Leak suggests additional 18 firms given ‘VIP lane’ treatment for PPE contracts worth £1 billion
A further 18 companies were given so-called “VIP lane” access in the rush to supply the UK with an adequate amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the first Covid-19 wave, according to a campaign group.
The Good Law Project said it had been leaked information which suggested the additional firms, which are on top of the 50 acknowledged by the Government, were awarded contracts worth almost £1 billion without competition.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called for ministers to “come clean” and declare whether they had “misled Parliament” over the additional 18 contracts that Good Law says it has uncovered.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) admitted it had failed to mention in its official VIP lane list one of the extra firms that the Good Law cited as benefiting from fast-track treatment, but denied that the other 17 had been part of the scheme.
It comes after the High Court last month ruled that the Government’s use of a so-called “VIP lane” to award millions of pounds’ worth of contracts for protective gear was unlawful.
And last week, the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) annual accounts stated that £8.7 billion spent PPE during the pandemic had been written off, with some £673 million worth of equipment found to be totally unusable.
Declaring that it had discovered a further £984 million in VIP lane agreements, Good Law said PPE contracts worth £173 million had been awarded to Chinese suppliers which have been “linked to the Uighur human rights abuses in Xinjiang”, while another £96 million deal was agreed with a firm that “operated out of a hotel room in Beijing”.
The not-for-profit group said a Hong Kong-based firm was handed a £25 million contract in June 2020, but the details of the agreement with the UK Government has yet to be disclosed.
Jo Maugham, director of the project, said: “The Department of Health’s annual report revealed that of every £13 we spent on PPE, £10 was wasted.
“How long must hard-working taxpayers carry the heavy burden of this Government’s waste and sleaze?”
Labour’s Ms Rayner said: “We already know in a minister’s own words that the Government was ‘paying dramatically over the odds’ for contracts that lined the pockets of Tory donors and cronies.
“Today’s revelation suggests that the so called ‘VIP lane’ for the politically connected was even bigger than they have admitted.
“They must now come clean and tell us the truth about these new contracts, and if ministers have misled Parliament, there must be consequences.”
Some of the suppliers may not have been aware they were in the “VIP lane” for PPE deals, Good Law said, and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing.
The contracts were agreed when the UK was in a desperate scramble to procure PPE for healthcare workers during the first coronavirus lockdown in spring 2020, with reports that some frontline staff were wearing bin bags due to a shortage of medical gowns.
Officials at DHSC said there had been an “accidental omission” when the High Priority Lane list was published in November, and that it would be updated “shortly” to include Technicare Ltd T/A Blyth Group, which appears on the Good Law’s leaked listing.
But the Whitehall department said the remaining 17 companies were not referred by the fast-track route.
A spokesman for DHSC said: “It is inaccurate to claim that all of these companies were referred by the High Priority Lane route.
“The purpose of the High Priority Lane was to efficiently prioritise credible offers of PPE, and our efforts have helped deliver over 17.5 billion items of PPE to the frontline to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dominic Lipinski / PA.