “This [the budget proposal] provides a total of £26m for Palantir higher than our previous ask of £24m.”

The exec, whose name is redacted, then asks for “an accountant to support us to get the budget transfers” before warning: “Delays here could lead to risk of non-delivery.”

Tang responded three hours later, writing: “We are trying to keep Palantir to 10-12M per year,” and told the unnamed person to prepare information on the “costs vs funding” of this.

She also said of the proposed budget: “I won’t send him yet – will share screen instead.” The name of the person she is referring to is redacted throughout the documents openDemocracy has seen, and it is unclear what their role is and which organisation they work for.

NHS England has denied any wrongdoing. A spokesperson said: “Clarifications were being sought from several potential suppliers as part of routine financial planning and commercial decision-making.” The spokesperson insisted NHS England had “acted in accordance with all relevant commercial and legal rules”.

But critics say the documents seen by openDemocracy are further proof that Palantir is favoured by NHS executives, despite its controversial links to Donald Trump and the CIA.

Cori Crider, the director of legal campaigners Foxglove, told openDemocracy: “This goes to show that a handful of officials have favoured them from the start.”

Surveillance software

Thiel, the “big money man” for Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign, founded Palantir in 2003 with funding from the CIA-controlled firm, In-Q-Tel. The firm’s clients include the US army, which uses its surveilling software to conduct drone strikes.

British healthcare campaigners have questioned whether a company with Palantir’s history should be entrusted to work in the NHS. In 2021, the government promised not to enter any new contracts with Palantir without consulting the public after openDemocracy and Foxglove took legal action against the Department for Health and Social Care.

But earlier this year an openDemocracy investigation revealed the NHS, seemingly in breach of that pledge, had ordered all English hospitals to share confidential patient information with Palantir.

Parliament must scrutinise why Palantir is being singled out to deliver sensitive data servicesLabour MP Rachael Maskell, vice chair of the health select committee

Health service insiders believe Palantir has now been lined up to win a £480m NHS contract later this year to run a “Federated Data Platform”. Final tenders for the platform, which will act as a new “operating system” for the NHS, were due to be submitted last week.

Jo Maugham, the director of Good Law Project, told openDemocracy: “It’s widely believed that Palantir is being lined up for this hugely valuable NHS data contract – despite concerns over what it will do with patient data. These emails support those concerns.”

There are further concerns about the usefulness of Palantir’s software, with 11 hospital trusts either pausing or suspending trials of the company’s Foundry database. Crider said: “Several real-life pilots of Palantir software at hospitals appear to have failed. We’ve called on Parliament to investigate the deal and get to the bottom of the failed pilots before it’s too late.”

Labour MP Rachael Maskell, vice chair of the health select committee, also called for more parliamentary scrutiny. She told openDemocracy: “Before another deal is signed with Palantir, Parliament must have the opportunity to scrutinise the financial operations of NHS England and the way it is handing out contracts, issues concerning public consent over data use, and why Palantir is being singled out to deliver sensitive data services.”

The National Data Guardian

Six weeks after NHS data chief Tang wrote about “trying to keep Palantir to 10-12M a year”, she met the government’s patient privacy champion, Dame Fiona Caldicott, who was then probing the health service’s relationship with Palantir.

A document of Tang’s ‘talking points’ for the 19 November meeting, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act and dated the previous day, suggested no provider had yet been chosen for the contract: “We have been working with Palantir to continue to build out the modules that we think are critical to our response and to package up the code and data models. And we are currently in an open procurement process for a longer-term solution.”

Caldicott, who has since died, was at the time serving as the UK’s first statutory National Data Guardian and was a hugely influential figure in medical confidentiality. In 2016, her review of the government’s botched attempt to reuse patient data without consent led to the failure of its care.data project.

Caldicott’s successor at the National Data Guardian, Dr Nicola Byrne, warned NHS England last year that its new data platform “must avoid common pitfalls around trust and transparency that have frustrated previous initiatives”.

An NHS England spokesperson told openDemocracy: “The description of the procurement process [in Tang’s talking points] was accurate – it was ongoing, and was being conducted on an open basis within a transparent government procurement framework.”

