A Gmail address was allegedly used to discuss contracts © Andrew Aitchison / In pictures via Getty Images
A Gmail address was allegedly used to discuss contracts © Andrew Aitchison / In pictures via Getty Images

Call for probe into 'VIP lane' for Covid test contracts

Labour is calling for an independent investigation amid allegations of a VIP lane for the awarding of Covid Test and Trace contracts.

The Good Law Project has published emails which it claims shows the existence of a “fast track for contacts of ministers” and that “VIP stakeholder engagement” was run from a private Gmail address.

One of the emails said: “If [offers] comes from a minister/private office then please put FASTTRACK at the beginning of the subject line.”

Labour has previously called on the UK government to publish full details of the VIP fast lane that was used in the controversial procurement of PPE. Last year, the National Audit Office said PPE suppliers with political links were 10 times more likely to win contracts.

The Good Law Project said: “The revelation that key elements of VIP Test and Trace procurement were conducted using a private Gmail address piles fuel on that [PPE fast lane] fire.

“How could civil servants monitor discussions between ministerial contacts and an industry secondee when they were taking place via private Gmail addresses?”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, referring to former health secretary Matt Hancock’s alleged use of a Gmail account to conduct government business, said: “This is yet more evidence of the endemic use of private emails across government, to agree contracts and hand out taxpayers’ money while avoiding scrutiny and accountability.

“We need a full and independent investigation into any VIP lane for testing contracts and the publication of all correspondence and contracts, showing who got them and how, and any connections they had to ministers or the Conservative Party.

“We also need the full and independent investigation that Labour has demanded into the use of private emails across government to get to the bottom of this shady practice.”

A government spokesperson said: “There was no ‘VIP lane’ for testing suppliers. This email has been taken out of context – all offers went through a triage process to undergo the same robust assurance checks.

“Any discussions relating to government business and testing offers were fed back to officials in the usual way and ministers aren’t involved in decisions around contracts. We take the impartiality and integrity of procurement processes extremely seriously.”

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