The government has refused to publish a list of companies that benefited from being put in the ‘high-priority’ lane for Covid-19 contract work. It has also refused to reveal who were the individuals that recommended the companies be put in that lane.
The ‘high-priority’ lane was revealed by the National Audit Office in its report published at the end of November about procurement of PPE during the pandemic. Companies were put in this lane if they had been recommended by government ministers, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals. The NAO found that about one in ten suppliers processed through this high-priority lane obtained contracts compared to less than one in a hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane.
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger asked in the House of Lords whether the government intended to publish “a list of all companies who were contracted to supply PPE as a result of the high-priority lane” and if the name of the person who recommended the company would be published.
The answer from Lord Bethell, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was a resounding no, giving the reason for this as commercial implications.
Lord Strasburger told the Guardian that he was not satisfied with the government’s reason for its refusal to disclose the names of the companies. He said “It looks to me as if the government doesn’t want taxpayers to know which companies were given preferential treatment, often at the expense of more proven competitors. They also don’t want us to know which minister or MP was able to slip these companies into the fast lane and what their connection is with the company.”
Lord Strasburger called for a full independent enquiry into how the contracts were awarded.
This refusal to reveal the companies and who recommended them adds to the idea that there is something being hidden from taxpayers. Already contracts have come to light which seem to imply that political links meant that companies that had no relevant experience got awards
The latest discovered by The Guardian is an ex-neighbour of Matt Hancock’s being awarded a £30 million contract to make test-tubes, despite his company having no experience in this area. It seems that the company has been manufacturing them now for six months, but has only just received the certification needed so they can be used. The company owner first contacted Hancock to offer his services during the pandemic via WhatsApp in March.
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