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Latest 22 April 2021

Explosive emails show how the Government’s VIP lane caused chaos in PPE procurement

Explosive emails revealed in a hearing on our legal challenge over direct awards of PPE contracts show civil servants raising the alarm that they were “drowning in VIP requests” from political connections that do not have “the correct certification or pass due diligence”.

One email shows a civil servant warning that when VIPs “jump to the front of the queue it then has a knock on effect to the remaining offers of help.”

For ordinary people the pandemic was a tragedy. But for well-connected VIPs it was the chance of a lifetime – huge fortunes were up for grabs. What this civil servant is saying is that it became more of a tragedy because so many VIPs – overwhelmingly introduced by Ministers – were interfering with civil servants’ ability to purchase the PPE needed by healthcare workers on the frontline.

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Remember Ayanda, the company linked to Liz Truss, fast-tracked through the VIP Lane – who supplied £155m worth of unusable face masks to the NHS frontline? This email shows Ayanda threatening to escalate their bid to ministerial level and another includes a civil servant warning of the Ayanda deal “the bar seems to have been lowered on this one.”

This is the cost of cronyism – good administration suffers, efficient buying of PPE suffers.

Government has been doing everything it can to keep a lid on the names of VIP contacts and those responsible for putting them in the VIP lane. We went to Court today, along with our co-claimants EveryDoctor, to try and force them to disclose this information.

So far, Government has provided partial and incoherent evidence, heavily redacted. And key items are missing from the evidence we’ve received – in particular no Whatsapp messages, text messages, file notes or submissions to ministers are included. If ministers were pushing civil servants to prioritise PPE contracts to politically connected suppliers, then this information is highly relevant to the case.

The Judge agreed that the identity of an individual can be relevant and should be publicly available if they were involved in the procurement or had a significant role to play in decision-making, in particular on companies referred to the VIP Lane. But has said we will need to ask for specific disclosure of details on specific documents.

We’ll be back in Court next week with that application. The fight for truth and transparency continues.

You can read our skeleton argument in Court today in full.

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