Boris Johnson has boasted he is “proud” of the disastrous way officials supplied PPE protective kit during the pandemic. It came after a damning investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) parliamentary watchdog found firms with political connections were ten times more likely to win contracts.
Almost 500 firms with links to “government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals” were handed contracts.
They included companies connected to senior ministers in the Johnson cabinet and a company that helped the Conservative general election campaign in 2019.
The government gave away around £18 billion of coronavirus-related contracts during the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than half of those contracts—worth some £10.5 billion—were handed out without the usual bidding process.
The government set up a “high-priority lane” to “process potential PPE leads” from politicians and state bureaucrats. They included “government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”.
The NAO found “one in ten suppliers processed through the high-priority lane obtained contracts compared to less than one in a hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane”.
While fewer than 250 sources for the “leads” were recorded, the majority came from Tory MPs. Some 144 “came from the private offices of ministers”. This included “referrals from MPs who had gone to ministers with a possible manufacturer in their constituency”. And “where private individuals had written to the minister or the private office with offers of help”.
One of the biggest contracts—worth more than £250 million—was awarded to Ayanda Capital Ltd “following a referral by an NHS official”. At the time Ayanda’s senior adviser was also an adviser to the Board of Trade, an agency run by Tory international trade secretary Liz Truss.
On top of Tory politicians, some “64 leads were direct from MPs or members of the House of Lords not in government”.
These saw leads from state bureaucrats, including “21 leads were from officials, such as a Department of International Trade network that was looking for sources worldwide”. “The private office of the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health & Social Care”—a senior civil servant—was also in on the game.
And “these leads had been pre-sifted for credibility by being referred by a senior credible source”.
The problem went beyond contracts for PPE protective kit—and included firms that began work before the official start date of a contract.
The Cabinet Office handed a contract worth up to £1.5 million to Topham Guerin for “publicity campaign coordination” on 7 May. But, the report found, the company had started on 17 March “without evidence of documented requirements prior to the work beginning”.
Topham Guerin was part of the Tory party’s online strategy during the general election campaign in 2019.
The outsourcing corruption during the pandemic is a symptom of privatisation, which puts millions into the hands of private firms.
The scandal shows there is plenty of money to fund the NHS, social care, other public services and working class people’s needs. It’s just in the wrong hands—and we should take it out away from the Tories’ rich friends and bosses.