High Court finds Government PPE ‘VIP’ lane for politically connected suppliers ‘unlawful’

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The High Court yesterday ruled that the fast-track VIP lane for lucrative PPE contracts for associates of Ministers and officials was unlawful.

In a challenge brought by Good Law Project and EveryDoctor to the ‘behind closed door’ VIP lane worth billions of pounds, the Court found:

“the Claimants have established that operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment… the illegality is marked by this judgment.” (§512)

The Judge agreed the VIP lane conferred preferential treatment on bids: it sped up the process, which meant offers were considered sooner in a process where timing was critical, and VIPs’ hands were held through the process. She said:

“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.” – (§395)

The Court found the Government allocated offers to the VIP lane on a “flawed basis” (§396) and did not properly prioritise bids: “there is evidence that opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer” (§383).

The Court noted that the majority by value of the product supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda could not be used in the NHS. Of the product supplied by Pestfix, the aprons (§115 and §155), gowns (§156), FFP2 masks (§138) and FFP3 masks (§141) were all defective in some way and Pestfix is facing multiple legal actions. The FFP2 masks supplied by Ayanda have “not been distributed into the NHS” (§217).

An independent investigation by the BBC has also revealed issues with the product supplied by Clandeboye which were not disclosed to the High Court. Good Law Project believes that the Government misled the Court and is in correspondence with lawyers for the Secretary of State.

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. The Judge also refused to allow publication of how much money was wasted by the Government’s failure to carry out technical assurance on the PPE supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda. Good Law Project and EveryDoctor are considering the wider implications of these aspects of the ruling and next steps.

Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said:

“Good Law Project revealed the red carpet-to-riches VIP lane for those with political connections in October 2020. And the Court has now held that, unsurprisingly, the lane was illegal.

“Never again should any Government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.”

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, Chief Executive, EveryDoctor said:

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