BREAKING: High Court finds Government PPE ‘VIP’ lane for politically connected suppliers ‘unlawful’

Over a year of hard work has paid off today. The High Court has ruled that the Government’s operation of a fast-track VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts to those with political connections was unlawful. 

In a challenge brought by Good Law Project and EveryDoctor to the behind closed door VIP lane worth billions of pounds, the Court found:

the Claimants have established that operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment… the illegality is marked by this judgment.” (§512)

The Judge agreed the VIP lane conferred preferential treatment on bids: it sped up the process, which meant offers were considered sooner in a process where timing was critical, and VIPs’ hands were held through the process. She said: 

“offers that were introduced through the Senior Referrers received earlier consideration at the outset of the process. The High Priority Lane Team was better resourced and able to respond to such offers on the same day that they arrived”. (§395)

The Court found the Government allocated offers to the VIP lane on a “flawed basis” (§396) and did not properly prioritise bids: 

“there is evidence that opportunities were treated as high priority even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer.” (§383).

The Court noted that the overwhelming majority by value of the product supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda could not be used in the NHS. 

An independent investigation by the BBC has also revealed issues with the product supplied by Clandeboye which were not disclosed to the High Court. Good Law Project believes that the Government misled the Court and is in correspondence with lawyers for the Secretary of State.

The Judge found that, even though Pestfix and Ayanda received unlawful preferential treatment via the VIP lane, they would likely have been awarded contracts anyway. The Judge also refused to allow publication of how much money was wasted by the Government’s failure to carry out technical assurance on the PPE supplied by Pestfix and Ayanda. Good Law Project is considering the wider implications of these aspects of the ruling and next steps.

We first revealed the red carpet-to-riches VIP lane for those with political connections in October 2020. Since then, we have fought to reveal details of those who benefited, and at whose request – while the Government fought to conceal them.

Never again should any Government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.

Thank you for your trust in us, and your continued support of this case over 18 long months. Without you, this simply wouldn’t have been possible.

We also want to express our deep gratitude to our expert legal team on this case: Rook Irwin Sweeney and Jason Coppel QC, Patrick Halliday and Zac Sammour of 11KBW. They have worked tirelessly on this case and we hugely appreciate their efforts.

You can read the full judgment from the High Court here.

Good Law Project only exists thanks to donations from people across the UK. If you’re in a position to support our work, you can do so here.

Contender for the crown Rishi Sunak escapes the Westminster bubble by visiting – Devon!

Convenient coincidence, anyone know where Liz Truss is? – Owl

Rishi Sunak in North Devon today as ‘partygate’ fury continues – live updates

Live updates DevonLive 

Chancellor in Devon as PM faces calls to resign

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is visiting Devon today as the ‘partygate’ scandal surrounding the Conservative government continues to spark fury.

Mr Sunak tweeted a picture of him with North Devon MP Selaine Saxby during a planned trip to Ilfracombe where he will be visiting Pall Corporation’s base.

During the visit, the Chancellor will welcome the pharmaceutical’s firm – who have helped with the Covid vaccine rollout – announcement that it is investing £60million into creating 200 jobs.

In his tweet, Mr Sunak said he was “excited” to be in Ilfracombe with Ms Saxby.

Gatherings, the Met Police and what does Cressida Dick’s cat know?

Read on to find out, including the latest bizarre explanation from the Met for closing the case.

It’s not just Boris Johnson’s credibility that’s on the line – Owl

Context. Police in England and Wales have processed a total of 117,213 fixed penalty notices for breaches of Coronavirus restrictions up to 20 June 2021. Including:

Large gatherings (£10,000 fine) 

  • 366 FPNs have now been processed relating to holding a gathering of more than thirty people in England and three in Wales. 
  • These include, but are not limited to, unlicensed music events, protests and private parties. 

Participating in a gathering of more than 15 people (£800 fines) 

  • 3,440 FPNs have been processed in England under regulations requiring people not to participate in a gathering of more than 15 people. 501 processed in Wales.

