Published: 15:26, 20 April 2021
| Updated: 11:29, 10 May 2021
A Gravesham Conservative election candidate has been caught up in the on-going controversy over contracts awarded for protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Samir Jassal has allegedley been named as the contact for a firm that was awarded a £102m contract to supply protective equipment for hospital staff.
He is the candidate for the party in a borough council by-election for Westcourt ward in May.
The contract to Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited is among several that were awarded by the government to address the shortage of PPE but have triggered claims that several went to companies with links to the Conservative party.
Both the company and Mr Jassal deny any direct involvement with each other.
Mr Jassal said: “I was an independent consultant, that wasn't employed directly by that company. Big companies use a number of contractors and independent consultants and I worked for one of those companies.”
On the issue of why his name appeared on one of the documents, he said: “That was an error. I'm not sure why but that's factually incorrect, it's factually incorrect that my name was on any contracts.”
He added: “I know for a fact that the company is very proud of what they did. When the country needed the kit [PPE], they got it here on time, when others couldn't. And that's the story.”
A spokesman for Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited said: "We have seen media reports which contain a material inaccuracy in stating that the contact name appearing on the relevant contract (redacted in the published version) is a Mr Samir Jassal. This is incorrect.
"Big companies use a number of contractors and independent consultants and I worked for one of those companies...”
"A significant commitment of time and resources is required to satisfy the rigorous demands of the government tendering and contracting process. As is not uncommon, PDL engaged a contractor to deal with that process on its behalf. That contractor is not Mr Jassal. For the avoidance of doubt, neither was Mr Jassal employed by PDL.
"In the face of an unprecedented global emergency that threatened to overwhelm the NHS, in 2020,
"PDL was able to respond to a government ‘call to arms’ by offering its longstanding procurement and delivery experience, specifically in respect of an urgent need for FFP3 facemasks."
Mr Jassal,who has had two spells as a Gravesham councillor, was elected in 2007 to represent the Shorne, Cobham and Luddesdown ward and then elected in 2015 for the same ward. In 2019, he stood unsuccessfully for the council, standing in a different ward, Woodlands.
A life-long resident of Gravesham, he was appointed to the council’s cabinet for business development. He has also stood in two general elections for the party.
The apparent involvement in one of the government’s emergency contracts has led to fresh claims about how some contracts came to be offered.
“The first lockdown ended in June. How can we still have needed PPE so urgently as to award a vast £100m+ PPE contract without any competition in July?"
Labour seized on the disclosure to question whether he was an appropriate election candidate.
Karina O’Malley Labour’s candidate for the Westcourt Ward by-election said: "This news raises more questions than answers but will come as a shock to the hard working residents of Westcourt and the borough many of whom work, or worked in key worker positions such as our NHS, caring, retail and public sector and feel that there is one rule for them and one rule for those in the Conservative party."
Mr Jassal has made donations to the Conservative party, one of which was for £4,000. According to reports, he also accompanied the Prime Minister on a campaign visit to a Sikh temple in London during the 2019 general election campaign.
His Linked-in profile also claims he worked as an adviser to the now Home Secretary Priti Patel between 2014 and 2015.
The lucrative deal for face masks was signed in July with names blacked out when the contract was eventually published seven months later.
However, a separate document inadvertently contained Mr Jassal’s details as a contact.
Mr Jassal is reported to have said the masks the company provided “successfully entered the NHS supply chain in a timely manner” and they met “all technical standards which were rigorously vetted and approved by the Health and Safety Executive, the DHSC and the NHS”.
Details of Mr Jassal’s connections with the Conservative party were uncovered by the Good Law Project. It is now taking legal action against the government over the award of the contract.
In a letter signalling its intention to take action, it says the government breached the law on public contracts by not holding a bidding process
Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said: “The first lockdown ended in June. How can we still have needed PPE so urgently as to award a vast £100m+ PPE contract without any competition in July?"
The government was rebuked over its failure to meet the legal time frame for publishing contract information, with health secretary Matt Hancock found to have acted unlawfully for this failure.