Tory procurement bill will legalise VIP lane with ‘cronies’ charter’, says Labour

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Rishi Sunak’s government has been accused by Labour of coming up with a “charter for cronies” that would effectively legalise its “VIP lane” for Covid contracts.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party said minister must remove loopholes from its procurement bill as it returns to the Commons on Monday.

Labour will put forward amendments to outlaw so-called VIP lanes – which saw some firms fast-tracked for contracts after MPs, ministers and senior officials passed on offers during the pandemic.

The opposition party also wants to see “clawback clauses” put into all government contracts so taxpayers’ money can be refunded if providers fail to honour their obligations.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the government had presided over “a procurement racket at the expense of the British people”, adding: “Under the Tories, cronies have never had it so good.”

Ms Rayner added: “This bill is a charter for cronies. Labour is demanding ministers act to ensure genuine transparency and clawback in contracts.”

Labour said its own analysis of government contract data shows that £3.7bn has gone to Tory contacts and party donors since the start of the Covid pandemic.

“Under a Labour government there will be no hiding place for cronies and no corner for corruption,” said Ms Rayner. “We’ll give the Tory sleaze merchants their marching orders, end handouts to tax havens and strike off failed providers.”

The government has said the new bill was an opportunity for the UK to shape its own procurement processes after Brexit allowed the country to leave the “complicated web” of EU rules.

Ministers said the bill – which gets its second reading today – would simplify four sets of laws into one, and open up more opportunities for small firms, voluntary and community groups to win government business.

“This bill will seize the opportunity presented by Brexit to rip up outdated rules, increase opportunities for smaller companies and deliver better value for public money,” said Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin.

The minister said ending “the complicated web of rules and regulations inherited from the EU” would help smaller companies bid for contracts.