More than 800 people were fined for lockdown breaches in week of the alleged Downing Street party. In May 2020, people could only meet one other person outdoors. And the fine for breaching this rule had risen to £100, with a maximum £3,000 penalty for repeat offences.

Met Police facing legal challenge for not investigating Boris Johnson parties

The Metropolitan Police is facing a legal challenge over its decision not to launch an investigation into numerous lockdown breaking parties at Downing Street.

The move comes as a former chief constable, Sir Peter Fahy, said the force’s approach was becoming “an issue of competence in the police”.

Lawyers acting for the Good Law Project issued formal legal proceedings against the Met on Tuesday, alleging that the failure to investigate was unlawful. The service’s decision will now be subject to judicial review.

Government officials and the prime minister are alleged to have repeatedly broken Covid restrictions at No.10, hosting parties and cheese and wine evenings throughout lockdown.

The gathering include social events to celebrate Christmas, as well as a “bring your own booze” drinks on 20 May which the prime minister and his wife reportedly attended.

The Met has however resisted opening a formal investigation into the events despite many other people hosting parties around the same dates receiving hefty fines.

Questions have also been raised about why police officers guarding Downing Street did not spot and report an apparent crime in progress at the time.

It was reported overnight that the Met is in contact with the Cabinet Office over the 20 May event.

Sir Peter, who previously headed Greater Manchester Police, told Times Radio on Tuesday that “questions have been asked why the police are not investigating”.

“Normally, if an organisation is thought to have breached the law, you don’t normally leave it for that organisation to go away and investigate it themselves and wait for the result,” he said.

“And I think obviously, some people have said there’s quite a lot of police officers on duty, around Number 10, why did they not realise that there was something going on and report it or at least give advice that this shouldn’t be going on?

“So I think, unfortunately, it’s becoming, you know, as well as an issue of political confidence, one of competence in the police and almost the investigation system.”

Sir Peter said he understood the force’s initial decision not to investigate but that it needed “to give a very full statement about their decision making, probably in consultation with a Crown Prosecution Service, and with the Mayor of London so that “the public do understand the reasoning as to why they’re going to investigate or not investigate”.

Jo Maugham, director of Good Law Project, said: “You can have the rule of law, or you can defer to the powerful. But you can’t have both. Cressida Dick’s cat will know that multiple criminal offences were committed.

“It shames the Met, and ultimately all of us, that she refuses to investigate.”

The Met Police’s response raises more questions than it answers about No 10’s Christmas parties 

Before Christmas, we wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to explain or reverse their refusal to investigate the unlawful parties alleged to have taken place at No 10 Downing Street in December 2020. 

We’ve now received the Met’s response, which raises more questions than it answers, and strongly suggests their refusal to investigate the alleged No 10 parties was unlawful. And now the Met’s approach is under the spotlight again following yesterday’s revelations of yet another party, this time organised by a top No 10 aide at Downing Street in May 2020. Each new revelation makes the Met’s policy of not investigating these breaches more damaging. 

In short, the Met says it concluded that further investigatory work would be required before they could decide whether to bring charges, but rather than attempting to do this, they just closed the case. 

Their attempts to justify that decision really don’t make sense. First they say they relied on the Government’s assurances that no rules had been broken. Then they say there would have been no point in interviewing No 10 staff about the parties because they would have refused to answer questions that exposed them to a risk of prosecution. In what other crime would police decline to investigate because the suspected offender assured them no rules had been broken? And those justifications can’t both be true; if no rules were broken, there’s no risk of self-incrimination. We’re intent to get to the bottom of it.

It is not good enough for the Met to delegate their investigative duties to the press. We don’t believe they would make such concessions for anyone else accused of breaking the law.

They seem to be operating a two-tier system, with one rule for those in power and one rule for everyone else. And we think that sets a dangerous precedent with serious implications for public trust. 

We’re issuing formal legal proceedings to force the Met to revisit their decision. Those in power broke the rules – repeatedly. They should face the same consequences as everyone else.

