Labour has called on Boris Johnson’s Government to publish all communications between ministers and their links or business contacts who were awarded contracts under emergency procurement measures brought in amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to Cabinet minister Michael Gove, shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves voiced concern over “growing revelations linked to Greensill, commercial lobbying, and, more recently, text messages sent by the Prime Minister to entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, promising to “fix” him a tax break.
She wrote: “I am sure you also appreciate that these revelations are creating a growing impression that there is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for the rest of the British public.”
Ms Reeves cited the High Court hearing involving the contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE), adding: “This hearing, brought to court by the Good Law Project, found that not only were basic checks missing, but that companies without the proper certification jumped the queue because of the tip-offs they received, which put them in the VIP fast lane in the first place.
“Equally perplexing are the revelations from one official, complaining the procurement team was ‘drowning’ in high priority requests without the correct certification or due diligence.”
She added: “Knowing how exposed some of our frontline staff were during the height of the pandemic without proper PPE, and also with the knowledge that £2 billion worth of contracts have been handed to Conservative friends and donors, means there are new serious questions for Government, especially given your long-term rejection of Labour’s call to publish details of all the companies in the VIP fast lane.”
In the letter, she noted: “We are still missing an independent adviser on ministerial standards, and a register of ministers’ interests – two crucial tools for scrutinising conflicts of interests and holding ministers to account.”
Ms Reeves urged the Government to answer a number of questions which she said “now grow more pressing by the day as stories of cronyism and sleaze continue to mount”.
She wrote: “Given the Prime Minister’s recent commitment to publishing communications with other business leaders, will you require all other ministers in Government to publish, openly and with full transparency, communications between them and those businesses who have won contracts since the pandemic begun and emergency procurement was introduced?”
She added: “When will the Prime Minister publish the remaining text messages between him and James Dyson, and between him and other business leaders?
“Will you publish full details of the VIP fast lane, including the companies listed, and transparently put forward any links to Conservative friends and donors, real or perceived conflicts of interest for proper scrutiny?”
A No 10 spokesperson said: “We have been dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic and our approach throughout has been to act quickly to save lives, and we make no apology for that.
“This has often meant having to award contracts at speed, however procurement went through the same assurance process and due diligence is carried out on every contract – ministers have no role in awarding them.
“We are committed to transparency in our procurement and all Contract Award Notices are published online for anyone to see.”