Publish all talks between ministers and business over Covid contracts, Labour demands

25 April 2021, 22:30 | Updated: 25 April 2021, 22:33

Labour has called on the Govt to release communication relating to ministers and their business contacts
Labour has called on the Govt to release communication relating to ministers and their business contacts. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

The Government should publish all communication between ministers and businesses who were given emergency contracts in the pandemic, Labour has said.

Concerns have grown about the Government’s links to the private sector in the wake of revelations about David Cameron’s lobbying and Boris Johnson's texts with Sir James Dyson.

Labour is focusing on ministers' links or business contacts who were awarded contracts under emergency procurement measures since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Meanwhile Downing Street said it made no apology for giving out contracts quickly to respond to the pandemic, and that procurement "went through the same assurance process and due diligence is carried out on every contract".

The party's Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves has now written to Cabinet minister Michael Gove and said: "I am sure you also appreciate that these revelations are creating a growing impression that there is one set of rules for ministers and their close friends, and another for the rest of the British public."

Read more: Call for inquiry into Boris Johnson’s conduct over 'cronyism' rejected

David Lammy's powerful monologue on politician's duty to public

She cited a High Court hearing earlier this year involving contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE), in which the court ruled the Government had unlawfully failed to publish details of coronavirus-related contracts worth billions.

The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its "wholesale failure" to disclose details of contracts agreed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Reeves added that "lknowing how exposed some of our frontline staff were during the height of the pandemic without proper PPE, and also with the knowledge that £2 billion worth of contracts have been handed to Conservative friends and donors, means there are new serious questions for Government".

Read more: James O'Brien perfectly sums up the Boris Johnson Dyson texts saga

Ms Reeves said the Government should answer a number of questions which "now grow more pressing by the day as stories of cronyism and sleaze continue to mount" and asked if Mr Gove will commit to revealing the communications.

These, she added, would include the "remaining text messages between (Boris Johnson) and James Dyson, and between him and other business leaders".

Boris Johnson cut through red tape in Dyson affair - ex-Tory MP

"Will you publish full details of the VIP fast lane, including the companies listed, and transparently put forward any links to Conservative friends and donors, real or perceived conflicts of interest for proper scrutiny?" Ms Reeves wrote.

David Cameron was cleared of wrongdoing over his lobbying for Greensill, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the former PM's efforts for Greensill Capital were referred to officials at the time and underwent "appropriate consultations".

Mr Johnson has said he has nothing to conceal over texts to Sir James, in which he said he would "fix" an issue over his employees being taxed if they made ventilators in the UK at the start of the Covid outbreak.

Downing Street has said: "We have been dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic and our approach throughout has been to act quickly to save lives, and we make no apology for that.

"This has often meant having to award contracts at speed, however procurement went through the same assurance process and due diligence is carried out on every contract - ministers have no role in awarding them.

"We are committed to transparency in our procurement and all contract award notices are published online for anyone to see."