Pssst – it’s located on the fourth floor!

Many of the “Brat Pack” Tory MP’s elected in 2019 are still a little unfamiliar with the layout of the Palace of Westminster. 

Owl believes that the office of the Chair of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady MP can be found somewhere on the fourth floor.

In the coming days this might be useful to honourable members, especially those of a rebellious inclination, seeking to deliver a letter on a matter of confidence.

NHS England had no choice but turn to private hospitals during Covid surge

“The many people offended by NHS billions being handed to private hospital groups will balk at what is likely to be a long-term marriage of convenience. But a decade of successive governments’ underfunding, and ignoring or exacerbating its staff shortages, has left the NHS with no choice.”

Denis Campbell 

Another day, another initiative to stop hospitals becoming overwhelmed by a combination of the Omicron surge and normal winter pressures. NHS England has struck a deal with private healthcare providers under which their hospitals will be ready to start treating NHS patients who cannot get the Covid or non-Covid care they need because their local NHS hospital is under too much pressure.

This follows the recent news that “mini-Nightingale” field hospitals are being built in the grounds of eight hospitals, that gyms and education centres in hospitals could be turned into overflow wards, and that thousands of Covid patients could be treated at home in “virtual wards”. Any or all of this could happen if the increase in Covid hospitalisations leads to a hospital trust or even entire region of the NHS deciding it needs “surge capacity”.

Announcing the latest tie-up with the private sector on Monday, NHS England’s chief operating officer, Sir David Sloman, who is also the service’s Covid incident director, said: “This deal … means as many people as possible can continue to get the care they need.

“It also places independent health providers on standby to provide further help should hospitals face unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences. Just like the Nightingale hubs being created across the country, we hope never to need their support. But it will be there if needed.”

Sloman said the the new arrangement was “struck under direction from the secretary of state”. It is easy to see why Sajid Javid would look to private hospitals to ease the NHS’s burden. First, the waiting list for non-urgent hospital care in England is already at a record 5.83m and may break through the 6m barrier when the latest monthly performance figures come out on Thursday. Downing Street is open about the fact that getting that number down is a key priority.

Second, the number of hospitals that have been forced to cancel elective surgery in the face of intense pressure will increase the headline total when the same statistics come out next month.

Third, however one feels about privatisation of NHS care, it is unarguable that people who needed urgent surgery during the pandemic, for a range of serious conditions but especially for cancer, have been able to undergo a procedure in a private hospital that they would otherwise have had to wait an indeterminate length of time to receive on the NHS, because the pandemic disrupted so many non-Covid services, especially in the first wave. The health impact of that is still emerging.

Will any part of the NHS need to in effect commandeer their local private hospital(s)? The deal is “another NHS insurance policy”, one health service boss says. The fact that at least 24 trusts in England have had to declare a major alert since New Year’s Day, because they could not cope with the level of demand they were facing, especially with so many staff off sick because of Omicron, suggests the arrangement may have to be triggered, especially with Covid admissions rising in many regions – up 7% in 24 hours on Monday in both the north-west and south-west, for example.

But David Rowland, director of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest thinktank, cautioned that private hospitals’ reliance on NHS consultants means the plan “really doesn’t stack up as a way of adding capacity to the NHS”.

He also asked whether private hospitals would be paid just the NHS “tariff” rate for any treatment they do provide – the fee they receive when performing a hip or knee replacement on an NHS patient – or whether the health service’s almost desperate need for extra capacity means they will receive a markup as part of the deal. NHS England said only that details about the pricing of the arrangements would follow in the next few days.

The deal confirms that the sheer scale of the healthcare backlog means the NHS will be looking to private hospitals to undertake as many operations as they can for the foreseeable future. NHS England was budgeting to spend £10bn on them for that purpose over the next four years even before Javid ordered this tie-up. A report by the Commons health select committee last week said the private sector would play a key role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle the backlog and that reality was central to NHS England’s finished but still unpublished “elective recovery plan”.