Palantir told openDemocracy it could not comment on NHS procurement issues.

Read the emails in full

Original article by Lucas Amin republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingSpy tech firm Palantir was shoo-in for NHS data deal, leaked emails suggest

Failing UK anti-pollution scheme needs ‘complete rethink’, experts say

Spread the love

Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Government accused of ‘deliberately undermining’ green policies after slashing financial penalties for big polluters

Scientists and campaigners have slammed the government’s decision to hand unexpectedly large subsidies to the biggest polluters – making it far cheaper to pollute in the UK than in the EU.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) requires major polluters to have a ‘permit’ for each tonne of CO2 they emit. They are given some for free but have to buy more on the open market – receiving fewer free ones every year to encourage them to slash their emissions.

But the government has quietly announced changes to the scheme that will see polluting industries given far more free permits than anticipated, according to a new report in the Financial Times.

The move means emitting a tonne of carbon in the UK now costs big polluters just £47, compared to £75 in the EU. It comes weeks after openDemocracy revealed the government gave free permits to a controversial Russian cargo airline the day after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Leo Murray, an expert in emissions trading, told openDemocracy that the decision to slash the cost of polluting “should trigger a complete rethink of the entire scheme”, which he branded “the worst possible way to price carbon in our economy”.

The ETS, which replaced a similar EU scheme after Brexit, has been beset with difficulties. openDemocracy’s previous investigations have found that some of the biggest polluters were handed vast de-facto subsidies under the scheme, while others – including highly polluting incineration firms and owners of private jets – were exempt entirely.

Over-allocating permits can only be read as a deliberate move to undermine the shift away from fossil fuels

Leo Murray, We Are Possible

Murray, who is the director of the environmental campaign group We Are Possible, said: “It is so telling that the UK can’t even let the most market-friendly climate policy approach in the whole toolbox do its work without deliberately intervening to make sure it is totally ineffective at reducing emissions.

“Over-allocation of permits was the biggest reason why the EU ETS, which our own scheme is a pale shadow of, failed to reduce emissions for most of the first phases of its existence, so repeating this mistake can only be read as a deliberate move to undermine the economy-wide shift away from fossil fuels.”

Murray’s frustration was echoed by Natalie Bennett, a Green Party member of the House of Lords, who said: “We heard much talk, during the [Brexit] referendum campaign and subsequently, of a so-called ‘Green Brexit’… The hollowness of that claim, the reality that we could – and do – have far lower environmental and climate standards is today being driven home with great force.

Bennett continued: “The EU is continuing to – if not quickly enough – advance in climate action and on the protection of nature and human health, while the UK falls further and further behind.”

The EU is continuing to advance in climate action, while the UK falls further and further behind

Natalie Bennett, Green Party

Aaron Thierry, a climate expert at Cardiff University, added that the government’s decision to cut the cost of polluting shows that “the UK is continuing to backslide on its climate pledges”.

He added: “That this is happening even as we see extreme temperatures around the world topple all-time records, with southern Europe’s grain harvest down 60%, India forced to ban rice exports and fires around the Mediterranean, is an absolute scandal. Rishi Sunak is a danger to us all.”

Earlier this month, thousands of openDemocracy readers wrote to their MP to call on the government to stop giving away free pollution permits to big polluters. You can join them here, or sign our open letter to the government here.

Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingFailing UK anti-pollution scheme needs ‘complete rethink’, experts say

North-east mayor slams Starmer’s green rollback after quitting Labour

Spread the love
Labour leader Keir Starmer (centre) with then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (R) and then US ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, in London, 21 July 2020.
Labour leader Keir Starmer (centre) with then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (R) and then US ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, in London, 21 July 2020. Pompeo said in 2019 “we will do our level best” to stop Jeremy Corbyn getting elected. (Photo: US State Department)

Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Exclusive: Jamie Driscoll says some voters think Starmer is ‘a liar’ and backing ULEZ would win votes

The ex-Labour mayor of the UK’s poorest region has slammed Keir Starmer for watering down the party’s environmental commitments.

