The government faces possible legal action after a former Conservative parliamentary candidate was revealed as the contact for a £100 million deal for personal protective equipment (PPE).
The contract to supply face masks was awarded in July 2020 to Pharmaceuticals Direct Ltd (PDL) without any competition, although details were not published until March.
The Good Law Project, which is investigating how coronavirus contracts were awarded, said details of the deal were only disclosed after it wrote to the government.
The company’s representative was Samir Jassal, who twice stood as a Conservative candidate at general elections and has met Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
The Department of Health and Social Care said due diligence was carried out on every contract and ministers had no involvement in awarding them.
It said all contracts are published online, in line with transparency arrangements.
But the BBC reported that even when the £102.6 million deal involving was finally published, the contact details for the supplier were blacked out.
However, in what appears to have been a clerical error, a separate document published with the contract gives Jassal’s name as the “supplier’s contact”.
In a pre-action letter to the government, the Good Law Project’s lawyers said Jassal is not a director or shareholder of PDL but he has twice stood as an MP and has met the prime minister on a number of occasions.
The Good Law Project is “seriously and legitimately concerned” the decision to award the contract “was influenced by the involvement of Mr Jassal” or that it may have been a “relevant consideration” or even that it “unlawfully advantaged” PDL in its discussions with the Government relative to other potential suppliers.
Jo Maugham, the Good Law Project’s director, said: “The first lockdown ended in June.
“How can we still have needed PPE so urgently as to award a vast £100 million-plus PPE contract without any competition in July?
“Could it have something to do with close links to Number 10?”
Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said: “It says everything about the rampant Tory sleaze consuming this government that such a huge conflict of interest was revealed by mistake.
“The government keeps saying that it wants to be transparent on deals – but the redactions on this contract show this was a deliberate cover-up. They’ve been caught red-handed.
“It’s clear it’s one rule for the Conservative Party and their friends and donors, and another for everyone else.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The first duty of any government in a national crisis is to protect the public and save lives, and to do that when confronted with this global pandemic we had to rapidly procure and produce PPE.
“Production and procurement involved setting up a new logistics network from scratch and expanding our PPE supply chain from 226 NHS trusts in England to more than 58,000 different settings, all of which was taking place at a time when global demand was greater than ever before.
“All PPE procurement went through the same assurance process and, in conjunction with those checks, due diligence is carried out on every contract with ministers having no involvement in deciding who is awarded them.”
Jassal told the BBC PDL has 20 years’ experience in the healthcare sector and it asked to supply PPE via an online government portal.
He said the masks “successfully entered the NHS supply chain in a timely manner” and they met “all technical standards which were rigorously vetted and approved by the Health and Safety Executive, the DHSC and the NHS”.