Hancock must reveal WhatsApp messages about PPE deals

The smokescreen of Boris Johnson’s ducking and diving around the “nothing to see here” sleaze and cronyism allegations is shown up, in this article, for being just that.

An official is reported as writing: “We are currently drowning in VIP requests and ‘High Priority’ contacts that despite all of our work and best efforts do not either hold the correct certification or do not pass due diligence” 

Conclusion: the sleaze and cronyism actually hindered the Government’s Covid response. It didn’t demonstrate the “fleet of foot”, “cutting through the red tape” response portrayed in much of the Conservative electioneering pamphlets. – Owl

George Grylls, www.thetimes.co.uk

Matt Hancock has been ordered by the High Court to hand over WhatsApp messages about the government’s procurement of PPE.

The health secretary will have to reveal details about a WhatsApp group that was used to fast-track applications from “VIP” suppliers.

The government is being taken to court by the Good Law Project, a campaign group, over its procurement of PPE at the height of the pandemic. At a hearing yesterday it emerged that a WhatsApp group was set up as an “informal way” for the government to communicate with the chief executives of 200 companies.

A government meeting agenda submitted to the court reads: “[Redacted] to connect with [Redacted] and confirm preferred way forward to sharing communications with CEOs and CPOs (Chief product officers).

“Note: There is a WhatsApp group with [circa] 200 CEO and this is informal way to communicate. There is also a separate channel to CPOs.”

Companies that had a recommendation from someone in government were ten times more likely to be awarded a contract to supply PPE, a report by the National Audit Office found last year.

Recent messages released during the Good Law Project’s judicial review have shown that civil servants were unable to secure PPE quickly last year because they were “drowning” in requests from VIP suppliers.

One official handling an offer to supply visors to the NHS in April last year wrote: “This contact has already been allocated a team member — unfortunately if he jumps to the front of the queue, it then has a knock-on effect to the remaining offers of help.

“We are currently drowning in VIP requests and ‘High Priority’ contacts that despite all of our work and best efforts do not either hold the correct certification or do not pass due diligence.”

Transparency International, a campaign group, has said that a fifth of PPE contracts, totalling £3.7 billion, raised a red flag for potential corruption.

At the hearing Jason Coppel QC, for the Good Law Project, argued for the disclosure of the messages, saying that Hancock had shown an “obvious lack of transparency”. Michael Bowsher QC, for Hancock, accused the campaign group of trying to fish for evidence.