The use of so-called “VIP lanes” by the government to award contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) worth millions of pounds was illegal, the High Court has ruled.
Good Law Project and EveryDoctor took legal action over a nearly £600 million contract awarded to pest control firm Pestfix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
After the High Court was told that a VIP lane was reserved for the referral of MPs’ ministers and senior officials, campaigners argued the government “preferred suppliers including Pastefix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not what they delivered.” could do”.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Mrs Justice O’Farrell said the use of VIP lanes, officially known as high priority lanes, was illegal.
However, it found both companies’ proposals to be “reasonable priority treatment on its merits” and were “very likely” to be awarded the contract even without VIP lanes.
“Even though Pestfix and Ayanda were not allocated for the high priority lanes, they were treated as priority proposals due to the substantial amount of PPE that they were urgently needed,” the judge said.
The department was doing its best possible within the rules to respond to an unprecedented situation, and importantly, the court has rightly found that the action was appropriate and absolutely no correction or further action is necessary.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told the court that it had “completely” dismissed the case against it and that VIP Lane was rational and resulted in “a large number of credible offers” in an environment where Where PPE deals often fail within “minutes”.
Mrs Justice O’Farrell later said that DHSC’s evidence “establishes that presence on a higher priority lane does not confer any advantage at the decision-making stage of the process”.
She continued: “However, what is clear is that proposals submitted through senior referrers were considered first at the start of the process.
“The High Priority Lane team was better revived and was able to respond to such proposals on the same day, in contrast to the Opportunity team, where the sheer volume of proposals prevented such rapid consideration.”
She later said: “The timely consideration of an offer was a material advantage in obtaining the award of a contract given the urgency of the purchase.”
Jason Koppel QC, representing the publicists, had previously argued that Pastefix was referred to in VIP Lane because the company’s former director was an “old school friend” of Steve Oldfield’s father-in-law, who was the chief commercial officer. DHSC.
They also claimed that Andrew Mills, a former member of the UK Board of Trade and representative of Ayanda Capital, was added to VIP Lane when he contacted a senior Department for International Trade (DIT) official.
Mrs Justice O’Farrell found that DHSC had performed its duty to give “clear and sufficient reasons” for awarding both sets of contracts and that “substantial financial due diligence” and technical verification had been carried out.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “We are delighted that the Department of Health has won the case, as the court found that priority treatment was ‘appropriate’ and that the way in which PPE was procured in immediate height had no Refused to give corrections of the crisis.
“At that time, a large number of people were doing everything they could to bring PPE to the front lines in a national emergency.
“As confirmed by the National Audit Office, the ministers had no involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.
“The Department was doing its best possible within the rules to respond to an unprecedented situation, and importantly, the Court has rightly found that the action was appropriate and absolutely no correction or further action is necessary.”
A DHSC spokesperson later said: “We are pleased that the court has ruled that our industry for arms was open and transparent. The ruling says it is highly likely that these proposals would have been granted if they had been granted other rights.” Was processed through channels which were also used to process proposals.
“Adequate financial and technical due diligence was taken in all contracts and the court found that we did not rely on referrals for high priority lanes when awarding contracts.”
DHSC Permanent Secretary Sir Chris Wormald told the Public Accounts Committee “the Government will formally respond at an appropriate time”.
He said the government was in an “emergency” and, at the time, needed to do things that “we would not do in normal business”.