Government must name firms in PPE fast lane

25 October 2021

The UK government must disclose which companies were assigned to a ‘VIP lane’ for contracts at the height of the Covid-19 crisis last year


The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ruled that the UK government must reveal the names of the 47 companies allowed to bypass procurement processes to bid for £12.5bn worth of contracts.  

 

To date the government had refused to name any of the businesses on the list, which competed to provide urgently needed PPE, including masks, gloves and gowns. 

 

This refusal came despite the National Audit Office’s statement that those placed on the list due to connections with politicians and senior officials were 10 times more likely to win contracts in the early months of the pandemic.

 

Now, the ICO has given the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) 35 days to reveal the organisations after it failed to adequately deal with a freedom of information request submitted by campaign group The Good Law Project.

 

Initially submitted in January 2021, the government claimed it was not obliged to comply under section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

 

Section 43 normally provides exemptions for disclosing information if it is considered a ‘trade secret’, or if sharing information would prejudice the commercial interests of those organisations involved.

 

However, the ICO said: “The DHSC has not disclosed the requested information, nor advised the Commissioner that it considers it is otherwise exempt by virtue of another exemption. The DHSC has therefore failed to comply with its obligations under FOIA.

 

“The Commissioner also finds the DHSC in breach of section 1 and section 10 of the FOIA for failing to provide information to which the claimant was entitled.”

 

The Good Law Project said once it receives the information, it will publish all names on its website.

 

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “Cronyism carries a double cost. It empties the public purse into the pockets of friends of the government. And it leads to bad outcomes for public health.”

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