Timeline: Covid contracts and accusations of 'chumocracy'

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Hospital staff in PPEImage source, Getty Images

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, rising global demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) led to shortages and a scramble for supplies for NHS workers.

Because of this, the UK government began awarding PPE contracts under an emergency procedure in which deals were handed directly to companies without competition.

Thousands of contracts - including orders for gowns, gloves and face masks - have been awarded to private companies by the government since then and billions of pounds of public money has been spent.

But the way these deals have been given to firms has led to concerns over a lack of detail about why particular suppliers were chosen.

The government has also been accused of favouring firms with political connections to the Conservative Party with a "high-priority lane".

Labour says this lane - an email inbox available to ministers, civil servants or MPs and peers - is evidence of "cronyism and 'chumocracy'". But the government said recommendations sent to this inbox came from politicians from a range of parties and all offers go through the same selection process, with final decisions taken by expert officials.

It has said it fully recognises the "importance of transparency" and the protection of health and social care staff during the pandemic "often meant having to award contracts at speed to secure the vital supplies".

Here you can catch up on some of the coverage:



State contracts worth more than £1bn have been awarded to private companies dealing with the pandemic, without offering other firms the chance to bid for the work, the Guardian reports.


The Financial Times reports that the UK government handed contracts worth at least £1.7bn to private companies in the previous three months, mostly without a competitive tender process.


The BBC reveals that a Tory councillor received major PPE contracts to supply face shields worth £120m in total.

The Sunday Times goes on to report in November that the same man, then a former Tory councillor, was awarded a further £156m to provide gowns and masks and bought a £1.5m Cotswold mansion with the proceeds.


Fifty million masks are withdrawn because of safety concerns, the BBC finds. The masks were bought by the UK government in April as part of a £252m contract and could not be used because they did not meet its specifications.


A Spanish businessman acted as a go-between to secure protective garments for NHS staff in the coronavirus pandemic and was paid $28m (£21m) in UK taxpayer cash, the BBC reports.

The Times says a report revealed that ministers set up a VIP fast-track channel to buy billions of pounds of PPE from companies who had political contacts with the government and MPs.


Millions of hospital gowns that cost £122m were never used, the BBC reports. They were bought at the end of the first lockdown from a supplier which had set up just a month earlier and the contract was not opened to competition due to the exceptional urgency of the coronavirus pandemic.



The use of 10 million sterile surgical gowns is suspended because of concerns over how the items were packaged. The gowns were bought for £70m from a US firm in 2020.

A court rules Matt Hancock acted unlawfully when his department did not reveal details of contracts it had signed during the Covid pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care tells the BBC that 1.12 million masks had been withdrawn because they did not meet the right safety standards. The distribution of some gloves was also suspended because they may not have met technical requirements.

The medicines regulator announces it is investigating a £30m Covid contract that was awarded to a firm owned by a man who used to run a pub near Matt Hancock's old constituency home in West Suffolk and which had no history of medical goods.


It is revealed that dozens of Covid contracts had not been published when Boris Johnson assured MPs they were "on the record for everyone to see".

A BBC investigation reveals a former investment banker, who now owns a dog food firm, brokered PPE deals worth £258m between the government and a Hong Kong firm. The work was likely to have earned her more than £1m.


Documents uncovered after an apparent admin error reveal the role of a former Tory parliamentary candidate and party donor in a £100m government deal to buy PPE.

Update 4 May 2021: With regards to the BBC story published in August 2020, Tim Horlick, chief executive of Ayanda Capital, insisted the masks were "not unusable or unsafe" and had met all required standards.

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