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Worried council risked £900,000 on China face masks as coronavirus shortage loomed

PUBLISHED: 12:28 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:48 02 June 2020

Norfolk County Council spent almost £900,000 on face masks from China because the national supply chain had broken down. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norfolk County Council spent almost £900,000 on face masks from China because the national supply chain had broken down. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

JOHN GOMEZ

Desperately-worried council bosses took a “risk” to spend almost £900,000 on two million face masks from China as coronavirus hit Norfolk - because the national chain to get such equipment broke down.

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council. Photo: SuppliedTom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Supplied

Bosses at Norfolk County Council admitted they could not be sure the personal protective equipment (PPE) they ordered to be flown into Heathrow Airport would be up to scratch.

But, with fear of a shortage of masks for their staff, community workers, care homes and funeral directors, they took the gamble in March that the masks they were buying would be of a good standard.

They spent £894,000 on two instalments, each of one million type IIR face masks.

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council and chairman of Norfolk Resilience Forum - which led the county’s response to the pandemic, told a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee it had been a risky purchase.

He said: “As we saw the issues coming towards us we took the decision to source internationally.

“There were risks attached to that, but thankfully, the checks and balances we put in place meant the stuff that got flown into Heathrow from China and elsewhere was what it was supposed to be.

“In some instances, people have purchased stuff which is substandard, so that was one where the national shortage of PPE and the breakdown of the national supply chain could have led to more difficulties in Norfolk if we hadn’t got ahead of the game.”

The supplies were bought from Beijing Shijie Trade International Freight Forwarding Company.

Mr McCabe said: “The council received assistance and support in placing the contract from the East of England-China Forum, which is part of Essex County Council.

“The contract was signed to ensure continuity of supply for council staff, care homes, early years providers and others.”

The council is facing a £20m gap between the £63m spent responding to the pandemic and the £43m the government has so far contributed towards that cost.

James Bullion, director of adult social care at the county council, previously said the council had struggled to get PPE for care homes at the start of the crisis.

He said that might have been avoided had the government funded it and left local councils to source it.


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