In the months following coronavirus hitting the UK in 2020, the government awarded thousands of contracts to private companies, spending billions of pounds of public money in the process.
They covered everything from masks, gowns and gloves, to services such as researching public opinion about the government’s Covid measures.
But rather than going through the usual competitive tendering process for such contracts – which can take months or even years – the government was allowed to go directly to a preferred supplier without any competition, speeding up the process.
A case is also going through the High Court – brought forward by the Good Law Project – arguing that several of these deals were handled as part of a so-called VIP lane, reserved for leads endorsed by government officials or politicians.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We have been dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic and our approach throughout has been to act quickly to save lives, and we make no apology for that.”
While the government had to award contracts at speed, “due diligence is carried out on every contract” and “ministers have no role in awarding them”, the spokesman said.
Number 10 said it is committed to transparency in procurement and notices of contracts awarded are published online.
‘Spread of sleaze’
Labour is now calling for all ministers to publish any communications they had with their business contacts or links who were awarded contracts over the pandemic under the emergency rules – as well as details of any firms who were part of the “VIP fast track”.
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, has written to her government counterpart, Michael Gove, saying there is “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”.
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