In an exclusive interview with openDemocracy in his office in Newcastle, North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “There is no contradiction between protecting us from the climate emergency, and prosperity. In fact, if you fail to protect us from the climate emergency, you’re going to lose all prosperity in the future.”

Labour’s leadership has blamed its failure to take Boris Johnson’s former constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the recent by-election on London mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand the city’s ‘ultra-low emission zone’ (ULEZ) into the area. But Driscoll, who dramatically quit Labour last month, said the party would have won the seat if it had stood by the scheme and campaigned against Tory cuts to bus services in the capital.

“Labour would have won the Uxbridge by-election if they had said: ‘Yes, it [ULEZ] is a problem, because the Tories have cut public transport in London – if we had better buses here, which we will do, you’ll be better off,’” he said. “That would have won them it… A lot of people who voted Green because they were outraged by Labour’s abandonment [of ULEZ] probably would have voted Labour.”

Labour’s candidate in the by-election had publicly opposed the ULEZ expansion during the campaign; the Green candidate won 893 votes, more than the margin separating Labour from the Tories.

Driscoll also argued that politicians’ failure to take climate breakdown seriously contributed to falling trust in politics: “We’ve got a climate juggernaut hurtling towards us, and [politicians] are saying ‘some people in outer London didn’t like ULEZ so let’s just burn the planet because we need their votes’. Almost any rational person, which is the majority of the electorate, I still believe, would say: ‘It doesn’t add up any more.’”

Deselected by Labour

Driscoll is currently mayor of the North of Tyne region, which extends northwards from Newcastle to the Scottish border. He has successfully negotiated an expansion of the region, meaning that when the post comes up for re-election next year, it will also cover areas of north-east England south of the Tyne, including Sunderland, Gateshead and County Durham.

With an engineering background and his own software business, Driscoll was first elected as a councillor in Newcastle in 2018. He was quickly chosen by Labour members to be the party’s candidate for North of Tyne mayor when the post was created in 2019, beating the longstanding leader of Newcastle Council in the selection. Calling himself a “pragmatic socialist”, he is generally identified with the left of the party, and was supported by Momentum.

But when Labour announced its shortlist of candidates for the mayor of the newly expanded North East seat, Driscoll’s name was notably absent. Party insiders briefed that he had been ‘purged’ because he once spoke at an event alongside the filmmaker Ken Loach, who was himself banned from Labour because of his prior support for the Left Unity party. While much of the media parroted this line, a simpler explanation is that he was binned because of his left-wing views, and as revenge for defeating one of the party’s big beasts.

Driscoll’s deselection was slammed by politicians across the political spectrum, with Labour mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham praising his approach to the role. His interview with openDemocracy is the first time he has so clearly attacked the Labour leadership since standing down from the party.

Speaking about Starmer’s recent equivocation on previous climate spending commitments, Driscoll characterised the Labour position as: “We might put £28bn into tackling the climate emergency at some point in the future if the fiscal rule allows it – a fiscal rule which we decided on, which is not real and has no legal basis in anything, on the basis that we just think it makes us look a bit more credible to some people.”

If you do a vox pop and say ‘do you think Keir Starmer keeps his word?’ you would have no one say ‘yes’

He added: “There is an underlying reality to people’s lives. Either your bus comes, or it doesn’t. Either you can get an operation, or you can’t. These are the things that are concrete and in the real world. The climate emergency is absolutely one of those.

“The science is uncontroversial – we already now have enough CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that even if they remain stable at that level, global heating is going to continue and we will pass way beyond 1.5°C. Even if we live in a magic world where no tipping points kick in, that will lead to mass people movements and crop failures around the world.”

For Labour’s leadership to respond to this reality by saying “yeah, but we need a fiscal rule” isn’t good enough, he argued. Criticising his former party for saying it won’t cancel oil and gas licences recently issued by the Tories, and for comments Starmer reportedly made to shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband that he “hates tree huggers” (which he denied) and isn’t “into hope and change”, Driscoll asked: “What are they there for?”


