Matt Hancock’s mate ended up with a Covid contract. Did any of yours?

Matt Hancock cannot simply emerge on television in order to brown nose his way back to favour without expecting people to want answers about his time in office

Jess Phillips
Thursday 02 December 2021 18:41
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‘Did anybody else’s mates get contracts?’: Jess Phillips slams Matt Hancock over PPE

Matt Hancock has been on his comeback tour this week. He has clearly decided that five months is about the amount of time it takes for people to be ready to once again love a man who broke his own public health laws in order to cheat on his wife.

If, heaven forbid, I had done such a thing to my family and the country, there is absolutely no way I would ever have the brass neck to do anything but hide in my office writing hundreds of “it’s been a tough year” Christmas cards. I am a woman, you see, and had I presided over the kind of failures in the pandemic, not to mention the personal discrepancies, that Matt Hancock did, well, it would be curtains.

Perhaps it is the return of Covid restrictions that has brought the ex-health secretary back from the wilderness. After all, if anyone knows about “too little, too late”, it’s Matt Hancock.

The government is once again staring down the barrel of a tough winter for an over-stretched, under-resourced NHS, which has a new variant to contend with. So those in charge have decided that listening to Sage when they say, for example, that travellers should take pre-departure tests before arriving in the UK, is not necessary. A government obsessed with borders has failed once again to use nature’s sea defence as a tool. I have a funny sense of deja vu.

Matt Hancock says ‘I’d blown up every part of my life’ over aide kiss

Sajid Javid, the current health secretary, is probably pleased Matt Hancock has taken it upon himself to go out and defend the government’s every move. But the trouble with Hancock being out on the airwaves is that his presence serves as a reminder of what happened 18 months ago, when the government appears to have been pretty generous to their associates with contracts for ventilators, PPE and testing equipment.

I suspect there are plenty of local pub landlords who could tell a story or two about their MP. Matt Hancock’s local pub landlord receiving a £40m contract to produce something he had never produced before to aid the pandemic efforts does raise a few eyebrows, however.

Full disclosure: I was in touch with my local pub landlord during the pandemic, as it is a music venue and was applying for some of the arts sustainability funding that was available. I offered my local pub and other Birmingham venues letters of support in their bids. I was not paid a single penny in return for this service and in fact have not received so much as a pint.

The PPE/pub landlord story is one that everyone now knows; greater people than me have done huge amounts of work to look into the contracts, so I will not cover the same ground. What has irritated me this week is that, while I was on ITV’s Peston with Matt Hancock, he saw fit to explain away how contracts were given out with the overused ministerial head tilt, forced sincerity, and soft voiced exclamation. Yes, all they were trying to do was save lives. Yes, corners were cut. And yes, we cannot remember what happened in the meetings where we gave Randox a £600m contract because it was stressful, people were dying.

This grinds my gears because of the shameful two tier system in which this played out during the pandemic. The pub landlords and charities in my constituency, desperate to survive or to help other people survive, had to go through huge amounts of rigour to receive even a couple of grand from government schemes. Domestic abuse charities, which were literally overrun, had to apply to three or four different departments, all with monitoring forms and due diligence, at the same time as staffing the phone lines and answering their front doors to rape victims who had managed to escape.

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Incidentally, the Randox contract is more than five times the amount the government has allocated to fund refuge accommodation for a whole year. Matt Hancock’s landlord’s contract of £40m is also pretty generous, considering that the crisis funding for all adult and child victims of domestic and sexual abuse in the country through the pandemic, when abuse soared, was only £76m. Bear in mind, there were 1.4 million domestic abuse-related incidents reported to the police last year. I guess we value some things more than others.

I have email trails from companies in my Birmingham constituency that had ventilators and PPE begging to provide them to the UK government. I spent hours feverishly trying to get them into a desperate system but completely failed. Perhaps if I had been better pals with Matt Hancock, it would have been easier.

Matt Hancock cannot simply emerge on television in order to brown nose his way back to favour without expecting people to want answers about his time in office. He obviously denies any wrongdoing that hasn’t been captured on CCTV, but it just leaves me wondering why none of my mates ended up with Covid contracts. Matt’s did. Did any of yours?

Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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