Humphreys: What are the Tories hiding?

The complicity of silence – Owl

Eileen Wragg writes in the Exmouth Journal

During the last year there have been serious concerns arising from the conviction and sentencing of former Exmouth Mayor and EDDC Councillor John Humphreys for sexual assaults on two young boys. Among the concerns was the fact that he was allowed to continue holding his position as an Exmouth Town and East Devon District Councillor, despite having been arrested in 2015, even campaigning in the 2019 General Election, being photographed at Exmouth Community College with one of the parliamentary candidates and others.

Disturbingly, following a question from Devon County Councillor Jess Bailey at a Full County Council meeting recently, it was revealed that the National Society for the Protection of Children (NSPCC) had informed DCC of the investigation in 2014, yet he was allowed to stay in office, continue to stand for election, and unbelievably was nominated to be an EDDC Honorary Alderman in December 2019! A statement has recently been made by DCC admitting that action should have been taken.

I was made aware that Humphreys was being investigated for these crimes about five years ago, but with no evidence, I was unable to disclose that information. If I, as a Member of the opposition at the time at EDDC was aware, it is inconceivable that Members of the Conservative party had not been informed. Last week’s Full Council meeting at EDDC was presented with a Notice of Motion calling on MP Simon Jupp, who had according to a Conservative Councillor, stayed in a property owned by Humphreys for around two months in 2019, to ask for the questions asked to be investigated by the Conservative party and to give reassurance to the Council. Incredibly, the Conservative Councillors abstained from the requested recorded vote, and from voting on the Notice of Motion. Several, in fact, left the meeting before the vote was taken. It has been reported that a meeting had been called at Blackdown House prior to the meeting, and that they had been whipped into abstaining from the vote.

This raises grave concerns that there was something that they didn’t want known. My view, expressed during Full Council, was that political purposes were put ahead of the safeguarding of children. Devon County Council should be hanging its head in shame along with those who refused to vote last week. Humphreys is serving a twenty one year sentence, one of his victims is serving a life sentence. A recording of last week’s Council meeting can be viewed via EDDC’s website.

[The discussion on Humphreys starts at around 1Hr and 12 mins into the recording of the Full Council Meeting of 20 July which can be found here. Or watch below]

Growing anger over cuts to Ottery bus services

An online petition has been launched on Change.org and the town council is considering taking up the matter with Stagecoach. 

Philippa Davies www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

From Sunday, July 31, a new 44 service will be covering Exeter – Cranbrook – Ottery St Mary – Honiton – Axminster.  There will be a two-hourly service from Axminster and a combination of one to two services in the hour from Honiton.   

There is particular concern that the last bus from Exeter to Ottery will be at 18.40 and there will no longer be a service from Ottery to Honiton at 21.51. 

An online petition has been launched by a local resident who says: “The new timetables will be a nightmare for anyone wishing to go out to Exeter for an evening or for those that need to use the buses to get home from work.” 

Ottery’s mayor, Cllr Vicky Johns, said: “As a Councillor and resident of Ottery I am dismayed that Stagecoach have reduced their service to our town and the outlying villages.  

“We have residents who rely on the public transport to get them to their work places and home again, to get them to their places of education and home again and to generally get them around safely.  

“As a country we have declared a climate emergency and whereas most areas are increasing their public transport ours is decreasing, where does this make sense? I would hope that Stagecoach would look again at their new timetable and take into account what their customers actually require.” 

Ottery Town Council will be discussing the issue at their next meeting on Monday, August 1. 

The MP for East Devon Simon Jupp said he is seeking a meeting with Stagecoach over the cuts. He said: “The reduction of bus services in Ottery St Mary and East Devon comes as a bitter blow. We should be encouraging people back on to public transport, yet have a council who have doubled the price of parking across our district. It’s time for some joined-up thinking and that is why I am sitting down with Stagecoach bosses to express local feedback about where the timetable cuts go too far.”

The Herald reported on the reduced bus service earlier this month, when the county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, raised her concerns. She is calling for Devon County Council to press Stagecoach to reinstate the existing service. 

Stagecoach says the changes are aimed at ‘providing a sustainable bus network now so that we can grow services over the long term’. 

The company says it needs to concentrate resources on the services where demand is greatest, to make sure vital journeys and connections are maintained, and that it will work with national and local government to attract more people to use its bus services. 

