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Ministers Accused Of "Cronyism" For Refusing Six Times To Release Details Of "High-Priority" PPE Suppliers

Ministers have refused to reveal the details of firms given high-priority access

3 min read

Labour has hit out at the government after they refused for the sixth time to reveal the names of companies given priority access to PPE contracts.

The shadow cabinet office minister has demanded the government "urgently publish" the details of firms given priority accesss to contracts because of their political ties.

In November, the National Audit Office concluded that companies with connections to Conservative MPs, peers, advisers and senior NHS staff were given access to a "high priority" lane which significantly improved their chances of winning contracts.

The watchdog found that one in ten of those companies placed into the fast track lane were awarded contracts, compared to one in 100 firms who applied through the normal process.

And in a report earlier this week from the Public Accounts Committee, MPs revealed that around £1.7bn of procurement contracts were awarded through the VIP channel.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to reveal the full details of the companies awarded contracts claiming they fall under commercial sensitivity.

But speaking at Cabinet Office questions in the Commons, Reeves said ministers had already declined five Parliamentary Questions tabled by her party asking for more details on the process.

She said: "So many contracts delivered PPE that couldn't be used on the frontline...If you were able to get on this VIP fast lane you were ten times more likely more likely to be awarded the contract leading to Pestfix and the Health Secretary's pub landlord."

She added: "If it is honestly about what you know, rather than who you know, then when will the government publish the details of who was on the fast lane and how they got there.

But Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: "It is the case that the Cabinet Office and the whole of government moved as quickly as we could to ensure those on the frontline received the equipment they needed...

"Every single firm that was recommended either to the Cabinet Office or the Department of Health and Social Care went through a rigorous policy to ensure they were capable of providing the equipment..."

Meanwhile, Reeves also hit out at Paymaster General Penny Mourdant after she told MPs in November that there was "no such thing" when questioned on the existence of a high priority lane.

In a statement after the Commons clash, Reeves said publishing the details would reassure the public that contracts were awarded on "what you know, not who you know".

"With cronyism concerns continuining to mount, this government must urgently publish the names of these companies to reassure the public that these contracts were awarded on the basis of what you know, not who you know," she said.

"Waste, cronyism and inefficacy has marred this government's pandemic procurement, but they seem in no hurry to change that.

"A Labour government would clean up this contracting and make sure procurement works for our public services and the British people."

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