Campaign group Led By Donkeys has launched a fresh broadside at the government over its handing out of dodgy pandemic deals to Tory donors.
In a new video – projected onto the side of a building – the activists highlighted the government’s establishment of a “VIP lane”, through which Conservative contacts and donors were given priority access to lucrative PPE deals.
With ministers already under fire for fostering a ‘chumocracy’ at the heart of government, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that suppliers with links to Tory politicians were ten times more likely to be awarded contracts than those who applied to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The damning report also found that more than £5 million of taxpayer cash was paid in consultancy fees with close links to ministers – including a £1.5 million deal for two social media consultants from New Zealand who worked on Boris Johnson’s election campaign.
The NAO said the government’s procurement efforts during the coronavirus crisis “diminished public transparency”, and accused officials of failing to meet “standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust”.
By the end of July 2020, more than 8,600 contracts worth close to £18 billion had been awarded – and £10.49 billion of those were awarded directly to the supplier without any competition or tendering process. In some instances, due diligence was not carried out until weeks after contracts were awarded.
The “high-priority lane” was open for companies referred by government officials, ministers, MPs and peers – sources “considered to be more credible”, the report said.
Roughly one-in-ten suppliers processed through the VIP channel – 47 out of 493 – obtained lucrative PPE contracts, compared to less than one-in-a-hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane.
In one particularly revealing case, PestFix – a pest control firm from Littlehampton in Sussex – was “added to the high-priority lane in error without a referral”, the NAO said. The company, which has net assets of just £18,000, was awarded a £350 million contract to supply PPE to the NHS.
Part of that contract was a deal to buy 25 million FFP2 face masks. After 600,000 of the masks were delivered, it emerged that they were “not in line with the government’s published PPE specifications” – and were therefore unusable. PestFix “is continuing to work” with the Department of Health, the report revealed.
Another fast-tracked company, Ayanda Capital, received a £253 million that was brokered by a businessman who was appointed as an adviser to the Board of Trade by Liz Truss, the trade secretary. Again, ministers ordered 50 million FFP2 masks that were ultimately unusable – because they had the wrong kind of ear loops.
Elsewhere, Led By Donkeys have highlighted the gulf between the Tories’ Brexit promises and reality – with a series of posters emphasising Michael Gove’s promises that leaving the EU would not impact “our ability to trade freely with Europe”.
Gove infamously said that Brits had “had enough of experts” before the referendum in 2016 – a claim thrown under increasing scrutiny as Britain is blighted by a never-ending succession of crises and shortages, from fuel to food.
Another poster highlights Johnson’s “Brexit bombshell” of higher food prices. A Daily Express splash from October 2018 vowed: “Cheaper food after EU exit.” It continued: “Breaking free from the EU will send the cost of food tumbling, economic experts said.”
Fast forward three years, and the same paper sombrely reported: “As Britons face Christmas shortages, top boss deliver wake-up call. Stark warning get used to higher food bills.”
Related: Five times pro-Brexit headlines have been proved wrong