Today [24 May 2021] in the High Court, Government’s lawyers set out their defence to our legal challenge over PPE contracts handed to “VIP” companies. Government claims that companies in the VIP Lane did not materially benefit from their special treatment and that it was simply a different route by which they could win contracts.
The evidence tells a different story.
Emails between officials reveal that companies with a political connection were given priority. A key member of the VIP Lane team wrote:
‘Speaking personally, I don’t want a middling VIP lead prioritised over a credible high priority lead any more than you do…However, if two leads are otherwise equal priority and one is VIP, some weighting to the VIP is helpful.’
In another exchange, an official set out how companies placed in the “VIP” Lane should be treated, explaining:
“Follow standard procedure, but take a little more time over correspondence, ‘hand-holding’ the supplier where necessary”. They followed up to say, ”Personally, I’ve found VIP cases require about three times the time of a standard case.”
What is perhaps most striking about Government’s defence of the “VIP” Lane is its apparent determination to keep quiet the details of the politically-connected beneficiaries - and which Ministers or senior officials referred them. When the National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog, investigated the award of PPE contracts, Government intervened to prevent it from revealing the names of companies in the “VIP” Lane.
If the Government really has nothing to hide, why doesn’t it just come clean?
Thanks to information uncovered through this litigation, we will be publishing details of a slew of other “VIPs” very shortly. Watch this space.
Director of Good Law Project
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