Government used exclusive WhatsApp group to give ‘VIP’ CEOs info about PPE deals
The Government used an exclusive WhatsApp group to give “VIP” company CEOs information about its PPE requirements, a court has been told.
A High Court judge today ordered Matt Hancock to hand over texts and WhatsApp messages about lucrative Covid-19 contracts.
The Good Law Project has been pursuing the government in the High Court to reveal details of the ‘VIP’ fast lane for Covid contracts.
The High Court said the Government should carry out additional searches for:
(1) texts and WhatsApp messages for some selected civil servants; and
(2) instructions, directions and decisions by Ministers in respect of the establishment, selection and criteria of the VIP lane.
It also said that the Government should supply details of the advice given by Emily Lawson in relation to FFP2 facemasks.
Evidence brought up in court today suggests the government used a WhatsApp group of 200 company CEOs to “provide special communications (apparently unavailable to other suppliers) about its forecast PPE requirements.”
The existence of the group was revealed for the first time today, in a meeting agenda from last April, disclosed to the court by the Government.
It reads: “[Redacted] to connect with [Redacted] and confirm preferred way forward to sharing communications with CEOs and CPOs (Chief product officers)
“Note: There is a WhatsApp group with [circa] 200 CEO and this is informal way to communicate. There is also a separate channel to CPOs)”
A second group included purchasing officers of the firms.
But Government lawyers have so far failed to disclose any text or instant messages to the court.
Today the court ordered Mr Hancock to search for and disclose “texts and WhatsApp messages for some selected civil servants.”
The Government were also ordered to pay the Good Law Project’s legal costs.
A spokesperson for the Project said: “We believe we are left in a position of being unable fairly to interrogate and challenge the account given by Government in its evidence.”
Cashing in on Covid: More names added to the list.
The Good Law Project today revealed the names of four more companies awarded contracts through the VIP lane: Clandeboye Agencies, P14 Medical, Luxe Lifestyle and Meller Designs.
- P14 Medical, run by a Tory councillor and donor, was awarded £276m in PPE contracts.
- Meller Designs, run by David Meller a large Tory donor and trustee of the rightwing lobby group Policy Exchange, was given more than £160m in PPE contracts.
- Luxe Lifestyle was awarded a £26m contract despite appearing to be insolvent and without any employees.
- And Clandeboye Agencies whose registered trade on Companies House is “wholesale of sugar, chocolate and sugar confectionery” was awarded £108m in PPE contracts (see page 73 and following). We should say that the Government says Clandeboye was not in the VIP lane – but its own internal documents tell a different story.
These four are in addition to Ayanda, which enjoyed a £252m deal negotiated by Liz Truss adviser Andrew Mills. And Pestfix which won approximately £350m in contracts despite being described by Government as a company “which specialises in pest control products, that was dormant in 2018” (see page 73). There remain a further 41 firms yet to be revealed.
Good Law Project can also reveal that of the nine contracts the subject of the judicial review – one with Ayanda, two with Clandeboye and six with Pestfix – five or possibly six of them have failed in the sense that some or all of the PPE provided under them has proved unfit for its intended purpose (see page 2). Hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds – spent with these three suppliers alone – have been wasted. It is inconceivable that this is the only waste. Moreover, the documents disclose that Pestfix and Matt Hancock are “in legal dispute” (see page 176).
In relation to Ayanda, civil servants were afraid of losing the contract with Ayanda because Andrew Mills “has close ties to DIT so wouldn’t be a good outcome” (see page 188), were concerned that Andrew Mills “is using previous relationships and making noise that we are not responsive” (page 190), and “Andrew comes through as highly backed as he sits on the board for DIT – so I don’t want things being escalated” (page 191).
The court heard last week that civil servants had complained they were “drowning” in requests for companies with links to politicians and senior officials wanting to “jump the queue” for lucrative PPE contracts.
Government staff warned that fast-tracking firms “has a knock on effect to the remaining offers of help”, according to emails revealed in court.