The profits of a small family furniture business in Nottingham rocketed by an astonishing 4,700 per cent after disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock helped it land a £29m government contract for PPE at the height of the pandemic, MailOnline has learned.
Monarch Acoustics Ltd, owned and run by husband-and-wife team Stuart and Sophie Hopkin, was given the £28.8m contract to supply surgical gowns after being referred to the fast-track ‘VIP lane’ by Mr Hancock in May 2020.
The effect on the company’s finances were dramatic, according to its accounts.
Turnover leapt from £9.8m in 2019 to £38m in 2020, and pre-tax profits ballooned from just £267,000 to a hefty £12.6m over the same period.
At the end of the 2019 financial year the firm, which has only 80 employees, had just £41,000 in the bank, yet a year later that figure had grown to a cool £10.2 million.
The exclusive list of suppliers was set up by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic to fast track supplies of PPE.
Monarch Acoustics Ltd, run by Stuart and Sophie Hopkin (pictured) was awarded a £28.8m surgical gowns contract despite appearing to have no prior experience in PPE manufacturing
The Hopkins’ home in a leafy village near Nottingham that the couple paid £1.15million for in cash without the need for a mortgage in March this year is pictured here
It enabled ministers, MPs, Lords and top government officials to recommend firms that could help secure PPE for healthcare workers when the UK was struggling to get hold of equipment in 2020.
Firms recommended via this route were considered by the cross-government PPE team to ‘be more credible or needed to be treated with more urgency’, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The companies were not subject to the usual checks due to the urgency of the situation.
A total of 47 firms were awarded contracts worth a total of £4.7bn by the VIP lane, and companies on the list had a 10 times greater success rate of securing contracts.
Stuart (pictured) and Sophie’s company was recommended for the PPE contract by Matt Hancock via the VIP lane early IN THE pandemic to fast track supplies of PPE
Monarch Acoustics managing director Mr Hopkin, 39 and his wife are pictured on her Facebook account larking around with their three boys in a variety of fancy dress outfits including as giraffes and lions.
Mrs Hopkin, 35, also posted a photo of herself while pregnant above an NHS rainbow symbol and another with two of her children, all wearing ‘All in this together’ rainbow tee-shirts with the government message #Stayathome Protect your community against COVID-19′ banner beneath.
Boris Johnson’s government has faced accusations of cronyism after it emerged that some firms were given access to a High Priority Lane which fast-tracked their bids for personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts.
The government had refused to reveal details of the priority access scheme – but four Tory MPs and three peers have now been named as ‘referrers’ in a list of 47 firms that won PPE contracts through the VIP lane.
The list of lucrative PPE deals provided by the Good Law Project and published by Politico website shows that former health secretary Mr Hancock helped in the process of securing work for four separate firms, including Monarch.
Until the pandemic, Monarch – also known as Monarch Educational Furniture – does not appear to have any experience of PPE, judging from its website or Mr Hopkin’s LinkedIn profile.
In 2016, Monarch Acoustics announced a move to ‘new state-of-the-art’ production facilities, opening a factory and warehouse near Nottingham airport but the new building was entirely devoted to educational furniture, rather than PPE according to a press release they issued
He states: ‘Monarch Education Furniture is a family run business with over 25 years’ experience in manufacturing good quality furniture. We believe that customer service is the number one priority at all times and we strive to exceed our customers’ expectations of quality, value and personal service.’
On the company website, they say: ‘For over 30 years we’ve been carving out a unique spot in the education furniture industry, with warm customer service and fantastic lead times that you won’t find anywhere else.
‘In our 96,000 square foot purpose-built factory in Nottingham, we manufacture a wide range of stock units and undertake bespoke projects to meet the complex needs of the education, healthcare, and public sector markets.’
The healthcare side of the business appears to refer to the manufacture and sale of furniture used in hospitals, including, according to the website: ‘furniture for nurse’s stations, wards, bedside, clinic and medicine storage, waiting rooms, surgeries and IT.’