Speaking more broadly, Driscoll said some people perceive Starmer as a “liar”. He claimed: “If you would go out and do a vox pop and say ‘do you think Keir Starmer keeps his word?’ you would have no one say ‘yes’. Or some people think, ‘yes, he’s a liar but he’s not as much of a liar as the Tories’ – you know, lesser of two evils. But the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.”

Referring to an event during Starmer’s Labour leadership campaign, Driscoll added: “I interviewed him in 2019. He said that you have to inspire people to party unity – you don’t discipline people to party unity.” Referring to Starmer’s promises at the time, Driscoll said: “Ten pledges, has he kept any of them? I don’t think he has. And the public know that.”

He added: “Regardless of what people say in politics, regardless of their ideologies, there is an objective reality. And when politicians forget that, they find themselves unable to tell the truth. The reason they are unable to tell the truth is that what they propose does not tally with reality.”

He also claimed Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting are unduly influenced by big business, pointing to Streeting’s donations from a hedge fund manager heavily invested in private healthcare and Starmer rowing back on commitments to tax Big Tech after a meeting with Google. “To abandon that,” he said, “shows you in whose interests they are operating.”

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you. HAVE A LOOK

Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingNorth-east mayor slams Starmer’s green rollback after quitting Labour

Left Foot Forward

Spread the love

Catching up with articles published by Left Foot Forward, an excellent UK political blog.

Government caved to wealthy landowner lobbying in U-turn on public path access

Thérèse Coffey gave landowners what they wanted, putting at risk public access to thousands of miles of historic paths

Public access to thousands of miles of historic paths in England could be lost due to a government U-turn, following successful lobbying by wealthy landowners.

An investigation by openDemocracy found Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, U-turned on a government commitment to remove restrictions on registering a claim to protect lost paths in England, after receiving a letter from landowners.

Via a freedom of information request, openDemocracy revealed that Thérèse Coffey’s U-turn came after a request was made by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who represent owners of rural land, property and business.

The letter expressed ‘concerns’ about the complete removal of the cut-off date due to land managers ‘uncertainty’ over what they referred to as, ‘frivolous claims of historic rights on their land holdings’.

The letter then asks the MP to consider a new deadline of 2031, shortly followed by Coffey announcing the government U-turn, which appeased the landowners request. It seems it didn’t take much to sway the minister in the interests of the wealthy, at the expense of the general public.

Labour has failed to stand against the Tories’ attack on the right to protest

Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos
Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos

Green Party peer Jenny Jones gives her account of the parliamentary battles over the Tories’ protest laws

Last night, the Labour Party made a disastrous misjudgement that will impact on hundreds of thousands of people attempting to protest and exercise their democratic rights in the coming years. By failing to support my Fatal Motion that would have stopped serious disruption being defined as anything “more than minor” Labour have managed to alienate lots of their natural supporters. 

Many of the 64,000 people who signed the petition asking them to act like an opposition, are now wondering why Labour let them down and why the media don’t report this stuff?

Perhaps Labour felt that they could sit this one out and no one would really care. After all, political journalists and media organisations like the BBC very rarely report on anything that isn’t a Blue/Red clash. So many issues and viewpoints are excluded simply because they don’t fit this cosy Blue/Red duopoly. The narrative was that if Labour wasn’t backing the Fatal Motion then it wasn’t worth reporting on and all my attempts to generate coverage were met with silence, with the honourable exception of James O’Brien on LBC and the Guardian.

What Labour under estimated is the power of social media and influential commentators like Carol Vorderman and Marina Purkiss. The Vlogger, Peter Stefanovic reached over a million people with his first video outlining what was going on. He explained the constitutional issues in a way that the BBC’s one attempt at coverage failed completely to understand, as our state media bought the government narrative that this was a law aimed at Just Stop Oil.

Meanwhile, Labour’s regret motion, a loud tut tut in parliamentary terms, led to a Daily Mail front page attacking them for supporting Just Stop Oil. The result is that many voters see them as a pointless and feeble opposition, while the government label them as on the side of disruption.

