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Covid: 50 firms got VIP fast-track equipment contracts

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The government has named 50 companies given fast-track “VIP” contracts to supply protective equipment after the outbreak of Covid-19.

Eighteen were nominated by Conservative politicians, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) data shows.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock were among those involved.

VIP contracts were introduced as the NHS struggled for masks, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.

The government directly awarded contracts worth billions of pounds to companies offering to supply personal protective equipment (PPE), which would usually be opened to competing bids.

A “High Priority Lane” was set up, allowing MPs, ministers and senior officials to pass on offers of help from suppliers and others to a special email inbox.

The information on the firms chosen for VIP contracts follows a freedom-of-information request by the Good Law Project campaign group.

It shows that Mr Hancock referred four companies – Excalibur Healthcare, JD.COM, Monarch Acoustics Ltd and Nine United Ltd.

Mr Shapps referred Eyespace Eyewear, while the Office of the Duchy of Lancaster, at that point overseen by Michael Gove, referred two firms – Liaoning Zhongquiao Overseas Exchange Co Ltd and Meller Design Ltd.

The then education minister Lord Agnew – who now works in the Cabinet Office – referred three companies – Euthenia Investments Ltd, Uniserve Ltd and Worldlink Resource.

Conservative MPs Andrew Percy, Steve Brine, Julian Lewis, Esther McVey also referred firms, as did fellow Tories Lord Leigh, Baroness Mone, Lord Chadlington and Lord Deighton.

And Dominic Cummings, then the prime minister’s chief adviser, referred Global United Trading.

A fast-track system to get much needed supplies to the front line or a short cut to lucrative contracts with minimal oversight?

The truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle.

Ministers make no apology for allowing MPs, businesses and the civil service to recommend PPE suppliers during a national emergency.

The government may hope the publication of this information proves they are prepared to be transparent.

But politicians from any party other than the Conservatives are conspicuous by their absence on the list of those whose suggestions resulted in a contract.

Whatever the reasons for that, it allows Labour and others to again accuse the government of doing favours for its friends.

Good Law Project director Jo Maugham said: “We really need to be looking at the process whereby so many friends of the Conservative Party came to benefit from vast, and vastly profitable, contracts.

“How did so many come to understand that there were contracts there for the taking?”

The DHSC said that, in March last year, when the crisis struck, global demand for PPE had “skyrocketed”, while supplies were limited.

It added: “It was essential that government adapted its approach to sourcing PPE for health and social care frontline workers, moving extremely quickly where necessary and taking carefully considered risks with new suppliers where appropriate, in order to secure vital supplies in the teeth of stiff competition all around the world.

“To save lives, we focused our efforts, resources and attention on sourcing PPE.” the DHSC said.

“We continue to stand by the efforts we made at the height of the early pandemic to prioritise and protect our staff in the front line.”

Source: BBC

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