Boris Johnson has said he is “very proud” of the government’s efforts to buy up urgently needed kit during the coronavirus outbreak after the public spending watchdog criticised the way normal standards of transparency were set aside.
At prime minister’s questions, Labour leader highlighted the National Audit Office report criticising the government’s handling of the contracts, adding £10.5 billion worth of were handed out without competitive tender and “suppliers with political connections were 10 times more likely to be awarded contracts”.
Starmer said: “While the prime minister and the chancellor won’t pay people enough to isolate properly, we learnt this week they can find £21 million of taxpayers’ money to pay a go-between to deliver lucrative contracts to the Department of Health.
“I remind the prime minister that a few weeks ago he couldn’t find that amount of money for free school meals for kids over half-term.
“Does the prime minister think that £21 million for a middle man was an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money?”
“All government contracts are, of course, going to be published in a due way and are already being published,” insisted Johnson.
He strongly defended the government’s actions at a time when there was a global shortage of proper equipment.
“We were facing a very difficult situation where across the world there (were) not adequate supplies of PPE. Nobody had enough PPE,” he told MPs.
“We shifted heaven and earth to get 32 billion items of PPE into this country. I’m very proud of what has been achieved.”
Johnson said Sir Keir initially urged for the removal of “blockages” in the procurement process to secure personal protective equipment (PPE), adding: “We were facing a very difficult situation where across the world there was not adequate supplies of PPE. Nobody had enough PPE.
But the Labour leader told the Commons: “This week he is effectively defending the paying of £21 million on a contract with no oversight”.
He added: “We’re eight months into this crisis and the government is still making the same mistakes.