'£21 million to middleman but no free school meals extension': Starmer attacks Johnson's PPE procurement

Sir Keir Starmer has attacked the government's PPE procurement processes, saying a middleman profited £21 million from a contract to supply the NHS with protective equipment in the height of its battle with coronavirus.

The Labour leader questioned why Boris Johnson allowed billions to be spent on personal protective equipment without normal standards of transparency in the procurement process, but would not extend the free school meals scheme through the October half term.

He said: "We learned this week that they can find £21 million of taxpayers' money to pay a go-between to deliver lucrative contracts to the Department of Health... A few weeks ago, he couldn't find that amount of money for free school meals for kids over half term."

The prime minister, appearing at PMQs remotely for the first time, hit back, saying at the start of the pandemic he was being urged to "remove blockages in procurement process in order to get PPE".

"We were facing a very difficult situation where across the world there were not adequate supplies of PPE - nobody had enough PPE.

"We shifted heaven and earth to get 32 billion items of PPE."

He said it was "typical of Captain Hindsight" - a name he often uses to refer to the Labour leader - "that he now attacks our efforts to procure PPE".

He added: "He said then that we weren't going fast enough, but he now says that we went too fast, he should make his mind up."

Sir Keir said the PM was "effectively defending the paying of £21 million on a contract with no oversight".

Again citing the National Audit Office report, the Labour leader said £10.5 billion-worth of contracts were handed out without competitive tender and "suppliers with political connections were 10 times more likely to be awarded contracts".

He asked Mr Johnson to give a "cast-iron assurance" that from now on all government contracts would follow the proper procurement process.

Mr Johnson said: "All Government contracts are, of course, going to be published in a due way and are already being published."

He added: "It is absolutely absurd Captain Hindsight is now once again trying to score party political points by attacking us for moving too fast."

Sir Keir also attacked the amount of support given to people told to self isolate, as Mr Johnson has been, following a potential coronavirus contact.

He said Mr Johnson was "doing the right thing" by self isolating but questioned whether he could do still do it without the support of his salary.

"Does he think he would have been able to do so if, like so many other people across the country, all he had to rely on for the next 14 days was either statutory sick pay, which is £95 a week, that's £13 a day or a one-off payment of £500 which works out at £35 a day?"

Mr Johnson replied: "I believe that the package that we have in place to protect people and support people throughout this crisis has been outstanding and exceptional."