Opposition parties renew calls for ‘VIP lane’ loopholes to be closed in Procurement Bill

Opposition parties have renewed calls for an amendment to a Government law in order to close so-called “VIP lane” loopholes for public contracts.

The proposed changes to the Procurement Bill would force peers and MPs to declare any links to the firms they recommend as suppliers, to prevent conflicts of interest.

The calls come amid concerns that the legislation could make it easier for politicians to bypass transparency rules in the awarding of taxpayers’ money.

The Government has come under fire for the use of “VIP lanes”, whereby preferential treatment for public contracts can be given to organisations recommended by MPs and peers.

Last year the Commons Public Accounts Committee said the Government had lost 75% of the £12 billion it spent on personal protective equipment (PPE) in the first year of the pandemic, to inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements, including £4 billion of PPE that could not be used in the NHS.

The Government announced in December it was suing one firm that supplied it with PPE for £122 million plus costs.

PPE Medpro won contracts after being recommended by Tory peer Baroness Mone. She denies any wrongdoing.

Labour has said the Bill effectively legalises the VIP lane and allow a “veil of secrecy” to persist over the awarding of public contracts.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner (pictured) said: “The VIP lane for PPE contracts was a scandal of epic proportions that has allowed the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money and inexcusable profiteering.

“The Government’s Procurement Bill is a charter for cronies, giving ministers free rein to do it all over again.

“Instead of straining every sinew to clawback taxpayers’ money, and fresh from writing off the billions he carelessly lost to Covid fraud, (Prime Minister) Rishi Sunak is pushing a Procurement Bill full of loopholes.

“Labour’s amendment would enact NAO (National Audit Office) recommendations to lift the veil of secrecy in the award of contracts.

“Exceptional circumstances cannot be an excuse to dodge declaring conflicts of interest. Peers and MPs should have to declare any links to firms they recommend for contracts.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: “Transparency in procurement decisions is paramount. Conservative cronyism cannot be allowed at the heart of Government and all decisions should follow the same pathway.

“VIP lanes must become a thing of the past.

“Whatever the cost to the public purse, it is utterly unacceptable that we have seen special treatment for companies referred by Conservative politicians.

“This Liberal Democrat amendment would scrap VIP lanes from future procurement decisions to avoid this kind of unforgivable waste in future.

“Rishi Sunak’s pledge to act with integrity and professionalism risks becoming yet another empty promise unless he accepts this amendment to crack down on waste and sleaze.”

A Government spokesman said: “During a time of national need and urgency, potential suppliers often passed on offers of PPE to MPs, civil servants and ministers

“These offers for support were passed to procurement teams for assessment and ministers had no involvement in any procurement decisions.

“The Procurement Bill will allow for faster competition processes for emergency buying, reducing the reliance on direct awards while improving our ability to act at pace in situations similar to the Covid pandemic.”

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