 Left Foot Forward News

Post-Brexit border charges will further increase food prices, industry leaders warn

The Government has made clear its intention to implement full border checks on food imports from this October.

There could be further increases in food prices yet, even after UK food and drink price inflation hit a 45-year record of 19.2 per cent in March, as a result of new border checks caused by Brexit.

It comes after the UK government this week published proposals to charge a flat-rate inspection fee of up to £43 on each consignment of food coming from the EU.

The decision to impose full border checks on food imports from the bloc, will hit smaller firms harder, industry leaders have warned.

Shane Brennan, the director of the Cold Chain Federation, told the Financial Times that the proposals made little sense, especially given that the government was actively discussing imposing price controls on UK supermarkets to keep down the cost of food.

He said: “It is crazy that one week the government is holding a crisis meeting in Downing Street to discuss out-of-control food inflation and the next is willing to nod through a multimillion new import tax on EU food imports.”

Former Eton Master admits ‘failure’ in educating ‘entitled’ Tories

Image of Oxford's Bullingdon Club including Boris Johnson
Oxford’s Bullingdon Club including Boris Johnson

‘They have harmed the ‘very fabric of the country’.

Finally, someone has called a spade a spade. A former Master of Eton College has admitted that the school failed to rein in entitled Tories such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kwasi Kwarteng, whose sense of entitlement has harmed the ‘very fabric of the country’.

In a scathing letter to the Times, John Claughton, who was a master at Eton from 1984 to 2001, said that the school, which has educated 20 Prime Ministers, now had a mission to ‘ensure that its pupils are saved from the sense of privilege, entitlement and omniscience that can produce alumni such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kwasi Kwarteng and Ben Elliot and thereby damage a country’s very fabric.’

Claughton goes on to add: “Sadly, I failed in that purpose.”

The Sun forgets its owner’s taste for luxury travel in dig at Rachel Reeves’ business class flight to US

The newspaper didn’t dwell on Rupert Murdoch owning an $84 million private jet.

In a week dominated by yet more Tory sleaze and scandals, the right-wing media must have been desperate to dish some dirt on the shadow cabinet. Sure enough, The Sun came up with the goods, taking aim at Rachel Reeves’ trip to the US in business class.

The Murdoch-owned newspaper did not hold back in reporting that the Shadow Chancellor had been accused of hypocrisy for ‘taking the posh seat while attacking Rishi Sunak and the government for luxury travel.’ Reeves informed the newspaper that no taxpayer money was used to fund the trip, and that a donor paid for it. 

This in itself contrasts to the Prime Minister’s luxury travel which has been funded by the taxpayer. In March, Sunak decided to travel to Southampton and back to London by air rather than by car or train. The PM’s official spokesman confirmed that the helicopter trip was funded by the taxpayer.  Even the Sun had to reference the criticism the Prime Minister came under for the taxpayer-funded helicopter flight to Southampton.

… [Read more to get to Murdoch’s jet]

Continue ReadingLeft Foot Forward

Revealed: How ‘unfit’ PPE helped former playboy buy two mansions

Spread the love

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Glove tycoon Robert Gros splashed millions on luxury homes and planned to build cinema, disco and golf simulator

An estimated £27m worth of gowns supplied by Gros’s company were later deemed “not fit for use”. Image: Katia Ponnampalam, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A former ‘playboy’-turned-businessman made a fortune supplying PPE during the pandemic, even though the NHS may be unable to use millions of the gowns his company delivered, openDemocracy can reveal.

Chemical Intelligence Limited was awarded a £126m contract to supply 21 million medical gowns that were desperately needed to protect NHS workers treating Covid patients in May 2020. But data released to openDemocracy through freedom of information law shows the Department of Health and Social Care later deemed 4.5 million of them – worth an estimated total of £27m – “not fit for use” in the NHS. 

Lawyers acting on behalf of Robert Gros, the sole owner and CEO of Chemical Intelligence, said Gros could not comment because he “did not recognise these figures or amounts”.

The bumper PPE contract allowed Gros, 51, to turn around his business, which had made losses two years running prior. Chemical Intelligence declared profits of £33m for the year up to September 2020 according to accounts filed on Companies House. It had just two employees, including Gros, when it landed the multi-million pound government contract.

