Labour calls for transparency on Covid contract links

26 April 2021

Labour has called on the UK government to publish all links between ministers and firms that have been awarded emergency contracts during the Covid-19 pandemic in a row over transparency. 

Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said answering questions surrounding the procurement of critical goods and services grows “more pressing by the day as stories of cronyism and sleaze continue to mount”.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Reeves asked: “Given the prime minister’s recent commitment to publishing communications with other business leaders, will you require all other ministers in government to publish, openly and with full transparency, communications between them and those businesses who have won contracts since the pandemic begun and emergency procurement was introduced?”

Reeves also asked whether the government would publish “full details of the VIP fast lane, including the companies listed, and transparently put forward any links to Conservative friends and donors, real or perceived conflicts of interest, for proper scrutiny”.

The government has found its emergency procurement of PPE under scrutiny since the pandemic began. Last year, the National Audit Office said PPE suppliers with political links were 10 times more likely to win contracts.

Reeves cited evidence provided as part an ongoing High Court legal battle between the Good Law Project and Department of Health and Social Care over PPE procurement. 

“This hearing… found that not only were basic checks missing, but that companies without the proper certification jumped the queue because of the tip-offs they received, which put them in the VIP fast lane in the first place,” she said.

“Equally perplexing are the revelations from one official complaining the procurement team was ‘drowning’ in high priority requests, without the correct certification or due diligence.”

She added: “Knowing how exposed some of our frontline staff were during the height of the pandemic without proper PPE, and also with the knowledge that £2 billion worth of contracts have been handed to Conservative friends and donors, means there are new serious questions for government, especially given your long-term rejection of Labour’s call to publish details of all the companies in the VIP fast lane.”

She added: “I am sure you also appreciate that these revelations are creating a growing impression that there is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for the rest of the British public.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government issued a public call to action to support the increased requirements of PPE, resulting in over 24,000 offers of support from over 15,000 suppliers. 

“These offers were prioritised based on volume, price, meeting clinical standards and the time required to deliver those items. All leads, no matter from what channel, went through the same eight step process, including quality checks, price controls and other due diligence.”

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