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Covid-19 Contracts: High Priority Lane

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022

20. What his latest estimate is of the (a) number and (b) value of contracts for the supply of PPE and covid-19 testing equipment to the NHS which were processed through the high priority lane. (905643)

Mr Speaker, with your permission, as this is a very detailed question, I would like to give a detailed answer.

The PPE high priority lane was established as one way of efficiently triaging and assessing the thousands of offers of support for PPE early in the pandemic. One hundred and fifteen contracts were awarded to 51 suppliers identified through this route and the total value of those contracts was £3.8 billion. Between May 2020 and March 2021, 50 suppliers had priority referrals for covid testing support and were awarded 128 contracts with a total value of £6 billion. All contracts awarded, no matter the route, were rigorously evaluated to ensure that the products that were progressed met the required specification. There was no separate high priority lane or process.

The Minister will be aware that it has been established that there is in existence an additional 18 VIP lane contracts, bringing the total to 68. Between them, they were awarded £4.9 billion in PPE contracts. Gareth Davies, the head of the National Audit Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has said that the Health and Social Care Department was

“open to the risk of fraud.”

What steps are being considered or taken to investigate that and to assure the House that the contracts awarded through the Government VIP lane were not fraudulent?

I can answer the hon. Gentleman. I am delighted to tell him that he has his facts wrong: recent media articles claim that 19 additional suppliers were referred through the HPL, which is totally inaccurate. Having reviewed the records, I can tell him that only one other company was included, so in fact, instead of 50, the total was 51.