The many people offended by NHS billions being handed to private hospital groups will balk at what is likely to be a long-term marriage of convenience. But a decade of successive governments’ underfunding, and ignoring or exacerbating its staff shortages, has left the NHS with no choice.

Can Michael Gove stop Industry passing the buck over building safety scandal?

For nearly two years, a small army of lawyers has been trying to decide who to blame for Grenfell Tower’s dangerous cladding. At the outset of the latest phase of the public inquiry into the disaster, lead counsel warned the organisations involved against indulging in “a merry-go-round of buck-passing”.

Robert Booth

Some chance.

After hundreds of hours of hearings where architects have blamed builders, builders have blamed manufacturers and manufacturers have blamed regulators, a conclusion about why 72 people died after their homes were wrapped in plastic that burned like petrol is still months away.

Michael Gove now faces a similar problem as he seeks to pin responsibility for similar failures on not just one, but thousands of apartment buildings across England. It is a quagmire that has defeated several cabinet predecessors in charge of housing, to the anguish of hundreds of thousands of people whose homes have been rendered worthless.

“We want to try and cut through that,” the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities declared on Monday morning.

Gove’s plan – to give developers until March to come up with a plan to foot the £4bn bill to fix cladding on medium-rise blocks – rests on giving the housebuilders very little room for manoeuvre and stopping them from pointing the finger elsewhere, at least in the first place.

His team understand that the problem requires an urgent fix, not least with the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell fire looming in June and backbench MPs facing considerable pressure from constituents whose lives are in turmoil. They also recognise it doesn’t solve everyone’s building safety problems. But they have decided to start here.

Gove will threaten to strip builders of valuable government contracts and access to subsidies such as the help-to-buy programme unless they promise to do two things: “Fund and undertake all necessary remediation of buildings over 11 metres that you have played a role in developing” and “make financial contributions this year and in subsequent years to a dedicated fund to cover the full outstanding cost to remediate unsafe cladding on 11-to 18-metre buildings”.

The punishments for inaction could include a new law requiring them to pay, restricted access to government funding and public contracts, the pursuit of companies through the courts and even using planning powers to make their operations difficult. Gove has one more “blunt but heavy instrument” in his armoury: a tax hike. The government has already consulted on a new 4% tax on profits of residential property developers to raise £200m a year to help fund remediation works. This could be increased and the Treasury has given Gove permission to “use a high level threat of tax … as a means of gaining voluntary contributions from [developers]”.

Some observers believe this will be a sufficiently tight vice to trigger action. They calculate housebuilders cannot afford to wreck their relationship with the government and will pay up and consider pursuing materials manufacturers and others with threats of legal action of their own.

Stewart Baseley, the executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, hinted at what may be to come when he accepted that leaseholders should not have to pay for remediation, but said builders should not cover the costs alone. The implication was: what about the companies like Kingspan and Arconic that made combustible cladding materials? What about the subcontractors who may have assembled them wrongly?

If Gove doesn’t manage to quickly reach the £4bn target from the developers (and remember, previous appeals for developers to do the right thing failed), his department’s own coffers could be raided. That is an unappealing prospect given Gove’s responsibility for Downing Street’s flagship levelling up policy and the urgent need to keep investing in social housing.

“Leaseholders shouldn’t pay, the polluter should pay and we want to work with everyone involved to get to a constructive solution,” Gove said on Monday.

Whether that happens may come down to who blinks first.


£1bn wiped off FTSE house builders as Gove delivers cladding bill

Oscar Williams-Grut 

House builders lost more than £1 billion in value today after the government gave the industry just a few weeks to come up with fully costed plans fix the £4 billion cladding scandal…

….Shares in house builders slumped. Persimmon was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100, down 3.1%, while Redrow dropped 3.3% on the FTSE 250. Other major developers registered similarly sharp falls and £1.3 billion was wiped off the sector’s market value in early trade, according to stockbroker AJ Bell.

