Perfectly reasonable for me to forward on PPE offer - Hancock

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended his role in helping a former Conservative minister to secure a PPE deal at the start of the pandemic.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show it was "perfectly reasonable" for him to send on an email when the country needed medical equipment.

The Sunday Times reported Mr Hancock "personally intervened" to help Brooks Newmark in getting the £180m deal.

Labour called for greater transparency over deals made during the pandemic.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit in 2020, the NHS and social care settings faced a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns and face masks, due partly to rising global demand.

The UK government began awarding contracts for supplies worth billions of pounds under emergency terms.

This meant deals were done with companies based on price and quality but without going though the usual competitive tendering process to save time.

In recent weeks there have been a series of revelations about PPE deals awarded to those with government connections.

The Sunday Times published a series of emails between Mr Hancock and Mr Newmark, the former civil society minister who resigned in 2014 after sending sexually explicit photographs of himself to an undercover journalist.

The paper reported that in May 2020 Mr Newmark teamed up with Zoe Ley, the owner of a dog food company who had set up a firm, Life Partners, to broker PPE deals for international supplies.

It said Mr Newmark first emailed the health secretary on 27 May, detailing a proposal explaining he had links to a "well connected and powerful" person in China but that he needed government help in accelerating deals.

The Sunday Times said Mr Hancock replied: "Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now."

The newspaper said the Department of Health awarded a £178m contract for protective goggles to the firm on 1 June.

'No special treatment'

Asked on the Andrew Marr Show if it was appropriate for Mr Newmark to lobby him for the contracts, Mr Hancock said it was "absolutely appropriate" for people to contact him.

He said the country "desperately needed PPE" so when the email arrived from Mr Newmark, he "just pinged it on" to the relevant teams because he did not have anything to do with awarding contracts.

Marr read out a message from Mr Hancock's aide to Lord Deighton, the Government's PPE tsar, in which the proposal was labelled "excellent" and noted that Mr Hancock hoped it could be looked at "urgently".

But Mr Hancock denied that any special treatment was given, adding: "We had a process in place to ensure when there were opportunities to get hold of PPE, to save lives on the frontline, they they were looked at rapidly.

"In this case, we ended up with 90 million goggles for people in the NHS as a result of this approach."

The process for taking up "high quality offers" was "open to everybody", he added, and "many many people came through that process" ensuring that the NHS did not face a "national outage".

"When somebody approaches the health secretary in the middle of a pandemic when you are desperately short of PPE, it's perfectly reasonable for the health secretary then to send on the email and say can we have a look at this."

He added: "I'm glad that I did."

The BBC has contacted Mr Newmark for comment.

Labour has called for ministers to publish all contacts and links they have with firms awarded government contracts during the Covid crisis.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "It is a recurring theme of the pandemic that ministers have bent over backwards to help their donors, friends and supporters while other companies have had to beg to provide equipment that could help.

"Returning to normal after this crisis is over must not mean a return to Conservative cronyism, deals for mates and one rule for them and another for the rest of us," she added.

The latest development comes after an original investigation by the BBC's Panorama programme in March found Ms Ley had secured contracts worth £258m between the government and a Hong Kong firm.

The programme revealed Ms Ley was likely to have been paid at last £1m by the firm for her work in securing the deals last spring when the UK was short of PPE.

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