UK government under growing pressure over Covid procurement

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The UK government faces growing calls to release details of a VIP fast lane for emergency procurement contracts related to its pandemic response after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was found to have acted unlawfully.

A high court judge ruled on Friday that the failure to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.

Related: Matt Hancock acted unlawfully by failing to publish Covid contracts

Last year, ministers and officials refused to admit which companies were awarded multimillion-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections.

A report by the National Audit Office said a government unit, set up to procure PPE in a highly unusual departure from standard procurement practice, established the high-priority lane to deal with leads “from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”.

Almost 500 companies given high priority due to such connections secured contracts to supply PPE with 10 times the success rate of nearly 15,000 companies that were not given enhanced attention.

Labour stepped up its criticism of the government on Saturday, led by deputy leader Angela Rayner who said the government must “come clean” over £2bn in funds awarded to “donors and cronies”, adding: “This is public money, the public has a right to know.”

The shadow chancellor to the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, tweeted: “How much further does this have to go before this government cleans up its contracting? Publish outstanding contracts and details of the VIP fast lane now.”

The shadow health minister, Rosena Allin-Khan, tweeted: “Tory donors were given VIP PPE contracts. The price government paid for PPE increased 1,400%. Many orders were unusable or inadequate, but refunds were not given.”

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Source: The Guardian

Author: Mattha Busby