Gros personally splashed out on a £4m country pile just four months after he clinched the PPE deal. In 2021, after his company reported a further £31m in profits, he bought a second £2m country home and asked for planning permission to fit a basement bowling alley in the first.

The businessman then paid himself £7m in dividends in January 2022 – after having already loaned himself £6m the year before. Two months later, he transferred £40m in dividends to a holding company that he entirely owns. 

Gros would only answer our questions through his lawyers, who told us that he has paid all the necessary corporation tax and that the £4om would “continue to be reinvested” in his business.

The £126m contract was one of many for which the government apparently paid over the odds as demand for PPE skyrocketed during the pandemic and it did not have enough stockpiled. Gowns cost the government 1,260% more than they did before the pandemic, according to the National Audit Office.

A fifth of gowns supplied by Chemical Intelligence were labelled “not fit for use” because they “failed the technical, clinical or regulatory compliance assessment”, openDemocracy understands. The department would not elaborate on why the gowns failed checks, but according to the data released under FOI their value has been written down to £0.

“The department has processes in place to review the quality of PPE and determine whether products are suitable to be released to the frontline,” said a spokesperson. “Upon receipt, a sample of each product is reviewed by DHSC’s Technical and Regulatory Assurance team.

“A proportion of this stock was classified as ‘do not supply’. Stock in this category has not necessarily fallen short of standards and in many cases these products can be used in other settings.”

Gros’s lawyers insisted that all the PPE the company had supplied was “fit for purpose and use”, suggesting the DHSC may have been mistaken in its record-keeping. The department confirmed that Chemical Intelligence also supplied £35m worth of face masks and disposable surgical aprons under separate contracts also awarded in 2020, none of which was deemed unusable.

Of the £12bn the government spent in total on PPE, £4bn worth cannot be used by the NHS because it doesn’t meet the right standards, according to a 2022 report by the Public Accounts CCommittee of MPs.

Gros’s lawyers said that the sharp rise in profits for Chemical Intelligence was not all down to PPE deals he struck during the pandemic, and threatened openDemocracy with an injunction if we revealed details about his mansions.

The businessman, who had a reputation as a “playboy” in the late 1990s after dating a string of soap stars, appears to have made the most of his new fortune. The Cambridgeshire house he bought a few months after the contract was signed had six bedrooms, four reception rooms, a swimming pool and a gym, all heated by three boilers.

Three months later, he lodged a planning application with Cambridge City Council to more than double the size of the property. The proposed plan included the addition of a basement housing a dance floor, a two-lane bowling alley, a golf simulator, a room for arcade machines and a cinema.

Gros was forced to withdraw the application after it was rejected by planners for being too “modern” in style; neighbours had also raised concerns about the potential noise from the proposed bowling alley and dance floor. He resubmitted a new application in November, which was approved in April.

In June 2021, through another company of which he was the sole owner, Gros bought a second mansion with six bedrooms, three garages and an outdoor pool for £2m in a neighbouring village.

Chemical Intelligence, which Gros founded in 2012, develops medical examination gloves, which have been licensed to and manufactured by Malaysian firm Hartalega since 2017.

Hartalega is one of several Malaysian glove manufacturers that have been accused of using modern slavery. A leaked report by the Home Office in 2019 found there was “strong evidence” to suggest that the majority of Malaysian glove manufacturers that supply the NHS, which include Hartalega, “exhibit forced labour indicators”.

Lawyers acting for Chemical Intelligence said that the company “takes the issue of modern slavery extremely seriously and carried out its own due diligence to seek to satisfy itself that throughout the manufacturing process all of the correct procedures and safeguards are in place”.

Chemical Intelligence was one of 58 suppliers awarded a contract to supply medical gloves to the NHS in January 2022, but no information has been published on whether it has yet done so.

Original article by Adam Bychawski republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you. HAVE A LOOK

Continue ReadingRevealed: How ‘unfit’ PPE helped former playboy buy two mansions