Michael Gove has been accused of falsely claiming that all PPE contracts weren’t through eight stages of vetting, after it emerged that due diligence was not done for a lucrative deal for millions of unusable face masks linked to a Tory adviser.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, accused Gove and other ministers of “apparently lying to the public and lying to parliament” by claiming “every single procurement decision went through an eight-stage process”.
She pointed out that the eight-step process was not followed in the controversial case of Ayanda Capital – which was awarded £252 million of deals for PPE in spring 2020. The face masks it provided were ultimately unusable, because they had the wrong kind of ear loops.
The rigorous process was also ignored in the case of PestFix, a pest control firm with net assets of just £18,000 that was awarded a PPE contract worth £150 million.
In answer to a parliamentary question, health minister Jo Churchill, said: “The eight-stage process to assess and approve offers of support to supply [PPE] evolved over a short period of time at the end of April 2020 to formalise the checks quickly put in place by the cross-government PPE procurement cell in March 2020.
“Contracts with Ayanda Capital and PestFix pre-dated the formalised eight-stage assurance process but these suppliers were evaluated by officials on financial standing, technical compliance and ability to perform the contract. The contracts are awarded by the appropriate departmental accounting officer in line with our terms and conditions.”
Documents released as part of a judicial review case in May revealed that Ayanda – a finance house in London – was awarded the lucrative public contracts after being funnelled into a VIP lane because its representative, Andrew Mills, was an adviser to Liz Truss, the trade secretary.
Officials pushed for contracts to be processed quickly, with one marking emails “URGENT VIP CASE” and “VERY URGENT VIP ESCALATION” and warning: “Andrew will escalate as high as he can possibly go!”
The deal was approved on 30 April 2020 – five days after Ayanda was put into the VIP lane, but before requisite financial checks were carried out on the company.
Rayner, who is Gove’s opposite number, said: “Why have Michael Gove and government ministers apparently been lying to the public and lying to parliament to try to cover this up? Michael Gove needs to explain why he has not been telling the truth.
“We need a fully independent investigation into the Tories’ VIP fast track for PPE and testing contracts to get to the bottom of who got the contracts, how they got them and what connections they have to Conservative ministers and the Conservative party.”
Jo Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project, which brought the legal challenge against the dodgy contracts, said: “You begin to wonder if there are any statements from ministers that you can rely on. It looks like they’ve been infected by Johnsonism: total lack of interest in the truth.”
A government spokesperson said: “All PPE contracts went through a robust process of checks and controls led by officials. These contracts have delivered over 9bn items of PPE to protect frontline workers.”