‘High Profile’ Government ContactsGiven Priority in PPE ProcurementLeaked Documents Reveal
Questions should be asked about “whether politically connected ‘VIPs’ benefitted from lucrative inside information”, says the director of the Good Law Project, which was handed the documents
The Government put measures in place for “high profile” contacts to receive special treatment in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), leaked documents appear to reveal.
The Good Law Project has been handed internal Government directives related to the treatment of PPE suppliers. In one section, it is stated that “high profile contacts require a rapid response and managing through the process”. This line of communication is therefore handled by the Government’s “High Priority Appraisals Team”, the document suggests.
Byline Times has revealed that PPE contracts worth at least £526.3 million have been awarded to companies with links to the Conservative Party and many of these could well have been managed through the above, expedited system.
The leaked documents also appear to reveal that the Government does not have structures in place to scrutinise inflated prices from suppliers. A screenshot of a policy document suggests that the Government asks suppliers to list their prices in relation to the per-unit industry average. “If greater than 25% variation, explanation why price achieved is reasonable to be provided, [sic] explain why prepayment is necessary, [sic] action to reduce is taken”.
It is therefore implied that, if the PPE is still costed above the average industry rate, yet by no more than 25%, no action will be taken by the Government. Byline Times has not seen the full document so this could be addressed elsewhere. However, it would seem strange not to be included in this section.
This is particularly important given the Government’s budget for the procurement of PPE during the pandemic stands at £13.8 billion. Very few of the contracts have also gone to competitive tender, meaning that multiple firms could not compete on price for the same deal.
“The information that Government would buy at 25% above the price paid to ‘regular’ suppliers was a licence to make enormous margins,” says Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project. “There are certainly questions to be asked about whether other politically connected ‘VIPs’ benefitted from lucrative inside information about pricing”.
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As covered extensively by Byline Times, many of the deals awarded to private sector companies by the Government have been strange, to say the least. Deals worth millions of pounds have been awarded to a small luxury packaging company, a 44 day-old firm, a dormant company with one director, a lifestyle firm with no trading history, a hotel carpeting company, and a fashion designer based in Miami.
Yet, despite these questionable contracts, the Government has been intransigent to scrutiny, dodging written questions from opposition MPs, and only releasing sparse information about the deals.
Judging by these new details exposed by the Good Law Project, the Government perhaps feels that it has plenty to hide.
“These disturbing new findings confirm suspicions that this Tory Government put the profits of its friends and donors above the interests of frontline workers,” says Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves. “Labour has previously called for an investigation from the National Audit Office into this Government’s strange procurement decisions – it is vital this new evidence is included.”
The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.