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Covid-19 Contracts: Serious Fraud Office

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 10 February 2022

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Serious Fraud Office on the potential level of fraud losses arising from covid-19 related contracts awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2020-21. (905578)

I meet regularly with the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss case work and corporate matters. I can confirm that the SFO is indeed investigating a number of suspected fraudulent applications for covid loans, but I can neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating frauds specifically connected to covid-19 contracts awarded by the DHSC.

The Good Law Project has now uncovered the existence of an additional 18 VIP lane contracts, bringing the total to 68. Between them, they were awarded a total of £4.9 billion in personal protective equipment contracts. Gareth Davies, the head of the National Audit Office and the Comptroller and Auditor General, has said that the Department of Health and Social Care was

“open to the risk of fraud.”,

and that he has not received

“adequate assurance that the level of fraud losses are not material.”

What steps does the Attorney General, or the Minister, advise should be taken to uphold the rule of law and assure the House that contracts awarded through the Government’s VIP lane were not fraudulent?

It is extremely important that we in this House do not inadvertently misrepresent a judgment that has been made in the High Court. In the case that the hon. Gentleman refers to, the Court indicated that the arrangements did not confer any advantage at the decision-making stage of the process; that the company’s offers were very likely to have meant it being awarded contracts even without the arrangements; and that there was sufficient financial due diligence in respect of both sets of contracts. Without seeking to go behind the decision of the Court in that case, it is important that it is placed in its proper context. This Government will abide by the rule of law.