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NATIONAL NEWS ROUNDUP: Government use of ‘VIP lane’ to give multimillion-pound PPE contracts unlawful AND rail travel at 55% of pre-pandemic levels


Here are your latest national headlines, including: Government use of ‘VIP lane’ to give multimillion-pound PPE contracts found to be unlawful, rail travel soars to 55% above pre-pandemic levels and 

UNLAWFUL CONTRACTS: The Government’s use of a so-called “VIP lane” to award millions of pounds’ worth of contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) to two companies was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor claimed the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) unlawfully awarded contracts to supply PPE at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The groups took legal action over more than £340 million in contracts awarded to pest control firm PestFix and a contract worth around £252 million to the hedge fund Ayanda Capital.

The High Court was told this lane was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials, adding that DHSC “then prioritised suppliers including PestFix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not what they could deliver”.

The groups argued that the use of the VIP lane gave an unfair, unlawful advantage to some companies.

DHSC contested the claim, telling the court it “wholeheartedly” rejected the case against it and that the VIP lane was rational and resulted in a “large number of credible offers” in an environment where PPE deals often failed within “minutes”.

In a judgment on Wednesday, Mrs Justice O’Farrell said that it was unlawful to give the two companies preferential treatment on the basis of being part of the VIP lane.

However, she found that both of the companies’ offers “justified priority treatment on its merits” and were “very likely” to have been awarded contracts even without the VIP lane.

RAIL TRAVEL: Demand for weekday rail travel in Britain has exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time this year.

The number of train journeys made on Monday was 55% of the normal total, according to provisional Department for Transport figures.

This is up from 38% on Tuesday January 4, the first working day of the previous week in England and Wales.

The increase in usage is despite many train companies cutting timetables in response to pandemic-related staff shortages.

FRANCE BORDERS: France is preparing to reopen its borders to UK holidaymakers within days.

Alexandre Holroyd, a French National Assembly member who represents the country’s expatriates living in the UK, said a “significant easing of travel restrictions will be announced very soon”.

He added that details will be confirmed “in the days to come”.

France introduced a ban on non-essential travel to and from the UK on December 18 in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The rules were partly eased last week to allow some business travel to take place.

Lifting the tourism ban will mean thousands of people in the UK who have booked ski holidays in France will be able to travel.

This will be a major boost to winter sports travel firms, particularly ahead of the vital February half-term period.

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