Get to know your next Prime Minister

Exclusive: Exeter hosting Tory leadership hustings on Monday

Very exclusive: Only “qualifying” Tory “True Blue Badge Holder” may attend either in person or online!

Exclusive, maybe secret: At the moment, the venue has not been made public.

[However, previous hustings during elections have been staged at Exeter Cathedral.

Other possible venues include the Corn Exchange, Exeter University and Sandy Park’s Conference Centre.]

Alternatively, East Devon Watch readers may prefer to watch the “Real Deal” here.

I will continue to demand better for our communities – Richard Foord

“We have an impotent zombie government with a Prime Minister who’s already checked out of the job, at a time when people are calling for help. This simply isn’t good enough.”

Richard Foord MP www.devonlive.com

When I was elected just over a month ago, I had little idea just how much UK politics was about to change. In just over four weeks we’ve seen the ungracious downfall of a Prime Minister, and an increasingly scrappy contest to replace him. Yet there is also much continuity.

During my first weeks in Parliament, I’ve been stunned by how many of the long-standing traditions remain. Aside from the maze of winding corridors and the customs that date back centuries, the character of politics as carried on within the Houses of Parliament feels quite removed for our present challenges.

Everything is prefaced with formality and niceties, everyone is referred to by titles and constituency names, and the Government has almost total control over what the House of Commons can discuss.

It’s clear that we do need change. We need to ground our politics in the present and the future, and focus on working collaboratively to get things done. I will bang the drum for our part of Devon, but I will try to engage constructively to deliver for local communities.

What is also clear is that whoever is our next Prime Minister is going to have a big job on their hands. We are facing a climate emergency, war in Ukraine, and a cost-of-living crisis. The cost of the weekly shop and filling up the car are skyrocketing, leaving many unsure how they’re going to pay their bills.

Yet at this critical time we’ve seen Conservative Ministers focus on tearing each other apart in the quest to become the next party leader, rather than tackling these huge problems. To a new MP like me, it’s been astonishing to see senior Cabinet ministers tearing apart the same policies they supported just weeks ago.

Take taxes for example. The Conservatives have voted to increase taxes on hard working people 15 times – yet now they line up to decry those taxes and suggest they really didn’t want to increase them at all.

If they cared so much at the time, they would have taken a stand and resigned from Government. But, once again, we see career ambitions taking precedence over their promises.

At the recent Tiverton and Honiton by-election, voters sent a clear message that we’re fed up with being taken for granted. But it seems that the Conservative Government in London hasn’t got the message.

We have an impotent zombie government with a Prime Minister who’s already checked out of the job, at a time when people are calling for help. This simply isn’t good enough.

Liberal Democrats want to see real action to support those struggling – including a cut to VAT to put £600 back in your pocket, and a cap on the cost of heating oil to keep off-grid energy prices down.

These are measures the Government could bring in right now that would deliver real help, but instead the Conservative Party is spending weeks talking only to itself. I will continue to demand better for our communities and fight to make your voice heard in Westminster.

IMF: UK set for slowest growth of G7 countries in 2023

“We got the big calls right” – Owl

The UK is set for the slowest growth of the G7 richest economies next year, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

www.bbc.co.uk 

It is predicting UK growth will fall to just 0.5% in 2023, much lower than its forecast in April of 1.2%.

The global economy has shrunk for the first time since 2020, the IMF said, hit by the Ukraine war and Covid-19.

With growth stalling in the UK, US, China and Europe, the world “may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession”, it said.

“We know that people are feeling the impact of rising prices, caused by global economic factors, triggered by the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine,” a HM Treasury spokesperson said in a statement, adding that help for households included £400 off energy bills plus personal tax cuts worth up to £330 a year.

The IMF has cut its 2022 global growth forecast to just 3.2% and warned the slowdown risks being even more severe.

It said fast-rising prices were to blame for much of the slowdown, with households and businesses squeezed by a combination of higher prices and higher borrowing costs as policymakers raise interest rates to try to counter inflation.

“The global economy, still reeling from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is facing an increasingly gloomy and uncertain outlook,” economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas wrote in a blog outlining the international lending body’s latest economic forecast.

“The outlook has darkened significantly” since April, the last time the IMF issued forecasts, he added.

