A tuberculosis vaccination campaign aimed at school children will benefit a controversial donor to the Labour Party, Opposition leaders claimed yesterday.
Powderject, the company owned by Paul Grayson, who donated £50,000 to Labour Party coffers in February, has the contract for the supply of the BCG vaccine for combatting TB. It follows an outcry after the disclosure that Mr Grayson's company won a contract to supply smallpox vaccine after he made an earlier donation of £50,000 to Labour. His company perfected an immunisation technique which is particularly attractive for treating children.
Defending the award of the contract, the Public Health minister, Yvette Cooper, said: "The contract was awarded to Powderject under European Union public procurement regulations. Powderject was the only manufacturer with a UK licence to supply the BCG vaccine at that time."
The Government will mount a BCG vaccination campaign in the autumn to make sure all children are immunised against TB. It follows fears that the disease could be making a comeback in this country after an outbreak in Leicester led to emergency health checks in the city's schools.
A shortage of the vaccine led to the suspension of routine immunisation against TB in schools in 1999. Some medical chiefs fear that has left gaps in the national protection against the disease. The national schools programme was resumed in March 2001 but Ms Cooper said it was still not being offered to schoolchildren in Oxford, Avon and the York and Selby area of Yorkshire.
Dr Liam Fox, the Tory spokesman on health, said: "There are increasing worries that changes in public policy are now rewarding Labour donors. We need to know what other sources of the TB vaccine are available, what the whole tendering process has been, and what the cost of obtaining the supplies is."
Labour is now in a funding crisis because businessmen have been put off by recent high-profile scandals. With debts and the cost of election campaigns running into millions, the party is anxious to keep high-value donors on board. But a Labour insider said yesterday: "A lot of people in industry, because the funding of political parties, now has to be declared to the Electoral Commission and because of the bad publicity other donors have suffered, are now worried."
Just days after Labour's annual gala dinner at the Park Lane Hilton Hotel, where a table for 10 cost £5,000, he said: "What they suffer in terms of public attack isn't worth £5,000." A spokesman for the Labour Party, however, insisted: "We were pleased with the levels of ticket sales. Numbers vary depending on the different places we hold it but people were feeling it was a successful event from that point of view."
The dinner's guest speaker, the actor Patrick Stewart, was joined by other celebrities including the singer Petula Clark, former cricket umpire Dickie Bird and the actor Kevin Whately.
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