Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The government confirms that 50 companies have benefited from the “VIP lane” for Covid PSA contracts

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More than a quarter of the companies that won a PSA contract were referred to the fast-track program by a Tory minister, MP or colleague

Fifty companies were awarded quick contracts to supply PPE during the pandemic, including 18 companies that were nominated by conservative politicians, according to documents from the Department of Health and Social Welfare (DHSC).

The government bowed to the pressure and released a highly anticipated list of companies on their so-called “VIP Lane” for Covid contracts last night, showing that MPs have helped sell various personal protective equipment (PPE) deals of £ 4.7 billion.

The list allowed ministers, MPs, lords and senior government officials to recommend companies that could help secure PPE for healthcare workers when Britain struggled to source equipment in the early days of the pandemic.

Newspapers had been pressuring the government for almost a year to publish the list of companies granted priority access to Covid contracts.

It comes after a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation into government procurement during the pandemic confirmed there was a “high priority route” for business.

The NAO stated that suppliers on the VIP list were ten times more likely to receive a PSA contract from the government than those who came through the normal route.

Conflict of interest and anti-fraud reviews were carried out in all cases.

Ministers such as Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove were among those recommending companies for priority access.

Mr Gove directed Meller Designs, a company owned by Tory donor David Meller until January this year, for priority access to PPE stores.

Meller Designs, a Bedford-based fashion and beauty company, won six supply contracts for PPE worth £ 164 million during the pandemic. Mr Meller has donated nearly £ 60,000 to the Conservative Party since 2009, including £ 3,250 to support Mr Gove’s 2016 party leadership candidacy for which the Conservative donor served as chairman of finance.

A spokesman for Meller Designs said the company was “extremely proud” of the role it played in supplying “more than 100 million items of PPE.”

Mr Gove’s spokesman denied the referral contained any inappropriateness, saying the cabinet minister simply passed offers to supply PPE.

Former Health Secretary Hancock recommended four companies to the VIP lane, including British company Excalibur Healthcare, Chinese tech giant JD.com, small furniture company Monarch Acoustics Ltd and Danish medical company Nine United Ltd for priority access to government contracts.

Meanwhile, Tory peer and former party leader Andrew Feldman made three recommendations that ended up in the fast lane, DHSC documents showed.

These included SG Recruitment, which won $ 79.6 million in PPE deals.

Mr Feldman said he had no prior knowledge of the companies or their relationship with their owners, and that his unpaid job was to pass on credible offers to officials. He added that the companies had been referred to him by third parties.

But Labor has accused the government of giving priority to people with ties to the Tory party for million-pound contracts during the pandemic.

Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said the VIP list “shows how corrupt this government is”. She urged ministers to release “full details of every PPE and test contract” awarded to companies with conservative connections.

A government spokesman said: “At the height of the pandemic, there was an urgent need for PPE to protect health and social workers and the government has rightly taken swift and decisive action to ensure it.

I has asked Mr. Hancock for comment.

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