UBS analyst Gregor Kuglitsch said the cost of the new measures was “significant”.

“The current market cap of the sector is around £40bn so a £4bn cost would equate to ~10% on a pre-tax basis,” he and his team wrote in a note to clients. “This assumes the listed sector would bear the brunt of the cost, although there are likely some private companies that will also need to pay.”

Gove’s announcement comes on top of the building safety levy and residential property developer tax. Both were announced last year to help fund the government’s £5 billion commitment to tackling the problem.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation said: “The largest UK based house builders, who only built a minority of the affected buildings, have already spent or committed approaching £1bn to remediate affected buildings and the recently announced Property Developers Tax will raise billions more.

“We will engage directly with Government but any further solutions must be proportionate, and involve those who actually built affected buildings and specified, certificated and provided the defective materials on them.”

Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy at the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said: “The Government has already introduced one industry specific cladding tax, and now another is on its way. This piecemeal approach is confusing, unnecessarily complex and will likely impact the number of homes built.

“It’s also worth pointing out that the developer paying for remediation will almost certainly not have been responsible for the cladding put on the property – most of which was retrofitted long after construction and has nothing to do with the developer.

“Another construction industry related tax is neither fair, nor proportionate and industry will be dismayed at this scatter gun approach to fixing an issue that several governments set the regulation for.

“Perhaps all MPs will sacrifice a percentage of their salary and pensions to help fund remediation, as the real responsibility lies with legislators?”

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey said it has “acted on this already for its customers” and “made sure Taylor Wimpey customers do not have to pay for these improvements.”

“We trust that we will not be penalised for our early action to do the right thing,” the company said. “There are many organisations involved in the issue of fire safety, including large business in our supply chain and indeed Government themselves, and so the proposed response must recognise this.”

Gove said: “Some developers have already done the right thing and funded remedial works and I commend them for those actions. But too many others have failed to live up to their responsibilities.”

Hug your dog to stay warm if you can’t afford heating.

Insensitive advice from SSE energy (formerly Scottish and Southern Energy plc) one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers as the government struggles to come up with a solution. – Owl

Hug pets or do star-jumps to stay warm if you can’t afford heating, energy supplier suggests

By Nick Duffy 

People should hug their pets for warmth and exercise to stay warm to avoid having to turn up the heating, one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers has suggested.

The email was sent to customers of SSE Energy, the electricity and gas supplier acquired by Ovo in 2020, suggesting “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter”.

Charities have warned that millions will be left struggling to afford heating in the year to come after adjustments to the energy price cap in April, with the average consumer expected to see their bills go up from £1,277 to £1,865 a year, an increase of 50 per cent.

SSE’s “tips” for consumers trying to “keep an eye on” their bill prices, still available on its website, suggests that “putting on another layer of clothing is the best thing you can do to keep warm without touching the thermostat.”

It adds: “Some brisk activity will help warm you up. You don’t have to nip down to the gym. Try cleaning the house, challenging the kids to a hula-hoop contest, or doing a few star jumps. You only need to do just enough to create a little extra heat until you feel warm again.”

If that fails, SSE suggests consumers should “have a cuddle with your pets and loved ones to help stay cosy”.

People struggling to keep their bills down could also apparently enjoy “hearty bowls of porridge” or eat ginger that “keeps you warm by encouraging blood flow”.

Labour MP Darren Jones, chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, told the Financial Times that Ovo should apologize for the “insensitive” remarks.

“Being told to put on a jumper instead of turning on your heating if you can’t afford it, at a time of such difficulty for so many families, is plainly offensive,” he said.

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said that while the advice was likely well-intentioned, “many people are very anxious about rising energy bills and won’t take kindly to being told to do some star jumps.”

Ovo said: “We understand how difficult the situation will be for many of our customers this year. We are working hard to find meaningful solutions as we approach this energy crisis, and we recognise that the content of this blog was poorly judged and unhelpful.

“We are embarrassed and sincerely apologise.”