The global economy contracted in the three months to July, which was the first decline since the pandemic hit, the IMF said.

The probability of a recession in the G7 economies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and UK – now stands at roughly 15% – nearly four times higher than usual.

While UK growth is expected to remain relatively strong this year, Mr Gourinchas said unusually high inflation – faster than in Europe or the US – is expected to take a toll in 2023.

“If you were to look at both years together, it’s actually not very far from where the other advanced economies are,” he told the BBC. “The one thing that worries me more about the UK economy is that their inflation numbers seem to be quite high. There is a fairly high pass through from high gas prices to broader prices in the economy.

“That would signal even further monetary policy tightening by the Bank of England and that would also weigh down on growth going forward.”

The IMF now expects inflation to reach 6.6% in advanced economies and 9.5% in emerging market and developing economies – nearly a full percentage point higher than it expected in April.

“Inflation at current levels represents a clear risk for current and future macroeconomic stability and bringing it back to central bank targets should be the top priority for policymakers,” Mr Gourinchas said.

“Tighter monetary policy will inevitably have real economic costs, but delaying it will only exacerbate the hardship.”

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by Dharshini David, global trade correspondent

The fallout from the war in Ukraine is being felt in pockets across the world. Soaring food and fuel prices and higher interest rates means the IMF sees more gloomy prospects for all major economies – but it’s the UK that, Russia apart, remains bottom of the pile for 2023.

Brexit may not have helped but it’s our reliance on fossil fuels – they make up 75% of our energy mix, compared to just over half of the EU’s – that’s made us particularly vulnerable to this shock. Those prices are determined on international markets but affect us all. This report comes on the day that, with the energy price cap set to top £3,000 in October, a committee of MPs warns that further government help for households may be needed.

But the IMF is among those economists who’ve noted that the UK faces more fundamental issues than the current crisis, with living standards having dropped behind many competitors over the last 15 years, something many attribute to a lack of investment in skills, equipment and infrastructure. Officials from the IMF have previously told me that one way to remedy that would be to raise, not lower taxes, to fund more investment.

2px presentational grey line

The US saw the steepest downgrade of any country for 2022. The IMF cut its growth forecast for the world’s largest economy to 2.3% this year, from 3.7% previously, and to just 1% in 2023.

Meanwhile growth in China is expected to fall to 3.3% this year, the slowest rate in nearly four decades, as the country wrestles with new Covid lockdowns and a property crisis.

Questions about the reliability of Europe’s natural gas supplies from Russia, as well as political unrest generated by high food and fuel prices, are among the risks the global economy is facing in the months ahead, the IMF said.

“We can be reasonably hopeful that China might be rebound,” Mr Gourinchas said, adding that he was “much more concerned about both the inflation path and the tightening of monetary policy leading to a slowdown going ahead”.

It warned that in a “plausible” scenario, in which only some of those risks materialise, like a shutdown of Russian gas flows to Europe, global economic growth could fall to 2% next year – a pace the world has fallen below just five times since 1970.

 

Strip Tory members of power to pick prime minister, demands senior MP

Conservative party members should be stripped of their power to pick Britain’s next prime minister, a senior MP has said, citing concerns about the increasingly hostile public attacks by the campaigns of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on their rival.

Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com 

Charles Walker, a former longstanding vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, which oversees the rules for internal party no-confidence votes and leadership elections, said the contest “should have got nowhere near” the 180,000 Tory grassroots activists who will decide Boris Johnson’s replacement in just over a month.

He suggested that letting the party faithful pick a new prime minister was an idea “well past its sell-by date” and added it was inevitable that the current rules would lead to “shrill and accusative” blue-on-blue attacks by the candidates.

“It’s a view shared by many of my colleagues privately who wouldn’t dare say it publicly,” Walker said. “MPs should be left to pick party leaders because we know the strength and weaknesses of the candidate far better than the membership because we serve and work with them every day in Westminster.”

Walker’s intervention came as some senior Tory figures warned of the potentially lasting damage that Sunak and Truss’s attempts to land blows on each other could do to the party and government. One MP described the slanging match by their supporters as “beyond the pale”.

Norman Fowler, the former Lord Speaker and a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said the BBC showdown between Truss and Sunak had been “a bad night for the Conservatives” and substantially benefited Labour. “They’ve got enough clips from that programme to last them through to the next election,” he said.

