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Latest 26 June 2024

Carol Vorderman: The PPE scandal must be at the heart of the general election

By Carol Vorderman
InkheartX / Shutterstock

The Tories want to move on from the debacle over their unlawful VIP lane. We must hold them to account at the ballot box.

Sometimes the pandemic can feel like another country, a land of silent streets and empty supermarket shelves that we’re keen to forget. But Covid laid bare the cronyism at the heart of the outgoing Tory government, so we must make sure the PPE scandal is placed at the beating heart of the general election.

The pandemic began after 10 years of austerity had run down NHS stocks of PPE – the masks, gloves and gowns that doctors and nurses depend on to keep them safe when they’re helping patients struggling with infectious diseases. In April 2020, as the first wave hit, nurses were wearing bin bags and builders’ goggles to fight an unknown virus. GPs and care home workers were putting on masks made by Scout groups or donated by vets to care for desperate people. And hundreds of them paid with their lives.

As ministers scrambled to get hold of vital PPE, they opened a secret route for their friends and supporters to bag massive contracts – often for companies with no previous experience in medical supplies. The VIP lane put allies of government ministers and Tory donors at the front of the queue, a system which the High Court found was unlawful after Good Law Project challenged it in 2022.

Over the last year I’ve been working with Good Law Project, getting to the bottom of this scandal with a cache of previously-unpublished data. Michelle Mone has been the face of the PPE scandal for her brazen assault on the public purse and her elaborate attempts to cover it all up, but Mone is merely the tip of the iceberg.

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We’ve revealed that contracts signed through the VIP lane were much, much more expensive – on average about 80% more per unit than contracts from other suppliers. We’ve shown that nine companies who landed massive VIP lane contracts provided equipment worth £551m that was completely useless in the NHS, and then went on to build thriving businesses on this mountain of waste. And we’ve uncovered that, while the government dithered, eight VIP lane companies who supplied useless PPE worth £338m have shut up shop – meaning that this wasted money is unlikely to ever be recovered.

The Tory government spent more than £1bn through the VIP lane on PPE that was unusable, handing out fast-track contracts to their cronies behind closed doors. And then they spent more than £1bn storing this and other unused PPE, with the lion’s share of those contracts going to – you guessed it – a company referred on to the VIP lane by a Tory minister.

Over the past 14 years, the Tories have sunk to new lows, inflicting massive social, economic and cultural harm. The catalogue of privilege and incompetence surrounding PPE sums up this rotten government.

We must never forget the ministers who stood and clapped for key workers on the front steps of Downing Street while they ushered their pals in round the back. The Tories want to claim credit for the vaccine and the furlough scheme, but we must hang this outrageous scandal around their necks.

If Labour wins, Rachel Reeves has promised to appoint a Covid corruption commissioner. And that’s a promise she needs to keep.

The pandemic may sometimes seem a distant memory, but I’ll keep working with Good Law Project to hold whoever is in government to account. The billions wasted and the lives lost demand nothing less in return.