High Court rules 'VIP lane' for PPE procurement unlawful

Some firms marked as high priority for contracts with "no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer", court finds
Barrington Coombs/EMPICS Entertainment

By Eleanor Langford

12 Jan 2022

The government's operation of a "high priority lane" to allow MPs and ministers to recommend PPE suppliers was "unlawful", the High Court has ruled.

The legal challenge was brought by two campaign groups, the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor, who argued the system gave preference to individuals with political connections.

They took legal action over £592m in contracts awarded to to pest control firm PestFix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital in 2020 for the supply of personal protective equipment in the pandemic.

The High Court ruled on Wednesday that the "high prorioty lane" that allowed these firms to win the contracts "was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment".

In its judgement, the court found that the government prioritised bids on a "flawed basis" and considered some firms as high priority "even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer”.

"The illegality is marked by this judgment," the court found. 

During the hearing, the campaign groups had argued that much of the PPE supplied by PestFix and Ayanda Capital was "wasted" as it did not meet proper technical standards.

Many of the aprons, gowns and masks delivered by Pestfix were found to be defective, while masks supplied by Ayanda were never distributed to the NHS.

“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," said Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project.

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

A hearing will now take place to consider further orders and the possibility of appeals.

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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