Sunak “had authority and a better financial package, but his bedside manner is, frankly appalling”, said Fowler, who criticised the former chancellor for having repeatedly “hectored and interrupted” his opponent.

Fowler said the foreign secretary came across as “much more pleasant”, but added her economic plans “sounded a bit dodgy” and she had harked back to “project fear”.

Malcolm Rifkind, another Thatcher-era cabinet minister, said the debate had “descended into trivia”, with attacks on Sunak for his expensive suits and shoes. But he said both candidates’ offers to serve in each other’s governments were an important demonstration of unity, and that any residual bitterness by the losing camp would be wiped away at a general election.

Several Tory observers who have not backed a candidate accused Truss’s supporters in particular of unpleasant briefings and acting like “rottweilers”.

But the foreign secretary’s allies suggested Sunak had spent the Monday night debate “mansplaining” with “shouty, private school behaviour”. Simon Clarke, who is backing her, said his former boss at the Treasury had been “pretty aggressive”.

Sunak and Truss were pitted head-to-head in TalkTV’s debate on Tuesday evening, and will face each other for the final time next Thursday. While they will tour the UK during a dozen hustings hosted by the Conservative party, they are not expected to be pitted against each other but grilled separately by an interviewer and party members.

Giles Kenningham, a former director of communications in No 10 under David Cameron, said that given repeated polls put Truss ahead among Tory members’, Sunak had failed to “find a way to move the dial”.

“Truss has shown to be quite a steady performer, so he can’t just rely on her to mess up,” Kenningham said, adding that Sunak would have to “take more risks”, given members will start receiving ballots on 1 August.

Despite the Conservatives having not led in an opinion poll since December 2021, Kenningham said the party’s position was still recoverable and that Labour should have expected to be significantly further ahead.

But Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said the leadership race was “giving us a wealth of material”.

“We are obviously using some now and we’ll have plans for more later as the contest progresses and as we gear up for the next general election, whenever that might be,” she told HuffPost UK.

“I’ll be able to say to people on the doorstep ‘you don’t have to take my word for it any more folks, just listen to them’. The trashing of their own record, I think that you’d expect us to take advantage of that, which we will be doing so fulsomely.”

Hundreds of health jobs advertised in Devon

There are more than 700 health jobs needing to be filled across Devon as the NHS faces what MPs say is its worst ever staffing crisis. A search on the NHS jobs website on Monday found 713 vacancies within 30 miles of Newton Abbot, as an MP warned that a million more workers are needed in the health sector – half of those in the NHS and the rest for social care.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

There are openings in the NHS and care sector in Devon for doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and support staff in hospitals, GP surgeries and the ambulance service. The website showed 340 health jobs within 10 miles of Plymouth, 170 in the Exeter area, 177 in Torbay, and 27 in North Devon.

Jobs posted on Monday include a training administrator at the Exeter HQ of South Western Ambulance Service earning up to £21,777. A maternity staffing coordinator is needed at Torbay Hospital in Torquay on the same salary. The hospital is also recruiting bank delivery drivers paying up to £19,918 pro rata.

Front line health care jobs being advertised include bank healthcare support workers at Torbay Hospital at £11.42 an hour. Devon Partnership NHS Trust in Exeter is looking for an adult mental health staff nurse at a salary of up to £31,534. Practice Plus Group is recruiting a healthcare assistant and nurses at Channings Wood Prison near Newton Abbot.

The website shows there are vacancies for 136 nurses and midwives within 30 miles of Exeter, which includes Torbay and Taunton. The list showed more than 40 doctor jobs paying a salary of more than £100,000, for example a GP at Channings Wood Prison advertised at up to £120,000 depending on experience.

At the other end of the pay scale, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust is looking for an improvement administrator apprentice at £8,092, and a health records modern apprentice paid £9,405 a year.

At Dawlish, a job as a phlebotomist, taking blood, is advertised at £9.53 an hour, and a healthcare assistant starts at £9.67 an hour. Admin staff at GP surgeries at Paignton and Exeter are advertised at £10 an hour. Practice Plus Group is recruiting NHS 111 advisers at Exeter at an hour rate from £10.19 to £13.11.

Persistent understaffing in the NHS is creating a serious risk to patient safety, MPs have said in a damning report. The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the Government has no credible strategy to make the situation better.

