Suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) with political connections were 10 times as likely to be awarded a UK government contract -- with little to no documentation -- as those without, a report by an official spending watchdog has found.
The National Audit Office report published Wednesday reaches damning conclusions about the UK government’s lack of transparency in awarding more than 8,600 PPE contracts worth £18 billion ($23.9 billion) to private companies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than half, worth over £10 billion ($13.2 billion), were awarded to well-connected firms labelled “high-priority,” meaning they bypassed the normal procurement process that exists to ensure a level playing field for suppliers to compete for contracts.
The revelation comes after months of cronyism allegations from Labour opposition politicians and transparency activists, who accuse the Conservative government of handing out state-funded Covid-19 contracts to friends.
About one in 10 suppliers processed through the high-priority lane (47 out of 493) obtained contracts compared to fewer than one in 100 suppliers that came through the ordinary process (104 of 14,892), the report says.
It also found that in some cases there was no paperwork to document why these suppliers had been chosen, and that some contracts had only been drawn up after the companies had already started the work.
"This has diminished public transparency, and the lack of adequate documentation means we cannot give assurance that government has adequately mitigated the increased risks arising from emergency procurement or applied appropriate commercial practices in all cases," the watchdog concluded.
"While we recognise that these were exceptional circumstances, there are standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust.'
The report covers the period up to July 31.
CNN has contacted the UK Cabinet Office for a government response.