PPE contracts for “VIPs”

Explosive emails revealed in a hearing  on our legal challenge over direct awards of PPE contracts show civil servants raising the alarm that they were “drowning in VIP requests” from political connections that do not have “the correct certification or pass due diligence”. 

action.goodlawproject.org 

One email shows a civil servant warning that when VIPs “jump to the front of the queue it then has a knock on effect to the remaining offers of help.” 

For ordinary people the pandemic was a tragedy. But for well-connected VIPs it was the chance of a lifetime – huge fortunes were up for grabs. What this civil servant is saying is that it became more of a tragedy because so many VIPs – overwhelmingly introduced by Ministers – were interfering with civil servants’ ability to purchase the PPE needed by healthcare workers on the frontline. 

Remember Ayanda, the company linked to Liz Truss, fast-tracked through the VIP Lane – who supplied £155m worth of unusable face masks to the NHS frontline? This email shows Ayanda threatening to escalate their bid to ministerial level and another another includes a civil servant warning of the Ayanda deal “the bar seems to have been lowered on this one.”

This is the cost of cronyism – good administration suffers, efficient buying of PPE suffers.

Government has been doing everything it can to keep a lid on the names of VIP contacts and those responsible for putting them in the VIP lane. We went to Court today, along with our co-claimants EveryDoctor, to try and force them to disclose this information.

So far, Government has provided partial and incoherent evidence, heavily redacted. And key items are missing from the evidence we’ve received – in particular no Whatsapp messages, text messages, file notes or submissions to ministers are included. If ministers were pushing civil servants to prioritise PPE contracts to politically connected suppliers, then this information is highly relevant to the case. 

The Judge agreed that the identity of an individual can be relevant and should be publicly available if they were involved in the procurement or had a significant role to play in decision-making, in particular on companies referred to the VIP Lane. But it has said we will need to ask for specific disclosure of details on specific documents.

We’ll be back in Court next week with that application. The fight for truth and transparency continues. You can read our skeleton argument and the evidence disclosed in Court today in full.

Thank you for your support,

Jolyon Maugham QC

Director of Good Law Project

More on Government with permanent pants of fire

Boris Johnson’s government is “the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in” where “almost nobody tells the truth”, Johnny Mercer has declared after being sacked before he could resign as veterans minister on Tuesday evening. 

Newstatesman Morning Call go.pardot.com 

He resigned, or planned to before the government beat him to it, after realising that the government’s pledge to protect former British soldiers alleged to have committed crimes in Northern Ireland during the Troubles from prosecution would not be forthcoming. 

It is, frankly, astonishing that it took him until now to work that out. The pledge, a Conservative manifesto commitment and Queen’s Speech promise that has been the focus of campaigns by Mercer and newspapers like the Sun for a long time, is simultaneously incendiary and likely to be meaningless if it were ever executed, a heady cocktail that means the government can almost certainly never deliver what Mercer wants. 

​​​​​The whole thing is reminiscent of the government’s line on the border in the Irish Sea created by the Brexit deal. For months, Boris Johnson insisted that no such border would ever manifest, a baffling promise that appeared impossible to fulfill or reconcile with the deal we could all read, signed in black-and-white. Then the government briefly threatened to break international law in order to avoid that border, it was short-lived, and now, lo, and behold, we have an Irish Sea border. 

The government’s repeated promises over Northern Ireland veterans are of a similar ilk. Aside from the (literally dozens of) political and practical problems with fulfilling the pledge, exempting British soldiers from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed during the Troubles would be in contradiction of the UK’s human rights commitments as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, a convention asserted in the Good Friday Agreement. That either means that attempts to enforce the provision would break international law in an incendiary and inevitably short-lived way, or they would be quietly superceded such as to render the British legislation meaningless. 

It should have been clear to Johnny Mercer all along that this pledge could not be fulfilled. But his display of anger is revealing of a pattern in Boris Johnson’s government. Mercer’s successor as veterans minister has repeated the promise of legislation on this issue in “the coming weeks”, and it remains impossible to see how the pledge can meaningfully be enacted. Boris Johnson’s government keeps making wild promises it can’t keep, most especially on Northern Ireland. The promises alienate nationalists, many unionists, unaligned voters, and victims groups in Northern Ireland, while the breaking of them is set to alienate the Sun, Telegraph, veterans’ groups, other unionists, and a swathe of the Conservative base, just as has already happened with Johnny Mercer. It’s not clear what the game plan is here. 

 


 


 


  

Revenge of the Clones

Number 10 ‘sources’ accuse Dominic Cummings of leaking Boris Johnson’s texts with Dyson and Saudi crown prince

Jon Craig news.sky.com 

Downing Street has mounted a fightback against “sleaze” accusations by planting stories in Tory-supporting newspapers accusing Dominic Cummings of leaking Number 10 texts.

The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun quote unnamed Downing Street sources claiming Mr Cummings leaked texts about tycoon Sir James Dyson and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.

The lead story on page one of The Times appears under a headline: “Cummings is accused of leaking PM’s texts. Johnson ‘saddened by bitter former adviser’.”

The Daily Telegraph’s headline, also its lead story, is: “Cummings accused of leaking No 10 texts. Downing Street sources claim former chief adviser released PM’s messages out of spite.”

And the Sun’s page-one headline, alongside photos of Mr Cummings and the prime minister, is: “PM accuses ex-adviser of leaks. Boris: Dom’s a text maniac.”

In leaked texts to Sir James, Mr Johnson promised he would “fix” a tax issue for Dyson staff working to develop ventilators at the height of the coronavirus crisis last year.

