‘VIP lane’ for PPE contracts bigger than government admits, says campaign group

Good Law Project reveals leaked documents showing that another 18 companies referred to as ‘VIPs’

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 08 February 2022 22:03 GMT
<p>Medical staff wearing PPE on NHS ward (Victoria Jones/PA)</p>

Medical staff wearing PPE on NHS ward (Victoria Jones/PA)

The list of companies given “VIP” treatment for Covid contracts is even larger than Boris Johnson’s government has admitted, a legal campaign group has claimed.

In November, the government shared a list of 50 companies fast-tracked for contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) through a “High Priority Lane”.

The so-called “VIP lane” was set up at the start of the pandemic and allowed MPs, ministers and senior government officials to pass on offers of help to a special email inbox.

The Good Law Project has said it had been leaked internal documents showing that another 18 companies – awarded almost £1bn in PPE contracts between them – were also referred to as “VIPs”.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson denied that these companies had been referred to government officials through the High Priority Lane route.

But Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said it was “abundantly clear” from both a DHSC document and internal emails that these companies were treated as VIPs in the process of handing out contracts.

“None of the contracts were subject to competition,” Mr Maugham said – arguing that the government “misled” the National Audit Office about the size of the “VIP lane”.

The list of 18 companies complied by the Good Law Project was taken from a DHSC spreadsheet entitled ‘Product_VIP_Atamis’, the campaign group revealed on Tuesday.

The Good Law Project said the companies may not have been aware they were referred to as “VIPs”. There is no suggestion the companies were involved in any wrongdoing.

The health department said the “VIP” designation was used for labelling purposes, but does not mean these offers were prioritised via the high-priority route.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “It is inaccurate to claim that all of these companies were referred by the High Priority Lane route.”

“The purpose of the High Priority Lane was to efficiently prioritise credible offers of PPE, and our efforts have helped deliver over 17.5 billion items of PPE to the frontline to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic.”

The Independent understands one of companies on the list of 18 referred to as a “VIP” should have been included in the High Priority Lane list, and the health department is updating its list.

It follows accusations that the government “wasted” billions on unusable PPE and buying kit at inflated prices, after a report revealed the huge scale of losses.

The department of health’s annual accounts report revealed that £8.7bn spent on PPE last year had been written off – admitting to a “significant loss of value to the taxpayer”.

Around £2.6bn was spent on PPE “not suitable for use in the NHS”. But the DHSC attributed the biggest losses to the value of its remaining stock being slashed by £4.7bn as the price of PPE dropped.

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