Labour is calling for an investigation into claims of a “VIP lane” for coronavirus testing contracts after documents emerged suggesting bids from companies with political connections were fast tracked.
A senior civil servant advised ministers in an email in April last year to write “FASTTRACK” on any offers they received for testing kits, according to documents revealed by the Good Law Project.
The emails were disclosed by the campaign group as part of its legal challenge against the government over personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts.
The Good Law Project says millions of pounds of equipment was purchased in April and May 2020 without proper technical checks, at inflated prices, as a result of contracts provided through a “VIP lane.”
The email to ministers shows they were told to forward requests from those who wanted to supply tests to a dedicated email address, where they would be “triaged.”
The message added, “If they come from a minister/private office then please put FASTTRACK at the beginning of the subject line.”
A government spokesperson said the claims were “completely false” and there was no separate fast track process for offers of COVID-19 testing.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said, “We need a full and independent investigation into any VIP lane for testing contracts and the publication of all correspondence and contracts, showing who got them and how, and any connections they had to ministers or the Conservative Party.”
Last November, the public spending watchdog published a report that criticised the way normal standards of transparency had been set aside during pandemic procurement.
The National Audit Office said firms recommended by MPs, peers, and ministers’ offices were given priority as the government sought to find supplies of masks, gloves, and aprons when the pandemic hit in the spring.
The High Court ruled earlier this year that the government had unlawfully failed to publish details of coronavirus-related contracts worth billions following a legal challenge by the Good Law Project.
The campaign group took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care for its “wholesale failure” to disclose details of contracts agreed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A government spokesperson said: “These claims are completely false—there was no high priority lane for testing suppliers.
“All offers of testing went through the same robust assurance checks and there was no separate ‘fast track process’.
“Any discussions relating to government business were fed back to officials in the usual way and we take the impartiality and integrity of government procurement processes extremely seriously.
“The response that came from suppliers to the government’s call to arms last spring has played an integral role in establishing the UK as a testing powerhouse by building up the largest diagnostic network in British history.”
By Emma Bowden