The nature of Hancock’s relationship with Monarch Acoustics Ltd is unknown
Nowhere on the website is PPE mentioned, but in the 2020 accounts lodged with Companies House, it is noted: ‘During the year the company had the opportunity to diversify, due to the Covid pandemic, which involved several different contracts utilising current suppliers. This is the reason for the significant increase in turnover as shown above.’
The Hopkins, who make up two of the three directors of Monarch Acoustics, live in a large modern detached house in the middle of a leafy village about a 20-minute drive from the centre of Nottingham that they bought for £1.1million in cash without the requirement for a mortgage in March.
Mrs Hopkin, who is listed as company secretary of the firm, also ran a photography business called Sophie Marie Photography (SMP) at one stage.
An online listing on Yellowplace states: ‘SMP Offers fun photo shoots, based in Nottingham. Specialising in maternity, newborn, baby and children’s photography.’
The third director of Monarch, 60-year-old Gary Frost, lives in Leicestershire, according to Companies House.
In 2016, Monarch Acoustics announced a move to ‘new state-of-the-art’ production facilities, opening a factory and warehouse near Nottingham airport.
But the new building was entirely devoted to educational furniture, according to a press release they issued.
‘Monarch Education Furniture is a family run company that has been manufacturing furniture for schools for 30 years,’ said the release.
‘Our company has grown considerably over the last 10 years and in 2014 we had our busiest trading year.
‘As market leaders in educational storage furniture we have developed our manufacturing techniques using state of the art machinery and innovative fixings.
‘We operate a very strict quality control process in our factory and only dispatch furniture that we are proud of. We take pride in our craftsmanship and offer a high level of quality.’
Stuart Hopkin and Mr Hancock failed to respond to questions from MailOnline.
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: ‘These insinuations of wrongdoing are completely false. During a national emergency we were grateful for all efforts to get hold of PPE. All offers were treated in line with standard process. Matt had nothing to do with the awarding of this or any other PPE contract.
‘When Matt was approached with this credible offer he passed it on to government officials. This was right and proper and what anyone would do in the circumstances.
‘Inferring any wrongdoing is completely false. This work saved lives.’
They added the the firm’s credentials were ‘credible’ because, ‘they were already supplying the US. Due diligence was done on this and all contracts by officials.’
Stuart Hopkin (pictured) and Mr Hancock failed to respond to questions from MailOnline
A former chairman of the Conservative Party was also named among several Tories who helped almost 50 firms win PPE contracts worth millions during the lockdown.
Lord Feldman, a former tennis partner of ex-PM David Cameron, referred three businesses to ministers before they were given untendered contracts using the ‘VIP fast lane’.
Mr Hancock, who quit in the summer after having a lockdown-breaching affair with an aide, referred three apart from Monarch, while the list of 47 businesses amassed by the Good Law Project also showed referrals by ex-No10 air Dominic Cummings, as well as senior ministers including Michael Gove.
The companies were able afterwards to access lucrative contracts for PPE equipment using a much-criticised system set up to speed through supply of vital material as the NHS struggled to cope.
There is no suggestion that the politicians played a role in awarding contracts to businesses they referred onwards to the procurement process.
Lord Feldman has denied any wrong-doing, insisting he was just passing ‘credible offers on to officials’ from Maxima Markets, SG Recruitment and Skinnydip.
They were later awarded contracts worth £65million between them. Good Law Project director Jolyon Maugham told MailOnline: ‘The scale of public money that flowed into the pockets of those able to lean on Ministers for VIP lane treatment is just breathtaking.
‘The VIP lane funnelled vast sums of public money into the pockets of those with Tory links.
‘It also made it harder to buy the PPE the NHS needed. Civil servants were besieged by crappy suppliers with political connections – and that made it much harder to buy the right stuff.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘At the height of the pandemic there was a desperate need for PPE to protect health and social care staff and the government rightly took swift and decisive action to secure it.
‘Ministers were not involved in awarding contracts.’