Legal action over Kate Bingham’s role in UK Covid vaccine taskforce dropped

The Good Law Project has dropped its legal challenge to the government’s recruitment of Kate Bingham as chair of the vaccines taskforce, which had alleged it failed to follow a valid process and gave key roles in the pandemic to people well-connected to the Conservative party.

David Conn 

In the same legal action, the GLP is maintaining its challenge to the appointments of Dido Harding as head of NHS test and trace, and of Mike Coupe, who formerly worked with Harding at Sainsbury’s, as director of testing.

The government has defended the legal action, maintaining the appointments were all fair and lawful, and recently issued a detailed defence setting out the circumstances of the recruitment process, which led to the GLP dropping its action in relation to Bingham.

The government’s detailed defence document will not be made public until the case is heard – no date has yet been scheduled – but Jolyon Maugham, director of the GLP, said the process for appointing Bingham, while it did not follow an open advertising process, had been better than expected.

“We are not dropping the challenge or the point of principle that fair, open and transparent recruitment processes deliver better outcomes for the public,” Maugham said. “None of these recruitment processes during the pandemic were optimal; we are still unhappy with the government’s explanations relating to Dido Harding and Mike Coupe, but they have provided a better explanation regarding Kate Bingham, and it is responsible for us not to pursue that further.”

Bingham is managing partner of the venture capital firm SV Health Investments. Her appointment to the unpaid role of heading the UK’s efforts to secure Covid-19 vaccines was formally made by Johnson last May, and she reported directly to the prime minister.

Along with Harding, who was made a Conservative peer by David Cameron in 2014, her appointment led to claims they were part of a “chumocracy”.

The government has emphatically defended all its appointments, and praised Bingham for her achievements in investing in the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines and securing 350m doses, saying in a public statement in November:

“Kate Bingham is uniquely qualified for the role of chair, having worked in the biotech and life sciences sectors for 30 years. While not specifically a vaccines expert, she is a proven drugs discovery expert with superb deal-making skills and an excellent global reputation, recently appearing alongside Bill Gates at the Gates Grand Challenge Conference.”

Earlier this month Bingham was given a damehood for her work on the vaccines operation in the Queen’s birthday honours list.