Like Pigs to the Trough…
The government broke the law by prioritising a pest control firm and a private equity firm with political connections for lucrative COVID contracts, the High Court ruled today.
The government’s use of a so-called VIP lane to award PPE contracts to two companies during the first COVID wave was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.
The legal challenge, brought by the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor, focused on just a few of the contracts awarded under the scheme.
Some £1.7bn worth of contracts to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) were awarded through the scheme during the first wave of the pandemic.
They took legal action over more than £340m in contracts awarded in 2020 to pest control firm PestFix and a contract worth around £252m to the hedge fund Ayanda Capital.
The High Court was told the VIP lane for PPE contracts was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials, as the Department for Health – under-then Health Secretary Matt Hancock – had “prioritised suppliers including PestFix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not what they could deliver”.
The department contested the claim, telling the court it “wholeheartedly” rejected the case against it and that the VIP lane was rational and resulted in a “large number of credible offers” in an environment where PPE deals often failed within “minutes”.
Mrs Justice O’Farrell said that it was unlawful to give the two companies preferential treatment on the basis of being part of the VIP lane.
The Court noted that the overwhelming majority by value of the product supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda could not be used in the NHS.
An independent investigation by the BBC has also revealed issues with the product supplied by Clandeboye which were not disclosed to the High Court. Good Law Project believes that the Government misled the Court and is in correspondence with lawyers for the Secretary of State.
The Judge found that, even though Pestfix and Ayanda received unlawful preferential treatment via the VIP lane, they would likely have been awarded contracts anyway. The Judge also refused to allow publication of how much money was wasted by the Government’s failure to carry out technical assurance on the PPE supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda
The judge also found that “sufficient financial due diligence” was carried out in respect of both sets of contracts.
Never again should any government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors
Dr Julia Grace Patterson, the chief executive of EveryDoctor, said: “We brought the government to court because NHS staff and other frontline workers were woefully unsupported and unprotected by this government.
“Many were provided with no PPE, and many died. The government must never again be allowed to conduct themselves in this manner during a national healthcare crisis.”
In a statement, the director of the Good Law Project, Jo Maugham, said: “Never again should any government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.”
A spokesman for Mr Hancock welcomed the decision.
“We are delighted that the Department for Health has won this case, as the court found that the priority treatment was ‘justified’ and rightly refused to grant any rectification for the way PPE was urgently bought in the height of the crisis.
“At the time, a huge number of people were doing everything they could to get PPE to the front line as fast as possible in a national emergency.
“As the National Audit Office has confirmed, ministers had no involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.
“The department was doing the best it possibly could within the rules to respond to an unprecedented situation, and crucially, the court has rightly found that action was justified and absolutely no rectification or further action is necessary.”
The ruling shows this was an unlawful channelling of public money into the hands of Tory friends, family and donors