Reports that a Tory peer may have benefited from Covid PPE contracts raise “far wider” questions about how the Government awarded such agreements, Labour has said.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner hit out at a “total failure of due diligence” as she asked about PPE Medpro winning contracts for personal protective equipment and “profits made possible through the company’s personal connections to ministers”.
She referred to reports in the Guardian newspaper, which suggest Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone may have profited from the contracts.
The Lords standards watchdog is investigating the Tory peer over the awarding of government contracts worth more than £200 million to the PPE supplier.
Lady Mone has consistently denied any “role or function” in the company, and her lawyers have previously said she is “not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Rayner said: “Last night, documents seen by The Guardian revealed that yet another case of taxpayers’ money was wasted, a total failure of due diligence, and a conflict of interest at the heart of Government procurement.
“In May 2020 PPE Medpro was set up and given £203m in government contracts after a referral from a Tory peer.
“It now appears that tens of millions of pounds of that money ended up in offshore accounts connected to the individuals involved, profits made possible through the company’s personal connections to ministers and the Tories’ VIP lane that was declared illegal by the High Court.
“Yet ministers are still refusing to publish correspondence relating to the award of the Medpro contract because, they say, the department is engaged in a mediation process.”
The Labour deputy leader called for the Government to release records relating to the award of the PPE Medro contract, asking: “Can the minister today tell us if that mediation process has reached any outcome and what public funds have been recovered, if any?”
She added: “There are rightly separate investigations into Baroness Mone’s conduct, but the questions this case raises are far wider.
“It took a motion from the opposition to force them to release records over the Randox scandal. Will they agree today to do the same in this case without being forced by the House? And can he say now what due diligence was performed in awarding the Medpro contract?
“Today’s reports concern just one single case, but this Government has written off £10bn alone in PPE that was deemed unfit for use.
“Ministers appear to have learned no lessons and have no shame. As families struggle to make ends meet, taxpayers will spend £700,000 a day on the storage of inadequate PPE.”
Health minister Neil O’Brien said a “satisfactory agreement” has not been reached with PPE Medpro about its contract.
Responding to Labour, he told the Commons: “It’s been widely reported that it had an underperforming contract, and let me set out what we do in those cases.
“The first step is to send a letter before action, which outlines a claim for damages. And that is then followed by litigation in the event that a satisfactory agreement has not been reached.
“And as to the honourable lady’s question directly, we haven’t got to the point where a satisfactory agreement has been reached at this stage.”
O’Brien said the “high priority group” for PPE, also known as the VIP lane, did not have “any kind of successful guarantee of a contract”.
Speaking about PPE procurement, he said: “Around 9,000 people came forward, and all ministers will have experienced endless people directly ringing them up to try and help with the huge need that there was at the time.
“It did not give you any kind of successful guarantee of a contract, indeed 90% of the bids that went through it were not successful.”
At the start of the debate, Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle cautioned MPs against making claims that could interfere in legal proceedings.
Representatives for Lady Mone were contacted but declined to comment.