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Government ‘VIP’ lane for PPE companies was 'unlawful'

A High Court judge ruled "opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds".

health worker wearing PPE

The National Audit Office previously found that officials signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which were unusable. Image: Unsplash /Magdiel Lagos

The government’s use of a fast-track ‘VIP lane’ for suppliers of PPE during the pandemic was unlawful, the High Court has ruled. 

In the legal challenge brought by The Good Law Project and campaigning organisation EveryDoctor, it was ruled “operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment… the illegality is marked by this judgement.”

Some £1.7bn of PPE contracts went through the VIP lane, with 47 suppliers awarded contracts. A report by the Public Accounts Committee found that of these, 12 were introduced by MPs, seven by peers and 18 by officials.

In its judgement, the court found the government awarded contracts to bids in the VIP lane on a “flawed basis”, with evidence that “opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer.”

The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor brought the judicial review against the awarding of contracts to pest control company Pestfix and hedge fund Ayanda. 

The judge found that, even though Pestfix and Ayanda received unlawful preferential treatment via the VIP lane, they would likely have been awarded contracts anyway.

“We brought the government to court because NHS staff and other frontline workers were woefully unsupported and unprotected by this government. Many were provided with no PPE, and many died,” said Julia Patterson, founder of EveryDoctor. 

“The government must never again be allowed to conduct themselves in this manner during a national healthcare crisis,” she continued. 

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project tweeted: “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.”

The Good Law project is also suing the Metropolitan police for their refusal to investigate an alleged Christmas party at Downing Street during lockdown in December 2020. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment. 

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