Transport secretary Grant Shapps referred a company that was awarded a  $1.8m PPE contract © Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Transport secretary Grant Shapps referred a company that was awarded a $1.8m PPE contract © Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Grant Shapps defends his role in procurement 'VIP lane'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
19 November 2021

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has defended himself after he referred a company through the procurement “high-priority lane” that went on to win a $1.8m personal protective equipment (PPE) contract.

Shapps is on a new list of 50 names who made referrals through the high-priority lane, published by the government after a list of 47 names was leaked.

According to the list Shapps referred Eyespace Eyewear through the lane, which was awarded a contract to provide goggles.

The leaked list showed contracts worth £1.6bn were awarded following referrals by 10 Conservative politicians, according to the Good Law Project.

Shapps told BBC R4’s Today programme: “I discovered that one of the companies happens to be by chance a constituent of mine, not somebody I have ever spoken to, emailed me asking where they could send their information to.

“I did exactly what every MP had been asked to do, which we were given an email address in government to forward it to. I forwarded it and the first I heard was actually yesterday (Thursday 18 November) that they had been involved in giving any of the provision.

“All I did was ask the Cabinet Office where emails should be forwarded to. That was the same that every MP was able to do and you’re supposed as an MP when your constituents approach you, your job is to represent your constituents and constituency. So what you do is forward it on. It then has to go through a proper process. Ministers, MPs have nothing to do with it from there. As far as I understand things this was all run by the civil service.”

Following the outbreak of the pandemic the government introduced emergency procurement measures that meant normal tendering procedures could be bypassed.

Labour’s shadow paymaster general Jack Dromey has written to the Crown Commercial Service to ask why the emergency rules have yet to be rescinded, according to The Guardian.

“Following recent revelations regarding the awarding of public contracts during the pandemic and the role of cabinet ministers in this process, I am concerned that such inadequate procurement processes should not be allowed to continue. While coronavirus remains an ongoing threat to the health and wellbeing of the country, the exceptional circumstances of last March are no longer apparent,” Dromey said in the letter.

“I would therefore be grateful if you could confirm if official guidance continues to allow for emergency procurement procedures, and if so, what justification there is for this guidance and when will it be withdrawn?”

The government said it was publishing the high-priority list “as a measure of our commitment to openness about procurement processes during the pandemic”.

“This was an entirely new approach to government procurement – we were inviting industry to come to us: opening up fresh sources of supply that we could rapidly vet as being technically, legally and commercially compliant in order to secure product in the rapidly-moving global market for PPE,” said the government.

The National Audit Office previously said firms referred through the high-priority lane were 10 times more likely to win contracts.

In October the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled the government must publish the names of companies that went through the high-priority lane following a freedom of information request by the Good Law Project.

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