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Neil O’Brien, the health minister, told MPs that 90% of the bids to provide PPE for the government during the pandemic that were processed through the so-called VIP lane (because they were referrals via ministers) were unsuccessful. Referring to the process during the urgent question earlier, he said:



Over the course of the programme, due diligence was done on over 19,000 companies, and over 2,600 companies made it through that initial due diligence.


With huge demand for PPE, all across the world, and with many countries introducing export bans, our risk appetite had to change.


We had to throw everything behind our effort to protect those who protect us and those who needed it most. We had to balance the risk.



Referring to the VIP lane, he said:



Around 9,000 people came forward, and all ministers will have experienced endless people directly ringing them up to try and help with the huge need that there was at the time.


It did not give you any kind of successful guarantee of a contract. Indeed, 90% of the bids that went through it were not successful.


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In the Commons, during transport questions this morning, Mark Harper, the transport secretary, told MPs that he wanted rail union leaders to engage in negotiations to end the strikes and accept that reform was vital. He said:



I want a sustainable, thriving rail network, but with 20% of passengers not having returned following the Covid pandemic, reform is vital. I would urge all trade union leaders to get back around the table with employers to hammer out the detail of that reform.


The government will work to facilitate this and to that end I will be meeting with trade union leaders in the coming days.



Within the last few minutes Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, has arrived at the Department for Transport for talks with Harper. Lynch said:



We’re expecting a positive meeting. We’re [hoping for a] constructive approach. And we’ll see what he says.



This is from Sky’s Ivor Bennett.


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Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, said the revelations in the Guardian today about the Tory peer Michelle Mone and her children gaining £29m from a firm that gained a PPE contract through the government’s VIP lane showed “a total failure of due diligence”. Asking her urgent question on the topic, she told MPs:



Last night documents seen by the Guardian revealed yet another case of taxpayers’ money being wasted – a total failure of due diligence and the conflict of interest at the heart of government procurement.


In May 2020 PPE Medpro was … given £203m in government contracts after referral from a Tory peer. It now appears that tens of millions of pounds of that money ended up in offshore accounts connected to the individuals involved, profits made possible through the company’s personal connections for ministers and the Tories’ VIP lane that was declared illegal by the high court.


Yet ministers are still refusing to publish correspondence relating to the awarding of the MedPro contract because they say the department is engaged in a mediation process.



Rayner asked the minister, Neil O’Brien, if the government had recovered any funds from PPE Medro. But she argued that a wider scandal was involved.



This government has written off £10bn alone in PPE that was deemed unfit for use , unuseable, overpriced or undelivered. Ministers appears to have learned no lessons and have no shame. As family’s struggle to make ends meet, taxpayers will spend £700,000 pounds a day on the storage of inadequate PPE.



Rayner was reprimanded by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, who said he wanted MPs to stick to the rules that he mentioned earlier about not referring to the Mone case. (See 10.44am.) Hoyle stressed that he did not make these rules.


In response, O’Brien, a health minister, said that, in the case of “underperforming” PPE contracts, the government did try to recover its money, or reach an agreement with the company concerned. In the case of PPE Medro, “we haven’t got to the point where a satisfactory agreement has been reached at this stage,” he said.


On the topic of PPE procurement generally, he said the “VIP lane” was just a mechanism for handling referrals. He said being in the VIP lane did not guarantee that a contract would be awarded.


And he stressed that the government had to act quickly. Governments buying PPE were being “gazumped”, he said because “goods were taken out of the warehouse if people could turn up with the cash quicker than you could”.

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In the Commons Neil O’Brien, the health minister, is responding to an urgent question tabled by Labour about the procurement of PPE during the pandemic.


The question was tabled by Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, tabled the question. It was inspired by the Guardian story saying documents indicate that the Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large government contracts after she recommended it to ministers.

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Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, started by saying that MPs are not allowed a criticise a member of the House of Lords unless they are debating a motion specifically referring to that peer. And he says MPs should not say anything that might prejudice legal action.


In his opening statement, O’Brien did not mention Mone, but just stressed how the government had to procure PPE equipment very quickly. He said there may be lessons to be learned from the prices that were paid, but he said “we must not lose sight…

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