Labour demands answers over Tory co-chair marketing private Covid tests

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Anneliese Dodds has written to the Conservative Party demanding answers over reports that co-chair Ben Elliot’s company Quintessentially arranged for its clients to access private Covid tests at the height of the first wave last year.

According to The Times, the company owned and run by the co-chair of the Tory Party was marketing private tests last April when, Labour has highlighted, care homes were not able to access the tests needed for staff and residents.

Writing to co-chair Amanda Milling this morning, the Labour Party chair asked whether any other senior Conservative figures were aware of the marketing, what conversation she had with Elliot concerning his business and any potential conflicts of interest and what action she intends to take in light of the allegations.

“The public will be appalled that the Co-Chair of the Conservative Party’s company was marketing the same tests used by the NHS to its super rich client base in April last year – a time when even care homes weren’t able to access the tests many of their staff and residents needed,” Dodds said.

The government admitted on April 14th last year that only 505 social care workers in the UK had been tested for the virus, and National Care Forum director Vic Rayner described testing arrangements in care homes as “chaotic” the next month.

All care home residents and staff, including those without symptoms, were made eligible for testing on April 28th, but the Department for Health and Social Care imposed a daily cap of 30,000 tests per day in care home settings.

Email exchanges with clients of Quintessentially showed its employees offering PCR tests for £295 and antibody blood tests for £139, also suggesting that they could “use the tests straight away this time or save for later”.

Dodds added: “We need to know just who in the Conservative Party knew what Mr Elliot was up to and what action they are going to take in light of these allegations.

“The daily revelations about Ben Elliot raise serious questions about the Prime Minister’s judgement in appointing him to his post and the culture within the Conservative Party. There cannot be one rule for senior Conservatives and their cronies, and another rule for everyone else.”

The Financial Times revealed last week that an exclusive group developed by Elliot, known as the “advisory board”, held regular meetings and calls for the most generous donors of the Conservative Party with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

Labour has called for the Conservatives to publish the names of everyone who attended the meetings that, according to one donor, have been used by some in the group to lobby ministers for public spending cuts and lower taxes.

Elliot apologised to Conservative MPs last year for arranging a fundraising dinner, during which property developer Richard Desmond discussed his controversial east London Westferry project with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The developer donated £12,000 to the Conservatives after his 1,524-home development was approved by the minister – against the wishes of local residents, the local council and the advice of the government’s planning inspector.

Elliot is also facing further questions after telecoms magnate Mohamed Amersi, an elite member of Quintessentially, said the businessman had introduced him to Prince Charles after paying his company tens of thousands of pounds.

Amersi described the arrangement as “access capitalism” last week. Elliot is understood to deny the work was connected to his role at the Conservative Party and insists he undertook the connection in order to raise funds for charity.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to Milling this morning.

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your swift response to my letter and your thoughts on the issue of donations to political parties.

However, my concern is not over legitimate fundraising activity to support political parties’ campaigns and meet staff costs.

It is about allegations that your fellow Co-Chair appears to be enabling those who have given six-figure donations to the Conservative Party to have access to the most senior ministers in government – ministers with substantial control over the allocation of billions of pounds of public money. The difference between the two is very clear.

Further allegations against Ben Elliot have come to light since my last letter. On 2 August 2021, The Times reported that Quintessentially, the company Mr Elliot continues to run while co-chairing the Conservative Party, arranged for its clients to get access to Covid-19 testing last April – a time when even care homes weren’t able to access the tests many of their staff and residents needed. The article cites an email dated 21 April 2020, introducing Quintessentially clients to a private healthcare company. This email made clear, presumably as a marketing tactic, that the marketed tests came from the same labs who were carrying out tests for the NHS.

I am sure you will remember the chaotic state of Covid testing overseen by the disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the first few months of the pandemic.

On 17 March 2020, hospitals were told to discharge all patients medically fit to leave in order to increase capacity to support those with acute healthcare needs. The government belatedly started testing every patient being discharged into care homes a month later (from 15 April), after 25,000 people had already been discharged. We still do not know how many of those people had Covid-19 and took it with them into care homes. Data published by the Care Quality Commission last month revealed that almost 40,000 people died in care homes in England between 10 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.

At this time our key worker heroes desperately needed access to testing as well. However, despite repeated promises early in the crisis to roll out testing to symptomatic NHS workers, this also only started on 27 March. Eligibility was not extended to social care workers with symptoms until the government announced its Action Plan for Social Care on 15 April – a day after the government was forced to admit that just 505 social care workers across Britain had been tested for the virus. It wasn’t until 28 April that all care home residents and staff, including those without symptoms, were made eligible for testing, and even then the testing of care home settings was subject to a daily cap of 30,000 tests. On 28 May, the director of the National Care Forum was quoted in the Guardian as saying that testing arrangements in care homes remained “chaotic”.

It beggars belief that in the middle of this national crisis, when our NHS and care homes were crying out for more Covid tests and the Conservative government was failing to provide them, Mr Elliot’s company was marketing the very same tests to its super rich client list – and highlighting their use in the NHS as a selling point. Indeed, these tests were being offered to Quintessentially clients before they were even available to care home staff and residents without symptoms.

You will have regular meetings with Mr Elliot in your capacity as Co-Chair of the Conservative Party. Can you therefore explain:

  • If you or any other senior figure in your Party was aware that Mr Elliot’s company was marketing Covid tests to its client base in the middle of a national testing shortage?
  • What discussions you have held with Mr Elliot about his business interests and any potential conflicts of interest between them and his role as Co-Chair of the Conservative Party?
  • What action you intend to take against Mr Elliot in light of these latest allegations?

There are now daily revelations about the actions of Mr Elliot that raise serious questions about the culture within your Party and the judgement of the Prime Minister in appointing him to this post. He has already had to apologise over his role in the Robert Jenrick/Richard Desmond planning scandal. Will you also ask him to issue a further apology in light of these latest allegations?

Whether it is crony contracts, links to controversial developers or suggestions of cash for access, the way that Boris Johnson and senior members of the Conservative Party go about their business seems to be less about what is right and more about what they can get away with. A swift response to my questions would help to restore public trust in your Party’s commitment to good government.

Yours sincerely,

Anneliese Dodds MP
Chair of the Labour Party

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