Nicola Sturgeon has criticised Downing Street after Dominic Cummings admitted he made a recommendation that led to a friend’s firm receiving government work.
Cummings made the admission after campaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the payment of more than £500,000 to research firm Public First without a formal tendering process.
The first minister hit out at Downing Street during a debate on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the Scottish parliament.
Responding to a question from Ruth Davidson about Scotland running out of PPE, Sturgeon said: “We set up a portal so anyone who had concerns could quickly raise those concerns and have them addressed. In addition to the NHS, we very quickly put new arrangements in place to top-up the PPE supplies available to our care homes across the country.
“We continue to ensure we have good, robust supplies of the right PPE, and into the bargain, of course, we’ve also developed a domestic supply chain for PPE.
“Not by giving contracts to our political chums the way some other governments have, but actually by building that domestic supply chain.
“Before this pandemic, there was effectively zero Scottish PPE manufacturing, we were fully reliant on imports but over this winter period nearly half of all PPE that is being used in Scotland is being supplied from Scotland.”
Public First’s directors and owners are James Frayne and Rachel Wolf – both former colleagues of Cummings and Cabinet Office minister Gove. Wolf also co-wrote the Conservative party’s election manifesto in 2010.
The Good Law project, a not-for-profit crowdfunded legal campaign, has brought a judicial review, despite attempts by the UK government to have the case dismissed.
In a witness statement submitted to the High Court, Cummings admitted to being the “driving decision-maker” behind the move to conduct more focus groups and hire Public First.
Cummings described Frayne and Wolf as his “friends”, but added: “Obviously I did not request Public First be brought in because they were my friends. I would never do such a thing.”
He said he “requested” civil servants hire the firm, and added: “I knew they would give us honest information unlike many companies in this sector.
“I am a special adviser and as such, I am not allowed to direct civil servants. However, as a result of my suggestion, I expected people to hire Public First.
“The nature of my role is that sometimes people take what I say as an instruction and that is a reasonable inference as people assume I am often speaking for the prime minister.”
The SNP have demanded that the UK government address the issue of contracts being handed to people with links to the Tory party.