Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it was “perfectly reasonable” for him to assist a former Conservative minister in winning a multi-million pound PPE contract.
Brooks Newmark – who quit as a Tory minister in 2014 after being revealed to have sent sexually explicit pictures to an undercover reporter posing as a female party activist – is reported to have received Mr Hancock‘s personal help in securing a £178m contact for protective goggles.
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According to The Sunday Times, Mr Newmark sent emails to Mr Hancock during the first wave of COVID infections in the UK after setting up a firm to broker PPE deals for international suppliers.
Within emails from May last year disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Newmark is said to have sent Mr Hancock details of his proposal.
The former MP is reported to have explained he had links to a “well connected and powerful” person in China, but that he needed government help in accelerating deals.
The newspaper said Mr Hancock wrote back: “Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now.”
After a reply from Mr Newmark, in which he asked for someone to “lead the charge” in exploring his proposal, an aide to Mr Hancock is then said to have forwarded the proposal to Lord Deighton, the government’s PPE tsar.
“Please see below from former MP Brooks Newmark… an excellent PPE proposal that the health secretary and I would be very grateful if Lord Deighton could look into urgently,” the 28 May email said.
The Sunday Times said, on 1 June, the Department of Health then directly awarded a £178m contract for protective goggles to the firm, invoking emergency procurement rules to avoid a tender.
Asked if it was appropriate for Mr Newmark to have lobbied him over a multi-million pound contract, Mr Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Yes it was absolutely appropriate for people to get in contact with anybody at the Department of Health when the country desperately needed PPE.
“I sent this contact straight on to the PPE team and they looked at it. I don’t have anything to do with the award of contracts.”
Questioned as to whether Mr Newmark received special treatment, Mr Hancock replied: “No, I just pinged it on.”
He added: “What I can tell you is that we had a process in place to ensure that when there were opportunities to get hold of PPE, to save lives on the frontline, that they were looked at rapidly.
“In this case, we ended up with 90 million goggles for people in the NHS as a result of this approach.”
Mr Hancock said the government’s process allowed “high quality offers” on PPE deals to be “taken up rapidly”
“That process was open to everybody and many, many people came through that process,” he added.
“And the result was that we saved lives on the frontline and at no point did we have a national outage of PPE and I’m incredibly proud of my team that pulled that off.
“But of course when somebody approaches the health secretary in the middle of a pandemic when you’re desperately short of PPE, it’s perfectly reasonable for the health secretary to send on the email and say can we have a look at this, and then I didn’t have anything to do with the signing of any of these contracts.”
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Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It is a recurring theme of the pandemic that ministers have bent over backwards to help their donors, friends and supporters while other companies have had to beg to provide equipment that could help.
“Returning to normal after this crisis is over must not mean a return to Conservative cronyism, deals for mates, and one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”
The Sunday Times reported that Mr Newmark declined to comment.
But sources close to him told the newspaper he merely helped “chivvy along” an existing process.
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