OFFICIALS working for the Tory government tried to cover up the true number of firms awarded contracts through the unlawful VIP lane for lucrative Covid contracts, leaked emails have revealed.

Messages seen by Good Law Project show that senior civil servants leaned on their teams to ensure that the data released on the unlawful "high priority" lane matched up with the numbers which had been given to the National Audit Office (NAO).

An NAO report in late 2020 initially concluded that 47 firms had benefitted from the lane.

However, in November 2021 a freedom of information (FOI) battle forced the UK Government to reveal a list of 50 firms it said had been handed contracts through the VIP referral scheme.

READ MORE: Tories 'misled Parliament about illegal VIP lane for government contracts'

Last week, data leaked to Good Law Project showed that a total of 68 firms had been fast-tracked through the unlawful lane. The 18 companies which had gone unreported until then took home almost £1 billion in public contracts.

Now, new emails have revealed that senior officials in Boris Johnson’s government pressured staff into keeping the true number of VIP lane contracts a secret following the NAO’s initial underestimate.

The Government’s chief commercial officer, Gareth Rhys Williams, told civil servants that published data on procurement through the VIP lane “should total to the NAO PPE spend numbers…..pls” – and not to the true figures.

The following morning, on December 3, 2020, the director of PPE procurement seconded this request. Forwarding Rhys Williams’s email to civil servants, they said to “ensure the total adds to the numbers reported in the NAO reports”.

Good Law Project said the requests appeared to “surprise” civil servants, who thought that the figures given to the NAO “may have been made up”.

In total, the 68 VIPs uncovered so far have been awarded £4.9 billion in PPE contracts, all without competition.

Jo Maugham, director of Good Law Project, said: "What is clear, and rather troubling, is that civil servants were struggling to work out where the figures they had given to the NAO had come from.

“This, alongside the emergence of 18 previously undisclosed PPE VIPs, means there must now be very real questions about whether the data provided by DHSC, including to the Courts, can be trusted."

The UK Government declined to comment on leaked information.