Government's PPE 'VIP lane' was UNLAWFUL, judges rule 

Government’s controversial ‘VIP lane’ that gave preferential treatment to pest control firm and hedge fund it handed £600m worth of PPE contracts was UNLAWFUL, judge rules

  • VIP lane was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials
  • Saw vast sums paid to pest control firm PestFix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital  
  • Judge said it was unlawful to give preferential treatment based on connections 
  • Also concluded tens of millions of pounds was wasted on unsuitable equipment  
  • The Government’s use of a so-called ‘VIP lane’ that gave preferential treatment to a pest control firm and a hedge fund to award them nearly £600million worth of PPE contracts was unlawful, the High Court ruled today.

    The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor took legal action over more than £340million in contracts given to PestFix and £252million handed to Ayanda Capital by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). 

    The High Court was told the VIP lane was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials, adding that DHSC ‘then prioritised suppliers including PestFix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not what they could deliver’.

    The groups argued that the use of the VIP lane gave an unfair, unlawful advantage to the companies, and that half of the £592m went on expensive equipment the NHS could not even use. 

    In her ruling today, Mrs Justice O’Farrell ruled that while the use of the so-called VIP lane – officially known as the High Priority Lane – was indeed unlawful, the contracts at the centre of the case would ‘very likely’ have been given without it.

    However, she accepted that there was ‘evidence that opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer’.

    And she also concluded that a large number of masks and other equipment supplied by PestFix and Ayanda were not suitable for NHS use – leading to tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being wasted. 

    The PPE 'VIP lane' was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials

    The PPE ‘VIP lane’ was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials 

    Discussing contracts given to pest control company PestFix, she said: ‘PestFix offered high volumes of a range of PPE items that were in urgent demand. It had an established business in sourcing PPE, plausible contacts with manufacturers…and could provide a logistical solution to transport the PPE from the manufacturers to the UK.

    ‘These skills, experience, contacts and credibility justified priority consideration of the high volume offers.

    ‘Regardless whether they were made through the portal and assessed by the opportunities team, or were assessed by the high priority lane team, it is very likely that the offers would have resulted in the award of the PestFix contracts.’

    The judge made similar findings in relation to the contract awarded to hedge fund Ayanda Capital. 

    The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had 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 later said DHSC’s evidence ‘establishes that presence on the high priority lane did not confer any advantage at the decision-making stage of the process’.

    She continued: ‘However, what is clear is that offers that were introduced through the senior referrers received earlier consideration at the outset of the process.

    ‘The high priority lane team was better resourced and able to respond to such offers on the same day that they arrived, in contrast to the opportunities team, where the sheer volume of offers prevented such swift consideration.’

    She later said: ‘Timeous consideration of an offer was a material advantage in obtaining the award of a contract given the urgency of the procurement.’

    Jason Coppel QC, representing the campaigners, previously argued that PestFix was referred into the VIP lane because an ex-director of the company was an ‘old school friend’ of the father-in-law of Steve Oldfield, the chief commercial officer at the DHSC.

    He also claimed Andrew Mills, a former member of the UK Board of Trade and representative for Ayanda Capital, was added to the VIP lane when he contacted a senior official at the Department for International Trade (DIT).

    Mrs Justice O’Farrell found the DHSC had complied with the duty to give ‘clear and sufficient reasons’ for awarding both sets of contracts and that ‘sufficient financial due diligence’ and technical verification was carried out.

    Matt Hancock, seen with his girlfriend Gina Coladangelo, suggested the judgement was a victory

    Matt Hancock, seen with his girlfriend Gina Coladangelo, suggested the judgement was a victory 

    Good Law Project director Jo Maugham said: ‘There’s nothing that can change the past – but Ministers will now know that if they ever put something like this in place again they will be breaking the law – and very arguably committing misconduct in public office.’ 

    Responding to the High Court’s ruling, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: ‘This damning judgment confirms what the public already suspected.

    ‘Not only did the Conservatives give their mates privileged access to lucrative Covid contracts, they did it unlawfully.

    ‘The Tory party treated a pandemic as a cash cow for friends and donors. Once again, it’s a case of one rule for Tory ministers and their cronies, and another for everyone else.’   

    But former Health Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the judgment.

    A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: ‘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.’   

    MPs demand Baroness Michelle Mone and her billionaire husband say if they made money from ‘murky’ £203m PPE deal

    MPs have demanded Michelle Mone and her billionaire husband explain the ‘murky affair’ of a £203million PPE Government contract for a firm set up by one of his employees – after leaked texts raised questions as to how involved she was in the deal. 

    Lingerie tycoon Lady Mone, 50, has always maintained she had no ‘role or function’ with PPE Medpro, a firm started two months after the first lockdown began.

    She referred it as a potential supplier through the office of Lord Agnew and it was apparently fast-tracked through the government’s so-called VIP fast-lane.

    It was awarded more than £200m in government contracts to supply masks and surgical gowns.

    But new WhatsApp texts, which emerged earlier this month, appear to suggest she was involved in some further capacity, despite her denials. 

    Tory peer Michelle Mone and her billionaire husband (both pictured) faced fresh questions last night over their involvement in a £203million Government contract for PPE at the start of the pandemic

    Tory peer Michelle Mone and her billionaire husband (both pictured) faced fresh questions last night over their involvement in a £203million Government contract for PPE at the start of the pandemic

    Medpro was set up two months after the start of the first lockdown with Anthony Page, a wealth management expert and longtime employee of Lady Mone's husband, named as its 100 per cent shareholder and a director.

    Medpro was set up two months after the start of the first lockdown with Anthony Page, a wealth management expert and longtime employee of Lady Mone’s husband, named as its 100 per cent shareholder and a director.

    In June, after PPE Medpro was awarded its first contract with the DHSC, messages believed to be from her respond after a request for ‘Lady Michelle’ for information.

    A reply said to be from her said ‘We are just about to take off in the jet. The sizes are in the order. We are waiting for the official PO, this should come in today.  

    ‘They tell you not to start until you have this PO,’ the Guardian reported she wrote. 

    PPE Medpro shows these products among items it currently offers on its website

    PPE Medpro shows these products among items it currently offers on its website

    Government details show how Lady Mone referred PPE Medpro as a potential supplier

    Government details show how Lady Mone referred PPE Medpro as a potential supplier

    Christine Jardine MP, Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson, said: ‘The stench of sleaze and cronyism from the Conservative party is unbearable now. 

    ‘There must be an independent investigation into these revelations.

    ‘From dodgy PPE contracts to Christmas parties, we can’t simply cannot trust Conservative politicians to mark their own homework.

    ‘Our taxes are about to be hiked to record levels yet millions of pounds worth of Government contracts appear to be ending up with chums of the Conservative party.

    It is time we got to the bottom of this once and for all.’

    Pictured: Anthony Page, PPE Medpro’s owner, circled, at Lady Mone’s wedding in 2020

    Pictured: Anthony Page, PPE Medpro’s owner, circled, at Lady Mone’s wedding in 2020

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