You have heard that expression. Laughing all the way to the bank.
Glove tycoon Robert Gros splashed millions on luxury homes and planned to build a cinema, disco and golf simulator.
A form’ 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 desperately needed to protect NHS workers treating Covid patients in May 2020. But data released to openDemocracy through freedom of information law show 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. According to accounts filed on Companies House, Chemical Intelligence declared profits of £33m for the year up to September 2020. It had just two employees, including Gros, when it landed the multi-million-pound government contract.
The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.
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 Open De mocracy’s questions through his lawyers, who told us that he had 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 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 was 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 provided £35m worth of face masks and disposable surgical aprons under separate contracts awarded in 2020, none 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 proper standards, according to a 2022 report by the Public Accounts Committee 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.
So let us all keep quiet about this scandal eh?