The Conservative government broke the law by placing multi-million pounds in contracts at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a court found
The High Court has declared the use of a so-called “VIP Lane” to award contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) to two companies to be illegal.
The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor had claimed the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had more than $ 340 million in legal action. reports Der Spiegel.
The High Court was told that this lane was reserved for recommendations from MPs, ministers and senior officials, adding that DHSC “then prioritized suppliers like PestFix and Ayanda because they knew what they could deliver”.
The groups argued that using the VIP lane gave some companies an unfair, unlawful advantage.
However, the DHSC denied the allegations, saying it had “wholeheartedly” opposed the trial.
The department’s attorney Michael Bowsher QC said the VIP lane, also known as the high-priority lane (HPL), is rational and leads to “a large number of credible deals” in an environment where PSA stores are often within of “minutes” failed.
“The goal here was to get as much of the right PPE as possible as quickly as possible. That was the easy point, ”said Bowsher.
In a judgment delivered on Wednesday, Justice O’Farrell agreed that the VIP Lane would give the bids preferential treatment and expedite the process.
She said it was unlawful to give the two companies preferential treatment based on being on the VIP lane.
However, it found that the offers of both companies “basically justified priority treatment” and “very likely” would have received orders even without the VIP lane.
While discussing contracts with pest control company PestFix, she said, “PestFix was stocking a number of high-demand PPE items. It had an established business in PPE sourcing, plausible contacts with manufacturers … solution for the transport of the PPE from the manufacturers to Great Britain.
“These skills, experience, contacts and credibility justified giving priority to the high-volume offers.
“Regardless of whether they were created via the portal and rated by the Opportunity team or rated by the High Priority Lane team, it is very likely that the offers would have led to the PestFix contracts being awarded.”
The judge came to similar conclusions with regard to the contract with the Ayanda Capital hedge fund.
The challenge from the Good Law Project and the Every Doctor campaign group came amid their concerns about the deals.
In May 2021, the two campaign groups had argued that in April and May 2020, multi-million pounds worth of equipment “useless to the NHS” were purchased through a “VIP lane” without proper technical review at inflated prices due to the contracts provided.
During the five-day hearing in the High Court, the groups argued that “well over half” of the roughly £ 595 million spent on PestFix and Ayanda Capital was “wasted” on PPE that did not meet the technical standards for use corresponded in the NHS.
“The result of all of this has been a truly tragic waste of public money,” Jason Coppel told QC on behalf of the groups to the court.
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