MINISTERS have refused to name the private companies given lucrative PPE contracts thanks to Conservative government connections.

Scots MPs asked UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to come clean on the firms awarded contracts after being placed into the “VIP” bidding channel by ministers, MPs, peers and government officials – but his team has refused to release any of the information

The block comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) slated the UK Government’s performance on the awarding of contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, sanitiser and aprons. More than half of the £18billion in public money laid out on pandemic-related contracts was awarded without competitive tender. And the watchdog said Westminster had not been transparent about suppliers or services, with too little done to address possible conflicts of interest after companies recommended by ministers and officials were given priority access to the contracts process.

Of the 8600 coronavirus-related contracts awarded by the end of July, 60% were awarded without a competitive tender process. The total is worth £10.5bn.

Amongst the lucky winners is PPE Medpro, which secured a £110m-plus deal to supply 250 million medical gowns to the health service less than two months after its establishment. Its founder Anthony Page worked for Tory peer Michelle Mone until the day he started it.

In another case, Spanish businessman Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was paid £21m to act as a go-between for Saiger LLC, the PPE outfit established by Florida jewellery designer Michael Saiger, who won £200m of business in a non-competitive process to supply UK agencies.

That’s according to paperwork filed in a US court, but Saiger denies using intermediaries.

And in another, currency trading specialist Ayanda Capital procured 50m face masks later deemed unsuitable for NHS staff.

The Good Law Project, led by Jolyon Maugham – a player in the so-called “Cherry case” against Westminster over Brexit – is building a court challenge against what it sees as “cronyism” by the UK Government over key jobs and contracts.

The Department of Health said due diligence was carried out. But when SNP parliamentarians Neale Hanvey and Alyn Smith made separate bids for further PPE deal information, they were turned down. They sought the names of companies introduced to and awarded contracts through the high-priority lane thanks to connections with politicians and officials but Health minister Jo Churchill told them: “We do not intend to publish the list of these suppliers as there may be associated commercial implications.”

She said: “The cross-government PPE team considered that leads referred by government officials, ministerial private offices, parliamentarians, senior National Health Service staff and other health professionals were possibly more credible and needed to be initially reviewed with more urgency. This was commonly referred to as a ‘priority’ or ‘VIP’ channel.

“These offers went into exactly the same due diligence, technical assurance, closing or contract negotiation and contract award process as all the other offers. About one in ten suppliers processed through this channel – 47 out of 493 – obtained contracts.”

Analysis by the Labour Party suggests business worth more than £470m was given to companies based in tax havens including the Cayman Islands, Dubai, Luxembourg and Malta.

Hanvey told the Sunday National: “Trying to hide behind commercial sensitivity is simply not credible as the contracts have already been awarded. What this suggests is that political links and sensitivities could be exposed – and exposed they must be.

“The UK Government have tried to avoid appropriate parliamentary scrutiny on their suspected cronyism, and they appear to have done so using the global pandemic as a cynical cloak. This cannot stand and I will continue to work to get to the truth. As we know from Joanna Cherry QC MP’s successful litigation, no one is above the law.”

And Smith stated: “The response from the UK Government just isn’t good enough and it contributes to an increasingly opaque system around procurement in Westminster.

“Many new systems had to be put in place very quickly when the outbreak of Covid-19 hit the UK, so I’m not in a rush to offer criticism yet. Confidentiality is important around procurement but this should not extend to us not even knowing which companies are involved. The public rightly expect transparency. As UK ministers are so far reluctant to offer such accountability, I am exploring how this matter can be taken further.”