While millions of people in Britain face unemployment or low pay, the Tories are using the pandemic as an opportunity to write out blank cheques to their rich friends.
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, while the Tory ministers twiddled their thumbs, governments elsewhere in Europe were busy securing supplies of PPE. But the UK government’s delayed response – to what was a foreseeable spike in global demand for PPE – led to a critical shortfall of supplies.
Over £18 billion has since been spent by the government on PPE, testing, and consultants. Not ones to let a good money-making opportunity slip, the Tories enacted emergency measures which meant that public contracts could be negotiated without the normal advertising and tendering procedures.
With the spending taps turned on, the Tories made sure their friends – and donors – got a slice of the action. According to a damning report by the National Audit Office, the government set up a secret high-priority channel to process offers of PPE supplies that were raised by Tory ministers and peers, often without proper due diligence.
Campaigners such as The Good Law Project have found evidence that procurement contracts for supplying PPE were awarded to businesses with little or no experience. Instead, their real experience was that of friendship and connections to the Tory Party, or to Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave campaign.
There are two companies we know of so far that went through the VIP channel for PPE contracts. Both seem to have been paid way over the odds.— The Good Law Project (@GoodLawProject) November 23, 2020
The Government needs to come clean about who else got sweetheart deals. @JolyonMaugham https://t.co/8GXWryNzCZ
As to be expected, this political contracting has often proven fruitless. Examples of this include the £130 million contracted to a Tory donor for testing kits, which turned out to be unsafe; and £150 million spent on face masks that couldn’t be used by NHS staff. So much for the wonders of ‘free enterprise’!
More recently, Kate Bingham, chair of the vaccine task force, has come under scrutiny for the £670,000 budget allocated to her for PR consultants. Married to Tory minister Jesse Norman, she has already spent £500,000 of this on a team of consultants – each on a salary outweighing that of the Prime Minister.
Dido Harding, chair of the NHS test-and-trace system, also has strong links to health secretary Matt Hancock and other Tories. After receiving a peerage from David Cameron, Harding sits in the House of Lords and is the wife of Tory MP John Penrose, a close ally to the PM.
@dispatches Tory MP John Penrose is husband of Dido Harding. He is anti-corruption and gov't procurement. She is appointed head of private test and trace firm. Conflict of interest? Test and trace has been beset with controversy. pic.twitter.com/oVG2u41sOP— Andrea McKernon (Morrow) (@Belfastdynamos) November 17, 2020
Harding is also an appointed member of the Jockey Club, which gave horse racing enthusiast Hancock honorary membership of its prestigious rooms after he was first elected as an MP.
By the end of September, under Harding’s leadership, the national test-and-trace programme was showing one-in-three false positives. Nevertheless, Hancock and the government maintained she was still right for the job.
The links between contractors, the Tory Party, and the Jockey Club don’t stop there. Randox Laboratories, the official healthcare partner of the Jockey Club and sponsor of the Grand National, received a £133 million contract from Hancock in May to produce testing kits. This was then extended by six months for a further £347 million.
By a strange coincidence, Randox also pays Tory MP Owen Paterson £8,333 a month to work just 16 hours as a ‘consultant’.
Test and trace
It has also been revealed that only 38% of NHS labs have been working at full capacity, and the Tories have been sidelining long-established NHS facilities. Instead, the national test-and-trace system in England has been predominantly outsourced to Serco and call centre company Sitel.
At the beginning, Boris Johnson promised that Britain would have a ‘world beating’ test-and-trace programme. Instead, the whole system has been a fiasco and farce from day one.
And while ordinary people wait for days to get tested or receive their results, the outsourcing bosses are laughing all the way to the bank.
The whole thing stinks.— Dan Carden MP (@DanCardenMP) October 14, 2020
This Government’s incompetence, its cronyism, its ideological obsession with outsourcing and rip-off privatisation has undermined our NHS and put lives at risk.
Time to kick the profiteers out of the system and put local public health teams in charge. pic.twitter.com/ivqRy4WgOe
Serco’s CEO is Rupert Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames. Unsurprisingly, the company has a long-standing relationship with the Tory party.
After being awarded the test-and-trace contract, Serco’s estimated profits for the year rose by over a third compared to the previous year. But Serco’s private call centres have fallen far short following up with the 80% contacts needed for the system to be effective. In contrast, local government systems at times reach 95%.
Despite all this, Serco’s bosses can relax, as their contracts have been extended. Whilst their fat-cat owners reap the profits, the rest of us are made to foot the £410 million bill.
Capitalism is corruption
The ruling class have exploited the national emergency to support their cronies. At the same time, they are driving down conditions for the working class.
Whilst the bosses have had billions in handouts from Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak, public sector workers are set to face a pay freeze.
These events underline the corruption that is endemic within capitalism, with an endlessly revolving door between government, the state, and big business.
Now more than ever, it is desperately clear that we need a workers’ government – to put people's lives before the pursuit of profit.