In a new report from the committee, research by the Nuffield Trust shows the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives. It said maternity services are “under unsustainable pressure”, while the number of full-time equivalent GPs also fell by more than 700 over three years to March 2022.

Projections suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade. The report said: “In the face of this, the Government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively. The workforce plan promised in the spring has not yet been published and will be a ‘framework’ with no numbers, which we are told could potentially follow in yet another report later this year.”

MPs said that while some progress has been made towards a target of recruiting 50,000 nurses, the Government is set to miss its target to recruit 6,000 more GPs, as promised in the Conservative Party manifesto. “The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness. But most depressing for many on the frontline is the absence of any credible strategy to address it.”

MPs said the Government’s “refusal” to make workforce planning data public “means that the basic question which every health and care worker is asking: are we training enough staff to meet patient need? will remain unanswered”.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is chair of the committee, said successive governments had failed to ensure that the NHS recruits enough doctors and nurses and the issue needs to be addressed urgently. He told GB News: “The fundamental problem that we lay bare in this report is our failure as a country to train enough doctors and nurses over many years and that is because government after government has said it doesn’t matter if we don’t quite train enough doctors because we can always import them from overseas.

“The fact is that Covid was a global pandemic. Everyone’s got their Covid backlog. There’s a shortage of two million doctors and 50 million nurses worldwide. It is just time we took a decision as a country that we have the biggest health system in the world with the NHS, we’re going to train the numbers we actually need.”

He said that the NHS and the social care system have a shortage of one million workers, split between the NHS and social care, and health workers needed to be paid more.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019.

“As we continue to deliver on our commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024, we are also running a £95 million recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500 million to develop our valued social care workforce, including through training opportunities and new career pathways.

“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs.”

Huge solar farm approved for farmland near Clyst Hydon

A new solar farm capable of powering almost 15,000 homes is set to be built in East Devon.

Paul Jones www.midweekherald.co.uk

Lightrock Power’s plan for the 49MW energy plant at Clyst Hydon, known as Paytherden Solar Farm – was approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee at a meeting on Tuesday morning (July 26).

The scheme, on more than 170 acres of land adjacent to Peradon Farm, had been recommended for approval by planning officers.

More than 550 people commented on the application, with more than 200 supporting the scheme, submitted by LDA Design on behalf of Lightrock Power.

Reasons for opposing the plans included the loss of farmland and potential flooding.

The Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) was among those who objected to the plans.

However, the RSPB is backing the scheme, pledging to work with developer Lightrock on measures that would ‘deliver benefits for a wide range of species and will certainly be of higher ecological value than what is currently there’.

Councillors voted 10 votes in favour to two votes against to approve the plans.

After the meeting Chris Sowerbutts, co-founder of Lightrock, said: “This decision will help us to tackle climate change by decarbonising how we generate electricity.

“The decisions we must take to tackle the climate crisis aren’t always easy so we’re grateful to members of the planning committee, council officers and everyone who has engaged in this project.

“We now look forward to continuing to work with the local community, East Devon District Council and other stakeholders to move forward with our plans.”

The solar farm would sit on land near Clyst Hydon – Credit: Lightrock/Google

The solar farm will significantly benefit the environment, he said, helping barn owls to thrive and nest on site, establish otter holts and habitat, improve the banks of the River Clyst for wildlife including water voles, and improve other existing ecological corridors for reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals including brown hares and hedgehogs.

“We face an ecological crisis as well as a climate crisis so it’s so important solar farms like Paytherden benefit local wildlife as well as generating renewable energy,” Mr Sowerbutts added.

To find out more about the plans, visit http://www.paytherdensolarfarm.com.

 

UK health department played ‘fast and loose’ when awarding Covid contracts to Randox

Ministers and government officials played “fast and loose” when awarding £777m in Covid contracts to a healthcare firm that employed the Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a lobbyist, the head of parliament’s spending watchdog has said.

Rob Evans www.theguardian.com 

In a damning report, the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) concluded that the government made a series of failures, making it impossible to know if the contracts had been awarded properly to Randox.

The Department of Health and Social Care did little to deal with potential conflicts of interests despite “clear concerns” about Randox’s political connections, the cross-party committee of MPs found.

It added that officials were aware Paterson had been in direct contact with Matt Hancock, who was then the health secretary, while promoting Randox.

