New evidence has emerged that the government has implemented a fast-track ‘VIP’ process for privileged companies, which has led to accusations that ministers have misled the public about billions of pounds in test contracts Covid-19.
The Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) has previously denied having set up a VIP process for companies referred by ministers for possible Covid contracts. In June, when it emerged that officials had passed on references labeled “fast lane” from ministers, a government spokesperson said: “These claims are completely false – there was no high priority lane for test suppliers. All testing offers went through the same robust assurance checks and there was no separate “fast track”. “
However, internal emails between officials at DHSC, discussing the Rapid Testing Consortium (RTC), a group of companies led by York-based Abingdon Health that has won huge government contracts without tendering, described the process as “the VIP way.” ”. The then Health Minister Lord Bethell was described by officials as a “sponsor” of the consortium.
DHSC leaked the June 2020 emails in a legal challenge brought by the Good Law Project (GLP), which argues there was an “apparent bias” in the awarding of contracts to Abingdon Health, and that the government “has not undertaken a transparent process or legal process”. The DHSC defends the case, arguing that the urgency of the pandemic justified the direct award of contracts.
In the email exchange, an official, discussing how to deal with RTC companies, said that a person in authority, whose name is redacted, “would like them to go through the VIP route.” The official asked, “Who should they name as their godfather?”
A colleague replied, “Are sponsors usually ministers? I imagine RTC can nominate Lord Bethell? “
In another email referring to the RTC, another official wrote: “This is usually for the VIP route which goes through ministers. “