Also leaked was a text message to the prime minister from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a bid to buy Newcastle United ran into difficulties last June

Sky News attempted to contact senior Number 10 officials and Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street last November after a bitter power struggle, but neither would respond to our inquiries.

After the reports were published, The Guardian claimed: “In what appeared to be a coordinated attack on Cummings, the Telegraph, Times and Sun reported the same criticisms from an unnamed insider accusing him of being ‘bitter’ about leaving government.”

Opposition MPs will claim Number 10 is attempting to divert attention from allegations of “sleaze” and “cronyism” against Mr Johnson and senior members of his government – and former prime minister David Cameron over his lobbying for Greensill Capital.

The reports in the three newspapers appeared shortly after the Bank of England and the Treasury published detailed records of attempts by Mr Cameron to lobby the Bank of England and the Treasury on behalf of Australian banker Lex Greensill.

The strongest attack on Mr Cummings came in The Times, with a “a No 10 source” quoted as saying: “Dominic is engaged in systematic leaking. We are disappointed about that. We are concerned about messages from private WhatsApp groups which had very limited circulation.

“The prime minister is saddened about what Dom is doing. It’s undermining the government and the party. It might be that Dominic feels bitter about what’s happened since he left – but it’s a great shame. Dyson was trying to do something for the good of the country.”

The Daily Telegraph claimed: “Mr Cummings has been fingered as the likely culprit in the leaking of messages between Mr Johnson and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and separate texts between the Prime Minister and the businessman Sir James Dyson.

“The former adviser is understood to have had legitimate access to the text messages during his time working in government.”

The paper quoted an unnamed source as saying: “If you join the dots it looks like it’s coming from Dom. More than anything, the PM is disappointed and saddened by what Dom has been up to.

“Dom may feel bitter about what’s happened since he left. Rather than falling apart, the government has been making great progress.”

According to the Telegraph, a “No 10 source” said of Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings: “They worked together closely, but if it’s true then it looks like he is doing everything he can to undermine the government, and people like Sir James Dyson, who was heavily involved in Brexit, have been caught in the crossfire.”

The Sun quoted “a No. 10 source” saying: “The prime minister thinks Dominic Cummings is responsible for a series of damaging leaks about his personal communications.

“He is deeply disappointed and saddened by what he thinks his former adviser has been doing and believes he is attempting to undermine the government and the Conservative Party.

“He fears Dom was responsible for the text message leaks about James Dyson and Mohammed bin Salman.”

The Sun also says a “top insider” added: “There is a worry that he is bitter about how the government has moved onwards and upwards since his departure.”

Proposals to sell NHS sites as major changes to Dorset NHS revealed

MASSIVE changes are being planned for hospital and care services across Dorset – which may see some local sites, including in Weymouth, sold off.

What line would your Devon County Council candidates make of this? Selling the family silver? NHS safe in their hands? – Owl

Trevor Bevins www.dorsetecho.co.uk 

Ultimately it may lead to investment of between £370m and £500m in services in the county up to 2030 through the Government’s Health Infrastructure Plan.

Dorset councillors have been told that much of the work is still in the early stages with the proposals including the sale of NHS land in the Weymouth area and in Sherborne –  with redevelopment plans for sites at Forston near Dorchester, Wimborne and Shaftesbury.

The scheme to extend the Dorset County Hospital site is already under way with the building of a new multi-storey car park.

Where land and sites are sold the NHS locally says it is determined that, where possible, it would be used for key worker housing.

The model for strategic redevelopment for county health services is based on community hubs which bring local services together on one site to reduce the need for people to travel.

Portland councillor Paul Kimber was told that no new building was currently planned for the island under the longer-term proposals although there would be an investment in reducing a patient backlog and, outside of the scope of the strategic programme, other local initiatives.

He was told in response to a question about Portland services that there would be a ‘consolidation’ of local services in Weymouth, possibly based on a new hospital building, with the ultimate likely disposal of two Weymouth NHS sites for housing. A figure for £30m has been presented for the Weymouth element alone.

Chris Lawrence from the Dorset healthcare trust admitted that the plan was ‘Weymouth biased’ but said there was also a commitment to having investment on Portland with a focus on a new scheme based centred around primary care.

Cllr Dr Jon Orrell said Weymouth people might be concerned that the town now seemed likely to go from four hospitals it once had with beds to just one, having already seen previous closures and site sales result in no apparent investment south of the Ridgeway.

He said that if the town was to lose further public land through NHS sales then there should be a 100 per cent commitment to key worker housing on those sites, which fellow Weymouth councillor Gill Taylor suggested should also be extended to social care workers.

Concern about the wider proposals came from Sherborne councillors Jon Andrews and Robin Legg who both said their town already relied on Yeovil Hospital for many services, although there are proposals for Yeovil to merge some services with the hospital in Taunton, reducing what might be available on the south Somerset site.

Cllr Andrews said if that happened many people would find it difficult to get to Dorchester for hospital treatment. He also questioned a proposal which said that Yeatman Hospital land might be sold for housing, although it was later admitted that the suggestion might be a mistake.

Cllr Legg said he had also been surprised to see a proposal to reconfigure the site and sell some of it for housing – an idea, which he said, the NHS seemed to have developed in a vacuum without talking to anyone.

He said if there were plans for a £18 million redevelopment at the Yeatman it might be better to consider whether the 150-year old building and its cramped site was worth continuing to invest in, or to move to a new site elsewhere in the town, possible on land being proposed for development by the Digby estate.

Members of the Dorset Council’s people and health scrutiny committee were told that the strategic plans were still in the early stages and would depend on winning Government funding and a detailed business case for each site then being signed off. It was at the next stage that wider consultations would be held once the details were fleshed out.