The MPs found that Randox made “substantial” profits after it was given the contracts to carry out Covid testing during the pandemic.

The firm’s profits in the year to June 2021 were “more than 100 times greater” than the previous year, according to the PAC, which questioned whether they were excessive.

In its latest accounts, Randox reported a profit of £177m for the year to 30 June 2021. The MPs said this compared with a profit of £1.2m that Randox reported for the 18 months up to 30 June 2020.

A Randox spokesperson accused the PAC report of being “deeply flawed and wrong in assumptions it makes and the conclusions it draws”, and added the firm had issued a legal complaint.

He said: “At no stage, either during its deliberations or in its preparation of this report, did the PAC make any contact whatsoever with Randox. Consequently many elements of its report relating to Randox are false, based as they are on wrong and unchecked assumptions about the company.”

A spokesperson for the company has previously said Randox contracts were awarded in full compliance with government procedures and protocols in place at a time of the emerging pandemic.

The PAC also concluded that the health department did not keep proper records of why it gave the contracts to Randox, nor of what happened when ministers met the company. The department was approached for comment.

The publication of the report comes after Randox and Paterson were accused of cronyism in parliamentary debates. Randox paid Paterson, then MP for North Shropshire, £100,000 a year.

The former cabinet minister was forced to resign from parliament last November after he wrongly used his parliamentary position to lobby for his clients, including Randox. Evidence of his lobbying had originally been uncovered by the Guardian.

The Liberal Democrats won the subsequent byelection, and the lobbying saga – including attempts by Boris Johnson to force his MPs to change the rules to protect Paterson – contributed to fury within the party and among voters, which ultimately led to the prime minister’s downfall this month.

Between 2010 and 2018, Randox donated £160,000 to the Conservative party. During the pandemic, Paterson directly lobbied Hancock on behalf of Randox. After Paterson’s lobbying, Hancock chased his officials, saying he was “very worried” about how his department was treating Randox and other firms.

The PAC concluded that the department’s “woeful [and] poor record-keeping means that we cannot be sure that all these contracts were awarded properly. Even allowing for the exceptional circumstances at the start of the pandemic, basic civil service practices to document contract decision-making were not followed.”

It said that the health department neglected to scrutinise obvious conflicts of interest when it awarded the contracts, even though officials knew of Paterson’s contacts with Hancock.

Between January and October 2020, Paterson and Hancock exchanged messages eight times over private email or WhatsApp while the MP promoted Randox. Hancock has said he did nothing wrong.

The MPs said officials were also aware that Hancock had received hospitality from Randox in 2019 when he stayed overnight at a country estate owned by the head of the firm. Hancock said he did not need to publicly declare this hospitality.

The health department was also criticised for failing to meet the basic rule to publicly declare meetings between ministers and outside firms. Only four out of the eight meetings between Randox and health ministers were made public as they should have been. Records of what was said at only two of these meetings were kept.

At the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, the health department gave the first contract, worth £133m, to Randox without allowing any other firms to bid. The government had suspended normal rules for awarding contracts as the pandemic was deemed to be an emergency.

The PAC said the award of this contract did not receive “the scrutiny we would expect from the department’s senior civil servants. The role of the department’s ministers in approving the contract was also confused and unclear.”

The MPs added: “Randox struggled to deliver the expected level of testing capacity against its first contract, which did not set out any performance measures. Yet the department still awarded Randox a contract extension worth £328m seven months later, again without competition.”

Meg Hillier, the PAC’s chair, said: “We repeatedly hear the reference to the crisis we were facing as a nation. But acting fast doesn’t mean acting fast and loose.”

She added that “much of the business was won without any competing tenders from companies who may have had better capacity to deliver”, pointing out that Randox had also been given money to pay for equipment to conduct the testing.

A spokesperson for Hancock said: “Randox was the UK’s largest testing provider. Not to work with them during this unprecedented global pandemic would have been a dereliction of duty.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said:“There is no evidence that the government’s contracts with Randox were awarded improperly, as has been concluded by the National Audit Office.

“To suggest otherwise is misleading. By building the largest testing industry in UK history from scratch and at pace, we were able to break chains of transmission and save tens of thousands of lives. Contracts with Randox and other suppliers made a significant contribution to our national response to Covid.”