Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of having a 'lax attitude towards taxpayers' money' © Getty Images
Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of having a 'lax attitude towards taxpayers' money' © Getty Images

UK government accused of ‘spraying money’ at Covid contracts

12 November 2020

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has defended the private sector contracts awarded to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS, despite concerns over the transparency of the process. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there was a “real question” about the way government contracts were being awarded, about “basic transparency and accountability”. He accused the government of having a “lax attitude towards taxpayers' money”.

Speaking during prime minister's questions, Starmer highlighted a contract worth £150m which was awarded to investment firm Ayanda Capital to deliver face masks. Starmer said “not a single face mask” was delivered as part of the contract.

Starmer said the Ayanda contract was “not an isolated example”. 

He said: “We already know that consultants are being paid £7,000 a day to work on test and trace, and a company called Randox has been given a contract without process for £347m. That’s the same company that had to recall 750,000 unused Covid tests earlier this summer on safety grounds.

“There’s a sharp contrast between the way the government sprays money at companies that don't deliver and their reluctance to provide long-term support to businesses and working people at the sharp end of this crisis.” 

Johnson responded: “It’s been necessary to work with the private sector, with manufacturers, to provide equipment such as this. Some of them more effectively than others. 

“But it’s the private sector that in the end makes the PPE. It’s the private sector that provides the testing equipment and it’s the private sector, that no matter how much the party opposite may hate them, that provides the vaccines and the scientific breakthroughs.”

The procurement of pandemic-related contracts has come under fire with both MPs and lords questioning the way direct awards have been used “in the great majority of cases”. 

Earlier this year, Labour MP Rushanara Ali asked the prime minister to answer questions on the Ayanda contract. Ali said the government had “abandoned the need for basic checks and due diligence with the public footing the bill”.

Tim Horlick, CEO of Ayanda Capital, said a report by The Times had been incorrect “to state that the masks supplied are ‘unusable’ or that ‘there are concerns that they cannot be fixed securely’”.

In a letter to the newspaper Horlick said: “At no point has anyone in government or DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] ever suggested to Ayanda that the masks are unusable, do not meet the required standards or are unsafe in any way.”

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