UK government has blocked corporate releases on ‘VIP’ COVID lane
The NAO public procurement investigation during the pandemic, released last November, revealed that a high-priority path had been established by an intergovernmental team to assess potential PPE leads from politicians and government officials. The PPE team felt that “leads from these sources were more credible or needed to be dealt with more urgently”.
The NAO also found that there were no criteria for referrals to the priority channel and that the source of the referral was not always recorded. Less than 250 sources for the leads were recorded, of which 144 came from the private offices of ministers.
In other emails obtained by openDemocracy, the Cabinet Office told the NAO how it could rely on a particular freedom of information exemption to avoid disclosing company names. He added: “This is of course a question for you.”
He went on to say, “We are also looking into whether other exemptions may apply as well.”
The Cabinet Office also rejected OpenDemocracy’s request for the names of vendors that were placed in the high priority lane, saying this could deter potential future bidders.
He added that the disclosure of the names of ministers and officials who referred companies to the priority route “would make it less likely that individuals would provide the Cabinet Office and / or other parts of government with information commercially in the future. sensitive ”.
“ The government’s responsibility to decide ”
In its investigation, the NAO only revealed the names of two companies that were awarded contracts through the priority lane: Ayanda Capital and Pestfix, which was put on the lane in error. In December, the Guardian revealed the name of another company – PPE Medpro – which won a contract with the government on the priority lane.
At the end of April, the Good Law Project revealed the names of four other companies that were awarded contracts through the VIP channel.
A spokesperson for the National Audit Office said, “It would not be appropriate for us to disclose all of the data provided to us by the government, or for the audit process to be the method by which that data is obtained. It is up to the government to decide whether to disclose the information it holds and the Freedom of Information Act provides the means to challenge such decisions. “
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said: “We are working around the clock to deliver PPE to the front line.
“The government has launched a public call to action to support increased PPE requirements, which has resulted in more than 24,000 offers of support from more than 15,000 suppliers. These offers have been prioritized based on volume, price, adherence to clinical standards, and time required to deliver these items. All prospects, regardless of channel, went through the same eight-step process, including quality checks, price checks, and other due diligence. “